The Muslim month of Ramadan starts on 12 April 2021.
During this holy month, Muslims are not allowed to eat food or drink anything, even water, during daylight hours. Many people will devote more time to prayer and charity during this month, as it is believed that good works done during Ramadan have greater benefit. It is one of the five pillars of Islam.
The first meal of the day is called suhur, and is taken before sunrise. People try and eat foods that will stop them being hungry as long as possible. So it might be eggs, beans, porridge, bran muffins, fruit and yoghurt.
At sunset the fast is broken with a meal called iftar, usually some dates to start, along with a drink of water. Then after the sunset prayers, the main meal is eaten. This can be a large banquet of a meal with a variety of dishes, salads, juices and sweets.
At the end of the month of Ramadan is the festival of Eid-al-Fitr, and celebrates the return to a more normal routine.
This weekend is Easter (for Catholics and Protestants), the holiest part of the Christian year, commemorating the crucifixion (on Friday) and resurrection (on Sunday) of Jesus. Orthodox (Eastern) Christians celebrate Easter in a few weeks (Why? It’s a long story …).
But for many people Easter is also a spring festival, celebrating new life and growth as the world wakes up after winter. That is why there are Easter eggs (symbolising new life and rebirth), and the Easter Bunny (representing growth and fertility – “breeding like rabbits”!)
So Happy Easter, and don’t eat too much chocolate!
We are currently in the time of the Jewish festival of Passover (Pesach in Hebrew), celebrating the release of the Hebrews from slavery in ancient Egypt. The festival lasts for eight days and started last Saturday evening. The name comes from Biblical story where the Hebrews were “passed over” by God and not afflicted with the tenth plague of Egypt.
The festival starts with the Passover Seder, a ritual feast that also involves retelling the story of the Exodus from Egypt. The story is discussed, kosher wine is drunk, bread without yeast is eaten, and there is the Seder plate, with symbolic foods.
During the remaining days, people are required to avoid all leaven or yeast. People also try to only do necessary work, and prefer to spend time with family.
The seventh day of Passover is another festival, celebrating the parting of the Red Sea that enabled them to leave Egypt.
So have a happy and kosher Passover, or Chag Pesach kasher V’Sameach.
Sunday 28 March is the Hindu festival of Holi, the “Festival of Colours”, celebrating the coming of spring, and the love of the god Krishna and the goddess Radha. Its most distinctive feature is the great fun that people have throwing coloured powder over each other. Any one is fair game, no matter who it is!
It is the second biggest Hindu festival after Diwali.
Traditionally, people visit friends and family, and share sweets including sweet filled flatbread, deep-fried flour balls soaked in yoghurt, and sweet deep-fried dumplings.
Today, 20 March 2021 is Nowruz, the Iranian New Year. This ancient tradition has been celebrated for over 3000 years.
It is said that Persian king Jamsid saved the world from a winter that threatened to kill everything and everyone. He had a throne made from gems, and had demons raise him into the sky where he shone like the sun.
People from Iran and Central Asia often have a table in their house with various items (similar to the picture) symbolising the new year, growth and prosperity. There are various other new year customs, which you can read about here.
Today is Chinese New Year – so wishing everyone happiness and prosperity!
Or 恭喜发财 [Gong Xi Fa Cai (Mandarin) or Gung Hay Fat Choy (Cantonese)]
2021 is the Year of the Ox. People born in an Ox year are said to be dependable and determined, just like an ox.
Although celebrations are online this year because of Covid, people traditionally go home to meet up with family. The biggest family gatherings are usually on Chinese New Year’s Eve, where families remember the past year.
Other customs are:
Red decorations and lanterns. Red symbolises good luck and prosperity.
Fireworks are let off.
Children are given red envelopes with money inside.
People eat traditional foods such as dumplings, fish, rice balls, spring rolls, and fish. Different parts of China have different food traditions.
Last, but not least, the Chinese New Year Parade in London, with lion dancers, music and dance.
Although Christmas celebrations are a bit subdued this year, you can still go outside and enjoy the local Christmas lights wherever you are.
Like these for example in Granary Square, Kings Cross:
Also, if you can, please check up on those who may be celebrating Christmas alone this year. A quick phone call can go a long way.
There are also groups on social media for those who want a bit of online company. for example, on Twitter use #JoinIn on Christmas Day. This hashtag has been going every Christmas for 10 years (as an aside, it was originally started by comedian Sarah Millican).