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DECEMBER FESTIVALS -2008
Christmas - Kwanza - Zartosht no-deso - Muharram
Summary of other Festivals of December at the bottom of this page
"If your festival is missing, please share it with me and my world of friends"

Let's take a few minutes to learn how our friends, co-workers and neighbors commemorate or celebrate their lives. Friendship is an prodigious thing, it takes time to know, but when you do, a lot of myths about others disappear - and you find an amazing peace within you for knowing some one from some group, whom you thought of otherwise...oh well, you got it. I have compiled, borrowed and written a few notes to learn and share about the following festivals and commemorations. It is not perfect, but selected for a lay person to grasp it. For example the write up about Zartosht no-Deso is very elementary to Zoroastrians but meaningful to others.
 
Please join us to reflect upon the II Annual Holocaust and Genocides. Let's make room in our hearts for the precious feelings for human helplessness. Kindly mark your calendars for 7:00 - 9:15 PM on Saturday, January 24th, 2009. Details at:  www.HolocaustandGenocides.org
 
Mike Ghouse

Christmas;

Christmas signifies renewal to me, the birth of Jesus pushes the 'refresh' button and opens our hearts and minds towards fellow beings.  Jesus is my mentor, I think about him every day as I see the wisdom of  forgiveness and inclusiveness doing its miracles in giving solace, Peace, Nirvana, Mukti, Moksha, Nijaat, salvation and true freedom to each one of us.  Jesus (pbuh) is one of my role models. He set the example to the world that God has created every soul on this earth and that we have to embrace every one for our own good. His symbolic outreach to the lepers and prostitutes is a model for us to live by, reaching out to every one that the society shies away from. I am truly blessed to see another Christmas and wish to extend my heart felt love to every one out there. By the way, Jesus is the star for Muslims, one's faith in Islam is not complete without believing in Jesus, Moses and the other prophets.

In the name of Jesus whose birthday we are celebrating, may this Christmas refresh us to seek peace through forgiveness and inclusiveness. Amen.

I am available to volunteer on Christmas day anywhere in North Texas, please feel free to call me.  

Mike Ghouse
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The word Christmas originated as a compound meaning "Christ's Mass". It is also called Christ's Mass, derived from the Middle English Christemasse and Old English Cristes mæsse, a phrase first recorded in 1038. "Cristes" is from Greek Christos and "mæsse" is from Latin missa. In early Greek versions of the New Testament, the letter ? (chi), is the first letter of Christ. Since the mid-16th century, or the similar Roman letter X, has been used as an abbreviation for Christ. Hence, Xmas is often used as an abbreviation for Christmas.

Observances Religious services, gift giving, family meetings, decorating trees
Christmas, also referred to as Christmas Day or Christmastide, is an annual holiday celebrated on December 25 that marks and honors the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. The birth of Jesus, which is the basis for the anno Domini system of dating, is thought to have occurred between 7 and 2 BC. 

Modern customs of the holiday include gift-giving, church celebrations, and the display of various decorations—including the Christmas tree, lights, mistletoe, nativity scenes and holly. Santa Claus (also referred to as Father Christmas, although the two figures have different origins) is a popular mythological figure often associated with bringing gifts at Christmas. Santa is generally believed to be the result of a syncretization between Saint Nicholas and elements from pagan Nordic and Christian mythology, and his modern appearance is believed to have originated in 19th century media.

Christmas is celebrated throughout the Christian population, but is also celebrated by many non-Christians as a secular, cultural festival. The holiday is celebrated around the world. Because gift-giving and several other aspects of the holiday involve heightened economic activity among both Christians and non-Christians, Christmas has become a major event for many retailers.

The Nativity of Jesus refers to the Christian belief that the Messiah was born to the Virgin Mary. The story of Christmas is based on the biblical accounts given in the Gospel of Matthew, namely Matthew 1:18-Matthew 2:12 and the Gospel of Luke, specifically Luke 1:26-Luke 2:40. According to these accounts, Jesus was born to Mary, assisted by her husband Joseph, in the city of Bethlehem. According to popular tradition, the birth took place in a stable, surrounded by farm animals, though neither the stable nor the animals are mentioned in the Biblical accounts. However, a manger is mentioned in Luke 2:7 where it states "She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn." Early iconographic representations of the nativity placed the stable and manger within a cave (located, according to tradition, under the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem). Shepherds from the fields surrounding Bethlehem were told of the birth by an angel, and were the first to see the child. Many Christians believe that the birth of Jesus fulfilled prophecies from the Old Testament.

Kwanza;

This celebration is not a festival originating in any of the 55 African countries nor is it an "African" Christmas celebration. Kwanzaa is an African-Americans celebration of life from 26 December to 1 January.

Dr. Karenga introduced the festival in 1966 to the United States as a ritual to welcome the first harvests to the home. Dr. Karenga created this festival for Afro-Americans as a response to the commercialism of Christmas. In fact one might say that Kwanzaa has similarities with Thanksgiving in the United States or the Yam Festival in Ghana and Nigeria. The word "kwanza" is a KiSwahili (Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania) word meaning "first."

Five common sets of values are central to the activities of the week: ingathering, reverence, commemoration, recommitment, and celebration. The seven principles (nguzo saba) of Kwanzaa utilize Kiswahili words: unity (umoja), self-determination (kujichagulia), collective work and responsibility (ujima), cooperative economics (ujamaa), purpose (nia), creativity (kuumba), and faith (imani). Each of the seven candles signify the principles. Like the Jewish Hannakah, candles are used to represent concepts of the holiday.

The symbols of Kwanzaa includes crops (mzao) which represents the historical roots of African-Americans in agriculture and also the reward for collective labor. The mat (mkeka) lays the foundation for self- actualization. The candle holder (kinara) reminds believers in the ancestral origins in one of 55 African countries. Corn/maize (muhindi) signifies children and the hope associated in the younger generation. Gifts (Zawadi) represent commitments of the parents for the children. The unity cup (Kkimbe cha Umoja) is used to pour libations to the ancestors. Finally, the seven candles (mishumaa saba) remind participants of the severl pinciples and the colors in flags of African liberation movements -- 3 red, 1 black, and 3 green.

Gifts are exchanged. On 31 December participants celebrate with a banquet of food often cuisine from various African countries. Participants greet one another with "Habari gani" which is Kiswahili for "how are you/ how's the news with you?" 


Zartosht no-diso

Zartosht no-diso, or Zarthost no deeso, is a major holiday of the Zoroastrian religion. It is a commemoration of the Prophet Zarathushtra's death anniversary, and is observed on the 11th day (Khorshed) of the 10th month (Dae). In the seasonal calendar, Zoroaster's death anniversary falls on December 26th.

It is an occasion of mourning with lectures and discussions held on the life and works of the Prophet. Special prayers are recited and the faithful visit the Fire Temple to pray.

Zoroaster’s death is not mentioned in the Avesta. Avesta is the language and book of Zoroastrians.


Muharram
By Muhammad Khaku

Mike's note: Muharram is a month of mourning for Muslims in general and Shia denomination in particular. It was in this month that the legendary battle known as "Karbala" took place, named after the City in Iraq. The word Karbala signifies the struggle between righteousness and un-righteousness within an individual and within the communities one lives. Imam Hussein (ra) the grandson of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) stood firmly against Yazid, a corrupt governor at that time.  It is almost like born again for the Shia Muslims, a reaffirmation of faith on the 10th day of  Muharram called "Yom-e-Ashura " literally the 10th day. Muharram is the first month of the Muslim Calander. Muhammad Khaku has written up this very well. ( Abbreviations; ra = razi Allah- may god be pleased / pbuh = peace be upon him used for prophets including Jesus, Moses, David, Jacob, John the Baptist...)
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Ashura differs from one city to city, but a silken thread that binds each city is Imam Hussein, every city has its cultural ethnicity woven into the Azadari (rituals) of Hussein, but the cry of Ya Hussein remains the same. The tears that drop like raindrops from eyes of the Shia’s are universally the same, a precious drop that will ask for salvation on the Day of Judgment.Once again month of Muharram has arrived and Shias Muslims around the world will be dress in black. The mosques will be jam-packed and decorated in black wall coverings with flags (A’lam) and replica shrines (Taziyas). Majalises (Assemblies) will be held every night during the first twelve days with poetic recitations such as marsiya, noha, latmiya and speeches pertaining to the martyrdom of Hussein-Ibne Ali, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. Muharum is a time to remember and mourn the sacrifices that Imam Husain, his kith and kin underwent to defend Islam.

Muharrum an important period of mourning in the Shite branch of Islam..This event starts at the 1st day of Muharram and continues for 10 days until 10th of Muharram, which is, know as Yawm-e-Ashura. The Shias observe the entire month as a period of mourning. Public recital of grief, passion plays and depicting scenes from the Battle of Karbala, are carried out in Shias mosques. In parts of India, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon and East Africa food and drink are distributed to the public, especially to the poor. The first ten days are also spent in making paper, wood and metal replicas of the martyr's tomb. On the day of Ashura, decorated replica shrines (taziyas) or tombs embellished with precious metals to be carried through the city streets. A horse is led in procession (Zulus) in memory of Hussein’s horse, Dhul Zana.

The climax is on Ashura day (Jan 7th) at noon, the time of Assar prayers when Imam Husain is martyred (shaheed). On that day there is a seeping heaviness in the air, a blistering dryness and a surrendering moment of grief. As the story of Karbala will be narrate, the Shias will openly cry and beat their chests (matam/latmiya) as a display of their devotion to Husayn and in remembrance of his suffering.

Imam’s Hussein last words to his sister Zainab were "Convey my Salutations(salaams) to all Muslims and put your trust in Allah and know that human being is born to die, and nothing will remain, everything shall pass away except the presence of His Almighty Allah." Imam then rode his horse into the face of Yazid’s army to give his last sermon.

I had first heard the story of Karbala in Majalises that I attended as a small boy in Mombasa, Kenya. Generations of children have grown up hearing the same story through the years. Each repetition revives and enhances its truth and larger meaning. One loses the dear one and near one, a fortune or even a kingdom and its memory fades away, as does its pain. But the memory of Husain and his unique sacrifice never fades. It is a pain that goes beyond any individual pain and returns afresh every year as rightly put by the great Urdu poet Iqbal, ‘Islam zinda hota hai har Karbala kebad’ which means Islam is alive after karbala.

Why hasn’t Ashura faded from history after a passage of 14 century? Why do Muslims gather every year to mourn for Hussein and his companions? Should this uprising/movement  (Qiam) by Hussein be remembered every year and why? And why hasn’t the battle of Karbala faded away into history like thousand of other events? And will Ashura be forgotten by our next generation? And lastly is rekindling of Ashura only an emotional and illogical act by shias?

The answer is that the uprising and the martyrdom of Imam Hussein is not limited to a one day battle between epic heroism and self-sacrifice where truth condemned falsehood, but it is universal and everlasting divine message for humanity that can be used at all times. The message is FREEDOM for all mankind from oppression and tyranny, be it in the house, community, city or nation. The enemies of Islam are continuously attacking the revolution and message of Imam Hussein and they know very well that only way to defeat Islam is to alter the core principle “Social Justice” in Islam

To me, the remembrance of Hussein is a poetic reminder of both the depths to which humanity can sink - through the actions of Yazid - and the heights to which it can raise itself - through the example of Hussein, whose inspirational message today includes the slogan "Every day is Ashura and every place is Karbala


Festival of Yalda
 
Mike's notes: Old traditions of Yalda and Winter Solstice have continued on in Europe, Persia and the Americas, despite the the efforts of a few fundamentalists to prevent the celebrations. As a pluralist I just want to add that the majority of all people, no matter what faith, tradition, culture or nation are moderates. Moderates believe in live and let live and they form over 95% of the population of any group. In the following article, I have edited the words that reinforce stereotyping, let's consciously create a better spiritual environment for us to live.
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Tehran -  Iranians recited poetry, shared stories and ate fruits and nuts Saturday during an all-night celebrations of the longest night of the year, a tradition going back thousands of years to when Zoroastrianism was the predominant religion of ancient Persia. For many Iranians, the celebration known as Yalda, offers a link with ancient traditions as well as a chance to gather with family.

 
 "Almost all Iranians, no matter what their religion, language and race, celebrate Yalda," said Hooshang Sohaei as he stood in a long line at a confectionary shop in north Tehran to buy sweets and dried fruit.
 
 Zoroastrianism's central theme is the struggle between the good spirit Ahura Mazda and the evil Ahriman.  Yalda, marked on the winter solstice, recognizes the symbolic victory of light over darkness as day-time starts growing longer and nights become shorter. In the streets of Tehran, vendors enjoyed their busiest day of the year, and confectioneries were packed with customers buying up provisions for the feast. 

Traditionally, families and friends sit around a furnace, and elders recite tales or read poetry, often from the Shahnameh, an ancient epic by Iran's greatest storyteller, Firdowsi. Others debate the latest domestic and international developments, which these days means the economic crisis, Iran's nuclear program and the recent shoe-throwing incident involving President Bush and an angry Iraqi journalist.

 
The national celebration like several other pre-Islamic holidays continues despite the efforts by hard-line clerics in the last few decades to discourage such festivals. Zoroastrianism lost dominance in Iran after Muslim Arabs conquered Persia in the 7th century, with many adherents fleeing to India. Today most of Iran's 65 million people are Shiite Muslims.  But some 60,000 Zoroastrians remain today -  down from 300,000 in the 1970s, when many emigrated to the United States. Iran also has small Christian, Bahai and Jewish communities."

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