Ramadan, Passover and Easter
Why we celebrate
Much like mid-winter, spring is especially important to multiple faiths, including Islam, Christianity and Judaism. All three are celebrating especially high holy days right now. Below is some basic information about these holy days but we are hopeful your intellectual curiosity will be piqued, and you will seek out not only more information, but experiences with those who engage in religious practices different from your own.
Celebrated this year March 22 through April 20, this Muslim observance is a time for believers to acknowledge the revelation of the Quran’s first verses 1,400 years ago to the Prophet Muhammad. Believers fast throughout each day, from dawn to sunset. They also avoid liquids, sexual activities and seek to abstain from negativity (including everything from bad thoughts, cursing, gossiping and lying).
The daily fast is broken with prayer and a special meal known as “iftār” that usually takes place with family and friends. Contrary to belief outside of Islam, the fast is not a punishment and is not meant to focus on starvation but is a time to look inward and reflect on one’s relationship with God. All Muslims who have reached puberty and are physically able (that is, are not ill) may participate in the fasts. Menstruating women are excused, as are pregnant or nursing women, and people who are traveling.
Laylat al-Qadr is the holiest of all the Ramadan nights and marks the last 10 days of the Ramadan month. The phrase means “Night of Power” and is saved for prayers, specific good deeds and reflection.
Ramadan itself comes to end with the Eid al-Fitr, or “festival of breaking the fast.” Celebrations of this include family gatherings, gifts, donations to the poor and special dinners.
Like the Christian Easter and Lent, and the Jewish Passover, Ramadan dates vary from year to year because they are set by the lunar calendar. Ramadan technically begins at the sight of the crescent moon, something that can vary from place to place.
A holy time within the Jewish faith, Passover in 2023 will take place April 5-13. The holiday celebrates the time, thousands of years ago, when the Egyptians freed the Israelites from slavery. It is referred to as Passover because God, as part of punishment to the Egyptians for not freeing the Israelites sooner, killed the oldest child of all households in Egypt but missed or “passed over” the homes of the Jewish people. This story is told in the Bible’s book of Exodus.
In Exodus, the Egyptian pharaohs used the Israelites as slave labor and were particularly cruel to them. At one point Pharaoh, fearing that the Hebrew population was growing too large, demanded the murder of all Hebrew newborns. To save her baby, Moses’ mother put him in a covered basket and sent it down the Nile River. The baby was found and adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter. However, after learning of his truth, Pharaoh sent Moses back to his people where he was immediately enslaved. Through a series of demands for freedom, followed by a series of increasingly deadly plagues sent by God, the Jewish people were freed.
The first two and the last two days of Passover are particularly special holidays that include the lighting of candles at night, huge meals and the avoidance of daily tasks like working, turning on/off electric devices, and even driving and writing. Passover celebrations include Seders, or meals of traditional foods, accompanied by storytelling and songs, drinking four cups of wine, and special readings. The first Passover Seder occurs on April 5, following sunset. The second Seder is the following evening. A significant part of Passover is the avoidance of leavening, and the consumption of maror or bitter herbs.
In the Christian faith, Easter (April 9 this year) marks the day Jesus rose after being crucified three days earlier. The day comes after Lent, a 40-day period when believers choose to deny themselves in some fashion, giving up a favorite food or activity. This is to emulate Christ who, in the Bible, prayed and fasted for 40 days prior to his crucifixion.
Easter is preceded by Holy Week, beginning with Palm Sunday to celebrate Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem following his fast. On Maundy Thursday, Christians recall the Last Supper, or the Passover meal that Jesus shared with his 12 apostles, one of whom had betrayed him to the Romans. After the Passover meal, Jesus was quickly arrested for blasphemy and giving false testimony. He was found guilty and condemned to torture and a painful death hanging on a cross with nails in his palms. He rose, however, three days later.
Christ’s arising from the dead is celebrated as a time of renewal and rebirth. Multiple symbols like baby chicks, colored eggs and rabbits are used to underscore those concepts. Easter is an especially happy time for Christians as it celebrates the promise of God to forgive the sins of followers, and to provide salvation.
It is celebrated by church services focusing on salvation and the Bible story of Christ rising; the purchase of new clothes for church; Easter egg hunts for children; and the giving of baskets filled with candy, eggs and small toys.