By Kim O’Hare
Wherever you live in the world, and whatever your religion, the last few months of the year feature some of the most important religious celebrations. Even if you don’t adhere to a specific faith, you’ll see signs of the celebration all around.
In North America, Thanksgiving is the time to give thanks for the harvest and it’s observed on the fourth Thursday of November in the United States and on the second Monday of October in Canada. (The difference in dates reflects the seasonal difference in the harvest). This year, the North American date is 22nd November.
The origin of the celebration dates back to the days of the early settlers of Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts. It is said they were particularly grateful to Squanto, the Native American who taught them how to catch eel, grow corn and who served as their native interpreter. (Squanto had converted to Christianity and learned English as a slave in Europe. Without Squanto’s assistance, the settlers might not have survived in the New World.)
The Plymouth settlers who came to be called “Pilgrims” set apart a holiday immediately after their first harvest in 1621. They held an autumn celebration of food, feasting, and praising God. The Governor of Plymouth invited Grand Sachem Massasoit and the Wampanoag people to join them in the feast. The settlers fed and entertained the Indians for three days, at which point some of these natives went into the forest, killed 5 deer, and gave them to the Governor as a gift. The first official Thanksgiving Proclamation made in America was issued by the Continental Congress in 1777.
Thanksgiving is similar to Christmas in that it’s a time to spend with friends and close family. The highlight of the holiday is usually a feast featuring the traditional bounty enjoyed by the pilgrims. If you want to replicate a traditional Thanksgiving meal visit http://allrecipes.com/Recipes/Holidays-and-Events/Thanksgiving/Main.aspx Thanksgiving also marks the unofficial beginning of the Christmas shopping season with retailers primed and ready for the most lucrative season of the year.
While North Americans are readying for Thanksgiving and Christmas, Hindus and Sikhs are observing Deepavali, also called Diwali or Divali. Known as the “Festival of Lights,” it symbolises the victory of good over evil, and lamps are lit as a sign of celebration and hope for humankind. Celebrations focus on lights and lamps, particularly traditional dīpa or deeya (earthen lamp) and fireworks are associated with the festival. Diwali is a colloquial name used in North India, while the festival is formally called Deepavali in South India.
Diwali is celebrated for five consecutive days at the end of Hindu month of Ashwayuja. It usually occurs in October/November, and is one of the most popular and eagerly awaited festivals in India. Diwali comes exactly twenty days after Dussehra. Hindus and Sikhs alike regard it as a celebration of life and use the occasion to strengthen family and social relationships. For Hindus it is one of the most important festivals, and beginning of the year in some Hindu calendars.
There are several beliefs regarding the origin of the holiday. The most repeated version is that Hindus celebrate Diwali to mark the time when Lord Rama achieved victory over Ravana. Some also view it as the day Krishna defeated the demon Narakasura or in honour of the day Bali went to rule the nether-world, obeying the order of Vishnu. It is also a significant festival for the Sikh faith. In India, Diwali is now considered to be more of a national festival, and the aesthetic aspect of the festival is enjoyed by most Indians regardless of faith. The festival is worshipped on exactly the same set of days across India. It falls in different months depending on the version of the Hindu calendar being used in the given region.
If you are fortunate enough to be invited to a Divali celebration you are in for a delightful feast. Visiting Hindus during Deepavali is an interesting culinary experience, as you will get to taste a variety of delicious food. The tempting spread covers both sweet and savoury dishes as well as snacks like murukku, halwa, vadai etc. With Western influence, housewives also bake Western style cookies and cakes. As spicy food is part of a Hindu’s diet, families serve a wide variety of curries with briyani. However, traditional Indian homes will only serve vegetarian food.
If you want to create your own Divali feast, take a look at http://www.indianfoodforever.com/holiday-recipes/diwali/
Jews around the world observe Chanukah - the eight-day festival of light that begins on the eve of Kislev 25 - celebrates the triumph of light over darkness, of purity over adulteration, of spirituality over materiality. More than twenty-one centuries ago, the Holy Land was ruled by the Seleucids (Syrian-Greeks), who sought to forcefully Hellenize the people. Against all odds, a small band of faithful Jews defeated one of the mightiest armies on earth, drove the Greeks from the land and reclaimed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.
When they sought to light the Temple’s menorah, they found only a single cruse of olive oil that had escaped contamination; miraculously, the one-day supply burned for eight days, until new oil could be prepared under conditions of ritual purity. To commemorate and publicise these miracles, the sages instituted the festival of Chanukah. At the heart of the festival is the nightly menorah lighting: a single flame on the first night, two on the second evening, and so on till the eighth night of Chanukah, when all eight lights are kindled.
On Chanukah Jews recite recite Hallel and the Al HaNissim prayer to offer praise and thanksgiving for “delivering the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few… the wicked into the hands of the righteous”.
Chanukah customs include eating foods fried in oil - latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiot (doughnuts); playing with the dreidel (a spinning top on which are inscribed the Hebrew letters nun, gimmel, hei and shin, an acronym for Nes Gadol Hayah Sham, “a great miracle happened there"); and the giving of Chanukah gelt, gifts of money, to children.
More excuses to have a good time
In UK, you can expect fireworks on 5th November, to celebrate the failed attempt to blow up the houses of parliament by a certain Guy Fawkes. Although the 5th is the actual day, there will be massive fireworks displays all over the UK for the whole of next weekend.
The end of the month sees the Scottish St Andrew’s Night on 30th. St. Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland - as well as Greece and Russia.
The celebration tends to be more popular with Scots who live abroad and there are many Scottish societies in places where Scots emigrated to, including the UAE.
Many people wonder what they should eat on St. Andrew’s night. Because Andrew was a fisherman, it seems appropriate to eat fish. Otherwise you could eat any traditional Scottish food. It used to be that a singed sheep’s head was traditional!
St. Andrew’s night is now celebrated all over the world with fine Scottish food and a ceilidh. In Dubai, there’s a St Andrew’s ball on 23rd at the Hyatt Regency. Check out the Dubai Caledonian Society website at http://www.caledoniansocietydubai.com/Events.aspx