This post has become an annual tradition. Each year, the various calendars shift, pulled here and there by the sun and the moon, and the chronology and overlap of holidays will change. This year, the spring line-up begins with Shrove Tuesday tomorrow. And this year, we have Easter, Passover and Ramadan all converging–a special challenge and blessing for interfaith families with Abrahamic trifecta lineages!
Over more than a decade writing this interfaith blog, I have posted multiple essays on many of the spring Jewish and Christian holidays: Purim, St Patrick’s Day, Passover, Easter. But interfaith families these days have multiple heritages, and multiple practices, well beyond Jewish and Christian. So this post takes note of some (but not all!) of the many interlocking spring religious holidays.
Note the ancient connections many of these holidays have to the astronomical and agricultural calendars, and often, to each other. Religions and cultures are not static, but change over time in response to neighboring religions and cultures, just as we change and grow through our interconnections in interfaith families.
February 21, Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras). For Roman Catholics and some Protestants, this day marks the end of feasting before the beginning of the fast for Lent. Shrove Tuesday is the finale of Carnival (Shrovetide), with notable multi-day celebrations in Brazil, Trinidad and Tobago, New Orleans, Venice, and some Protestant regions. Carnival is thought to have historical ties to the pre-Christian celebrations of the return of the sun.
Feb 22, Ash Wednesday, for Roman Catholics and some Protestants, marking the start of Lent. Lent is a period of prayer and penance in commemoration of Jesus’s 40 days in the desert, and in preparation for Easter. Many practitioners make a Lenten sacrifice, giving up a specific luxury food (chocolate, all sweets, alcohol) during Lent.
March 6, Purim. Jewish commemoration of the Biblical story of Esther in ancient Persia, celebrated with costumed reenactments (Purim spiels), three-cornered pastry (hamantaschen), carnival games, drinking, and charity. Some believe Esther is connected to the ancient fertility goddess Ishtar, and there may be a historical connection between Norooz and Purim.
March 6, Magha Puja Day. Buddhist commemoration of Buddha delivering the principles of Buddhism, on the full moon. Celebrated in Southeast Asia with temple visits, processions, and good works.
March 7, Holi. Hindu commemoration of the arrival of spring and love, celebrated with bonfires, throwing powdered color pigments and water on each other, music, feasting, forgiving debts, repairing relationships, and visiting. Popular even with non-Hindus in South Asia, and increasingly (and not without controversy over appropriation) throughout the world.
March 8-10, Hola Mohalla. Sikh celebration including processions, ceremonial battles, poetry reading, and music. There is a historical connection between the Hindu festival of Holi, and Hola Mohalla.
March 17, St Patrick’s Day. Catholic commemoration of the Feast Day of St Patrick, primarily celebrated by Irish-Americans with parades, drinking, and the wearing of the green, as a way to connect with Irish heritage. Now celebrated in America by people of many religions. Possible historical connection to Ostara.
March 20, Spring Equinox. Ostara, Modern Pagan/Wiccan commemoration of the spring equinox and Eostre, the Saxon lunar goddess of fertility. Celebrated with planting of seeds and nature walks. Possible historical connections between Eostre/Esther/Ishtar, and between Easter, Passover, and Norooz.
March 20-21, Norooz (Nowruz, Naw-Ruz). Zoroastrian/Bahai/Persian celebration of the New Year on the spring equinox. With roots in ancient Iran, people of many religions may celebrate Norooz together in the Balkans, Caucasus, Central and South Asia, and the Middle East, with spring cleaning, flowers, picnics, feasting, and family visits. Afghan refugees in your neighborhood may be celebrating Norooz. Possible historical connection between Norooz and Purim.
March 22, the new moon marks the start of the month-long daytime fast of Ramadan in Islam. The month commemorates the revelation of the Qu’ran. Muslim holidays are on a lunar calendar, so move through the seasons over time.
April 4, Mahavir Jayanti, the Jain holiday celebrating the birth of Lord Mahavir with temple visits, charity, rallies promoting non-violence and veganism, and running events.
April 14, Viasakhi, the Sikh New Year and harvest celebration marking the founding of the Khalsa order, a group of highly devout warrior-saints founded by Guru Gobind Singh. The holiday is marked by parades, community service, music (kirtans), and visits to the gurdwara.
April 6, Maundy Thursday. Protestant and Roman Catholic commemoration of The Last Supper. There may (or may not) be a historical connection between The Last Supper and the Passover seder.
April 7, Good Friday. Protestant and Roman Catholic commemoration of the Crucifixion of Jesus, with church services and fasting.
Sundown on April 5 to April 12, Passover (Pesach), Jewish commemoration of the flight from Egypt described in the book of Exodus. Primarily a home-based celebration with one or more festive Seder meals of ritual foods, songs, and prayer. As with Easter, Passover incorporates (presumably pre-Judaic pagan) spring equinox fertility symbolism (eggs, spring greens).
April 9, Easter. Protestant and Roman Catholic commemoration of the Resurrection of Jesus, celebrated with church services, family dinners, and baskets of candy for children. Fertility imagery including bunnies and eggs may, or may not, have a historical connection to pre-Christian rituals and the spring equinox.
April 16, Orthodox Easter (or Pascha) in many of the Orthodox Christian traditions using the Julian rather than Gregorian calendar, including Bulgaria, Cyprus, Ethiopia, Greece, Lebanon, Macedonia, Romania, Russia, and Ukraine, as well as millions of people with heritage from these regions now living in North America. Many of these cultures include a feast of lamb (connected historically to Passover) and hard-boiled eggs (possibly connected to more ancient fertility traditions).
April 20-23, Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim holiday marking the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting. Celebrated with prayer, family visits, new clothes, gifts, and charity.
April 30, Beltane, a Pagan festival with Gaelic roots, celebrates the return of the sun and the fertility of the Earth. It falls midway between the spring and summer equinox, and is celebrated with bonfires, and blooming branches. The American cultural phenomena of maypole dancing and hanging May Day baskets have roots in this holiday.
Journalist Susan Katz Miller is an interfaith families speaker, consultant, and coach, and author of Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family (2015), and The Interfaith Family Journal (2019). Follow her on twitter @susankatzmiller.