Category Archives: Faith

10 Things Kids Should Know About Hanukkah

Hanukkah begins tonight. Here are ten things kids should know about this special holiday.

1. Hanukkah means “dedication” in Hebrew.

2. Hanukkah is one of the lesser holidays in Judaism, but because of its proximity to Christmas, many Jewish parents try to make it special so their children do not feel left out.

3. The story of Hanukkah originates with an act of Jewish resistance against the Greeks who took over the Jewish Temple in 168 B.C.E.

4. The Greeks prevented Jewish people from practicing their religion. They made practicing Judaism punishable by death and tried to force people to worship the Greek god Zeus and to eat pork, two things that are forbidden in the Jewish faith.

5. When a Greek officer tried to force Mattathias, a Jewish High Priest, to worship Zeus and to eat pork, Mattathias struck back. He and his sons killed the Greek officer and then hid in the hills around Jerusalem.

6. Other Jewish people joined with Mattathias and the Jewish people ultimately won back their lands and the Jewish Temple.

7. The Jewish rebels were known as Maccabees or Hasmoneans.

8. To purify the Jewish Temple, the Jewish people decided to burn holy oil for eight days. But when they arrived at the temple, they realized that they only had enough oil for one day. 

9. The miracle of Hanukkah is that the small quantity of oil lasted for all eight days.

10. Today, Jewish people celebrate Hanukkah by eating foods fried in oil, lighting the menorah, giving gifts each night, and spinning dreidels.

Learn more about Hanukkah – and the Jewish faith – by trying some new foods, reading books about Hanukkah, and playing dreidel.

Make some rugelach or mandelbrot.

Read children’s books about Hanukkah.

And here’s how to play dreidel.

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Advent Begins

The season of Advent begins today as Christian families prepare for Christmas by reflecting on the circumstances around the birth of Jesus Christ through prayer, repentance, and fasting.

Advent originally began in the 4th century to anticipate the Epiphany, the Christian holiday when the wise men came to see the baby Jesus in Bethlehem. This tradition was changed by Saint Gregory the Great in the 6th century to reflect anticipation over Christmas.

Many families mark the season of Advent by lighting candles on their own Advent wreath. Each week, beginning on November 27 this year, people light one of four candles on the Advent wreath and say special prayers at dinner after they have blessed their food.

This Christian tradition is very similar to the Jewish Hanukkah menorah and the African kinara that is lit during Kwanzaa.

The Advent wreath has four candles and a new candle is lit during each of the four weeks of Advent. The first candle to be lit is purple. This color is meant to symbolize prayer, repentance, and royalty since Christians are anticipating the coming of a king.

The second week, a different purple candle is lit along with the first purple candle.

During the third week, a pink candle, symbolizes joy or rejoicing, is lit along with the first two purple candles. This is Gaudette Sunday, the midpoint of Advent, and a time when Christians turn their thoughts to celebration and rejoicing over the coming of Christmas.

During the final week, a purple candle is again lit, along with the other three candles.

On Christmas Day, a fifth, white candle in the center of the wreath, can be lit. This white candle represents Jesus and the idea that through Jesus sins are forgiven.

In many Protestant churches, four red candles are used instead of the three purple and one pink candle.

The wreath itself is round, symbolizing the fact that God has no beginning or end. The wreath is made from evergreen trees, which stay green year-round and mean continuous life. The holly in the wreath symbolizes the suffering of Jesus on the cross when he was given a crown of thorns.

For more information about the history of the Advent wreath in the Catholic church, read this.

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International (& Inspirational) Thanksgiving Quotes

If you’re struggling for conversation around the dinner table or just really want to make sure your children understand why we celebrate Thanksgiving – and why so many cultures around the world set aside a day for gratitude – here are some quotes from around the world about Thanksgiving Day and the importance of giving thanks (and a few food-related proverbs!).

Thanksgiving comes to us out of the prehistoric dimness, universal to all ages and all faiths. At whatever straws we must grasp, there is always a time for gratitude and new beginnings. J. Robert Moskin

Let us remember that, as much has been given us, much will be expected from us, and that true homage comes from the heart as well as from the lips, and shows itself in deeds. Theodore Roosevelt

On Thanksgiving Day we acknowledge our dependence. William Jennings Bryan

Give thanks for unknown blessings already on their way. Native American proverb

A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all the other virtues. Cicero

If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies in yourself. Native American proverb

Who does not thank for little will not thank for much. Estonian proverb

After lunch, rest; after dinner walk a mile. Arab proverb

A guest sees more in an hour than the host in a year. Polish proverb

Fear less, hope more,

Eat less, chew more,

talk less, say more,

Hate less, love more,

And all good things will be yours.

Swedish proverb

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Canadian vs. American Thanksgiving Celebrations

Although very similar culturally, Canada and the United States have distinct differences. One fun way to think about these differences is in the ways each celebrates the holiday of Thanksgiving.

Although Thanksgiving celebrations are held in some way in many parts of the world, the celebrations in Canada and the United States date from roughly the same time period and have been influenced by many of the same cultural groups.

Date Differences

One of the biggest differences between the celebrations is the date. Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving on the second Monday in October and the celebrations usually last into the weekend. Generally, Canadian Thanksgiving falls on the Columbus Day holiday, which many Americans – particularly Italian-Americans – celebrate with parades.

However, prior to the 19th century, many Canadian provinces set their own date for Thanksgiving celebrations. In the early 1900s, many Canadians celebrated Thanksgiving in November but this date was changed following World War I since it fell too close to Remembrance Day (or Veterans Day) ceremonies. In 1957, Canada officially declared the second Monday in October for Thanksgiving celebrations.

Americans have celebrated Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday in November since President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a bill into law that changed the date that President Abraham Lincoln had assigned to Thanksgiving. Lincoln had chosen the final Thursday in November, which does not always fall on the fourth Thursday, in an effort to unite the northern and southern states following the Civil War. Roosevelt changed the date in an effort to give the country an economic lift during the Great Depression.

Holiday Origins

Canadian Thanksgiving traces its origins to Martin Frobisher, an English explorer who was trying to find a Northwest Passage. Upon arrival in Canada, he and his companions held a celebration to give thanks for a safe arrival after a difficult and dangerous journey.

As with most things in Canada, the French had an equal influence on the holiday. French explorer Samuel de Champlain led a group of French settlers to Canada in the 17th century who then held a great feast at the end of the successful harvest. There are even reports that they shared their food with the indigenous people of the area.

American Thanksgiving is generally believed to date from the Pilgrim harvest celebration in 1621. However, many researchers believe the first Thanksgiving was actually held by Spanish explorers in Florida in 1565. In 1619, settlers in the Virginia colony also held a feast to celebrate the anniversary of the settlement.

Celebrations Today

Canadians celebrate in much the same way that Americans do: feasts, parades, football, harvest decorations, travel, and time with family. Unlike most Americans, though, Canadians have no fixed day for the traditional Thanksgiving feast. Since the holiday falls on a Monday, Canadians serve up their feast Saturday, Sunday, or Monday, although most people hold their feast on Sunday.

The Feast

Many Canadians roast a turkey and serve cranberry sauce, stuffing, potatoes, and pies for their Thanksgiving feast, although a baked ham might also be the featured dish.

FineCooking.com has some great recipes to give you a taste of what a traditional Thanksgiving feast is like in Canada. Here’s just a few to whet your appetite.

Pumpkin Stuffed with Everything Good

 

Potato Gratin with Gruyere, Bacon & Leeks

 

Maple-Bacon Glazed Turkey with Wild Rice & Cornbread Stuffing & Bourbon Gravy

 

Cranberry Sauce with Vanilla, Maple Syrup & Cassis

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Millions Travel to Mecca for Annual Hajj

On November 5, millions of Muslims began the five-day hajj, an annual trip to Mecca in Saudi Arabia that is one of the five pillars of Islam.

The hajj, which draws about 2.5 million Muslim pilgrims to sacred sites in and around Mecca, is the largest religious gathering in the world.

Muslims who are physically able and can afford to make the trip gather from around the world to pray and practice their faith together.

The ritual goes back to Abraham, the common ancestor of the Muslim, Jewish, and Christian faiths. Abraham had a child with his servant, Hagar, a baby named Ishmael. Many of the rituals are based on a story in which Hagar, left alone in the desert with the baby, finds food and water to keep them both alive.

The hajj rituals are deeply important to Muslims. They are very well explained here and here. But the best way to learn about the hajj, and Islam, is by becoming friends with Muslims you may know and asking them questions about their faith.

In learning more about Islam, it’s interesting to note what an important role the number five plays in Islam. There are five pillars of Islam, which includes proclaiming that there is only one God, promising to donate generously to charitable works, fasting during Ramadan, daily prayer, and performing the hajj pilgrimage.

The hajj lasts five days and has a number of activities that must be performed or the hajj is invalid.

Finally, Muslims pray five times each day.

In other faiths, different numbers and rituals take on important meaning. Learning more about other religions helps us understand our beliefs even better.

Here are some great resources geared toward children to help them learn more about Islam.

Islam for Kids

BBC Schools, Islam: An Introduction

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Superstitions Around the World

At Halloween, it’s fun to explore the things we don’t understand and examine the steps we take to control the things that just can’t be controlled. For example:

When you spill salt, do you throw a pinch over your left shoulder for good luck?

Do you believe black cats are unlucky?

Do you think that if you break a mirror, you’ll have bad luck for seven years?

Do you avoid the number 13?

These are all superstitions with which most Americans are familiar.

Even if we don’t believe in them, we pass this information on to our children because it’s part of our collective cultural heritage. We feel they should be aware of these beliefs.

But what other superstitions do people believe around the world? How are they different? Here’s a brief look at superstitions around the world to help you understand other cultures.

The Spooky Numbers 4 and 17

In Japan, it’s the number 4, not 13, that makes hearts race. In Italy, it’s the number 17. In these cultures, many hotels and hospitals avoid using these numbers to prevent their guests and patients from unnecessary pessimism. Of course, these buildings still have fourth and seventeenth floors, they just aren’t listed as such.

The Broken Dish

In the Netherlands, a broken dish is believed to bring bad luck in much the same way a broken mirror does.

More About Cats

In the Netherlands, private matters should not be discussed when a cat is in the room. People believe that cats are untrustworthy and spread gossip.

Tuesday

Tuesdays hold a special place in superstition. Tuesday the 13th is considered a particularly bad-luck day in many cultures in much the same way that Friday the 13th is bad luck to many Americans. In India, you cannot get a hair cut on Tuesdays because it’s believed to bring bad luck.

Bad Dreams

In Romania, if you dream about dark water or that you are carrying a newborn baby in your arms, you can expect bad luck. In China, dreaming about teeth or snow means that your parents have died.

More About Mirrors

If you thought breaking a mirror was bad, then you definitely do not want to place a mirror anywhere near the foot of your bed. If you do, Italians believe it permits the devil to watch you sleep. And if you wake up in the night and catch a glimpse of your reflection in that mirror, it means that evil owns you.

Watch Out For the Evil Eye

Many cultures believe in the evil eye which brings big-time bad luck. In Guatemala, parents can protect their children from the evil eye by dressing the kids in red; even a red bracelet will help.

Don’t Get Swept Away

In Venezuela, some people believe that if someone pushes a broom over your feet while they are sweeping, they also sweep away your chances of ever getting married. In many parts of Africa, you are never supposed to sweep your house at night. It is believed that you will sweep your good luck away.

Respect the Moon

In China, if you point to the moon with your finger the tips of your ears will fall off.

Whether or not you’re superstitious, it’s good to be aware – and respectful – of other people’s beliefs. When you visit people in their homes or travel to different countries, you need to respect these beliefs in order to be a considerate guest.

 

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10 Things Kids Should Know About Diwali

Happy Diwali! Although most Americans are unfamiliar with the festival of Diwali, it is celebrated by millions of people around the world.

Here are ten things kids should know about Diwali:

1. Diwali is celebrated by Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, and Sikhs.

2. The holiday celebrates the triumph of good over evil.

3. One of the most popular interpretations of the holiday is that it commemorates the return of Lord Rama, who left his home and battled a ten-headed dragon. When he returned home after 14 years, villagers laid out lanterns to line the route.

4. Diwali means “row of light.”

5. Diwali is also a new year’s celebration.

6. To celebrate Diwali, observers go to temple and pray, light small clay lamps, wear new clothes, fireworks, and share delicious food with family and friends.

7. Diwali was first celebrated at the White House in 2003; in 2009, President Barack Obama participated in the White House Diwali celebration.

8. Diwali is one of the most important festivals for Hindus.

9. Diwali is celebrated for five days.

10. To wish a friend a happy holiday, you can say “Happy Diwali” in English or “Deepavali ki Shubhkamnayein” in Hindi.

Host your own celebration at home tonight by making Coconut Chicken and Vegetable Curry from Kitchen Explorers on PBS.

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Pamplona’s Running of the Bulls

Pamplona's running of the bullsToday marks the first day of the festival of San Fermin in Pamplona, a Catholic religious holiday in Spain that is most closely associated with the running of the bulls.

Saint Fermin is believed to have been the son of a Roman senator who converted to Christianity and later became a priest. He was martyred in France in AD 303.

The San Fermin festival begins on July 6 with a rocket launch from a balcony of Pamplona’s city hall. The next day there is a procession in which a statue of Saint Fermin is paraded through the streets joined by dancers, musicians, and the “gigantes” and “cabezudos” (giants and big-heads).

San FerminThe running of the bulls takes place on July 7 and continues each day of the festival, which lasts until July 14. Runners are pursued by six bulls and six steers down a roughly half-mile route that ends at the bullring in Pamplona. Before the run begins, participants pray to Saint Fermin and chant three times asking for his protection.

The run begins when a firecracker is set off to alert the runners that the bulls have been released. Since hundreds of people participate, the firecracker signal is necessary so that people will be prepared to start running. Although approximately 15 people have been killed running from the bulls, about 250 people are injured every year, usually from falls.

 

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Prayer for Pets

Blessing of the animalsCan you imagine taking your beloved dog, cat, parakeet, or iguana to your place of worship? In some parts of the world, including the United States, that’s just what happens at the annual blessing of the animals.

The practice supposedly began with St. Francis of Assisi, an Italian saint who was known for his love of all animals. St. Francis was so gentle and loving that legend has it he could preach to the birds without frightening them away and even convinced a marauding wolf to stop attacking villagers in one Italian town.

Since St. Francis’s feast day is in October, most of these celebrations take place in the fall; however, some parishes celebrate at different times during the year.

At the blessing of the animals, a priest or other religious leader leads a prayer that thanks God for the love and companionship that our pets give us. In addition, the prayer includes the need for all people to take responsibility as stewards of the earth’s resources – including pets and animals.

Although festivals at which animals are blessed are somewhat common in the Catholic and Anglican churches, other religions have similar celebrations. In the Jewish faith, these are jokingly referred to as “Bark Mitzvahs” or “Meow Mitzvahs.”

For more information about faith and animal friendship, check out this guide to blessings of animals.

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