In Guyana, formerly British Guiana and a tropical country, the main thrust of the celebration of Christmas is to have the best home ready for the Christ Child. This home has two dimensions. It is external as well as internal.
First, the external home is the physical home. From mid-November, new curtains and chair coverings are made or, at the least, the old ones are washed and ironed. The same is true for bed sheets and pillow cases. The furniture is also stripped of varnish and polish from the previous year, sandpapered and refinished.
No celebration is complete without food and drink. Usually, two types of cakes are made, one with the red cherries and raisins and the other, known as “black cake” because of its color, is made with minced prunes and raisins which are soaked in rum since the beginning of the year. Local drinks are made separately from ginger, sun-dried sorrel, and the mauby bark, and wine from the jamoon fruit.
The Anglican traditions around the seasons of Advent and Christmas typically include a good deal of music. At All Saints’ in Edmonton, Canada, we are very blessed to have Jeremy Spurgeon as our Music Director. In addition to leading an excellent choir and providing us with spectacular classical hymns on the organ and grand piano, Jeremy invites a brass band to join us for the 11 pm Christmas Eve service.
In the hours leading up to Christmas Eve services, the chancel and sanctuary areas are massed with poinsettias and cedar branches. A very large crèche (approximately 5 feet tall, four feet wide, and two feet deep) is placed below the chancel steps. This particular crèche has a special history for us because it was handmade by a parishioner many years ago. The figures of the Holy Family, the wise men, the shepherds, and the animals were all hand carved by this same fellow. Every year the service begins with the Bishop blessing the crèche. Then the lights are lowered and the service continues by candlelight.
Hanukkah may not be everyone’s favorite Jewish holiday, but I’m sure it ranks among everyone’s top two or three. And this is easy to understand. It’s a happy time, usually occurring when most other people are celebrating the season. And the fact that we give each other Hanukkah presents doesn’t hurt either!
Every year, I am asked many times what does Hanukkah celebrate. Of course, the people asking don’t want a long answer explaining the historical context of the victory of the Maccabees. They want a sound bite. So I give them one: The holiday celebrates the miracle of how a little jar of oil, enough to last only for one day, lasted for eight. That’s why we light candles on all eight nights of the holiday.
The roots of the Foundation reach back to the convening of Vatican II in 1962, when the Conference on Religious Development was formed to undertake theological and religious education programs in the context of the newly emerging ecumenical relationships among the various Protestant and Catholic communions. During the following years, the Conference conducted a variety of residential programs at the Conference Center at Madison, Connecticut, for professionals in ministry and education, and members of religious communities. During the early days and up to the present, Father Robley Whitson, formerly head of theology at Fordham University, and his faculty colleague in spirituality at Fordham, the late Professor Ewert Cousins, were the creators of this grand initiative.
Fr. Robley Whitson
Dr. Ewert Cousins
Christmas time at St. Mary’s Cathedral cannot be considered without also including the season of Advent. The music during the Masses highlights the themes of hope and expectation. Gregorian Chant is very prominent in our choices. During this season, our children’s choirs are busy visiting senior residences and caroling for them. Each year, we also collaborate with St. Mark’s Lutheran Church across the street in an Advent Lessons and Carols service. This year, the service was at St. Mark’s and featured works by Tavener, Moore, Britten, and Tschesnokoff. An entertaining highlight is our annual Cookies and Carols fundraiser, involving all cathedral choirs. A small part of the evening includes caroling for about 100 homeless men who are sheltered in our conference center for two weeks over Christmas. The weekly concerts included Vytenis Vasyliunas (Germany), organist; Lyle Sheffler, classical guitar; myself on the organ; and Angela Kraft Cross, organist.
Rev. Dr. Bernie Joseph O'Connor, a former official at the Vatican with the Congregation of Eastern Churches, shares his experience as a faculty member for the Graduate Theological Foundation.
The Islamic New Year recently began, and this week, we have a post from a member of our own faculty, Dr. Marzia Dawlatzai, who explains this ancient tradition.
Dr. Marzia Hashem Dawlatzai is Aisha Bint Abu Bakr Professor of Women’s Studies and was born into a family of the Pashtun Tribe in Afghanistan. She holds a M.Th. and Ph.D. in Islamic Studies from the GTF and a bachelor's degree (Faculty of Law) from Kabul University in Afghanistan. She has worked for many years with the U.S. Military and with Pashtun tribal children. To read her complete biography, please visit her faculty profile.
Muharram/Islamic New Year 2012
The Islamic calendar is lunar, like the Jewish calendar, with 12 months of 29 or 30 days each, for a total of 354 days. The Islamic calendar makes no corrections to align itself with the solar calendar, so each year the Islamic holidays occur earlier and do not always fall in the same season.
The first day of the Islamic New Year is celebrated on the first day of Muharram. Al Hijra is the day when Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) began his migration from Mecca to Medina in Islamic Year 1 (1 AH), 622 CE; the Day of Ashura (or Ashurah) is known as the most sacred day in the month of Muharram. It is the 10th day of Muharram and is a day of fasting for many Sunni Muslims. Many Shi’a Muslims use the day to commemorate the martyrdom of Husain Ibn Ali in 680 CE. Some Muslims give to charity on this day.
The way the Muslims celebrate New Year’s Day is very different from other New Year celebrations; they gather in mosques and offer special prayers and listen to special readings from the Holly Kora’an. An important part of the prayer service is the narration of the HIGRA’A of the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) from Mecca to Madina. Muslims are supposed to reflect on their lives, the manner in which they are leading their lives and about their own morality. The day is spent in prayer and reflection. There are no celebrations that Muslims normally associate with New Year’s Day and is known as “Maal Hijraa”. A number of Muslims have taken to sending greeting cards to each other on this day.
Rev. Patricia Hawkins Wells talks about why she chose Graduate Theological Foundation for graduate studies in pastoral counseling.