Holiday seasons, customs vary for Christians, Jews, Muslims

Posted December 9, 2015

The holidays are fast approaching, and many people are gearing up to celebrate Christmas. This holiday is embedded into the American culture, as is ringing in the New Year. However, there are other religions besides Christianity practiced around the world, including in River Falls.

“The Jewish holidays merge with the Christian ones nicely,” said Imtiaz Moosa, UW-River Falls professor of philosophy. “The Festival of Lights is around Christmas, while the Passover is close to Easter.”

Moosa teaches a class about eastern religions as well as Islam.

The Jewish religion has a lot of different holidays that are celebrated at different times each year. Rosh Hashanah, which was celebrated this year on Sept. 14 and 15, is the Jewish New Year. Rosh Hashanah is celebrated 10 days before Yom Kippur.

According to Reform Judaism, Rosh Hashanah is celebrated by the sounding of the shofar, an instrument usually made from a ram’s horn, as well as eating special foods that symbolize the circle of life, and typically extended wishes for a good year are exchanged. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are celebrated around the same, but shift slightly each year.

Another Jewish holiday observed is the Festival of Lights, which is often associated with Hanukkah.

Hanukkah is an eight-day event commemorating the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt of the second century. Hanukkah is observed by lighting one candle on the menorah candelabrum each day.

The menorah has eight branches on it that are placed with candles to represent the eight days behind the holiday. In the center is a ninth candle that typically rests higher than the rest and is called the shamash, or the helper candle. This candle is lit first at sunset on the first night. It is custom that the candles are placed from right to left, but when they are lit they are lit from left to right.

Ramadan is a holiday celebrated by the Muslim religion. Ramadan is a month of fasting to commemorate the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad. With Ramadan fasting begins at dawn and goes until sunset, and Muslims refrain from consuming food, drinking liquids, smoking, as well as not engaging in sexual relations.

The meal that is served before dawn is called suhur, while the meal that is served after sunset to break the fast is called the iftar. Ramadan is observed when the new moon of the month and the crescent, typically a day or more after the new moon, is visible.

“The Muslim calendar is lunar, and is based on lunar cycles,” Moosa said. “Hence, the holy month of Ramadan is at a slightly different date every year.”

Ramadan was celebrated from June 17 to July 17 of this year, and will be June 6 to July 5 in 2016.

A lot of customs come with the Jewish and Muslim holidays, but Moosa said that people still participate in the American customs of the holiday season.

“All people in the USA enjoy the public holidays, even though they are not regarded as religious,” Moosa said.