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February 3, 2004 > Multicultural Calendar - February 2004

Multicultural Calendar - February 2004

by Praveena Raman & Suzanna Nuñez

Black History Month (United States)
1 - Eid al-adha (Islamic, Muslim)
Eid al-Adha or Feast of Sacrifice is the most important feast of the Muslim calendar. It concludes the Pilgrimmage to Mecca. Eid al-Adha lasts for three days and commemorates Ibraham's (Abraham) willingness to obey God by sacrificing his son. Muslims believe the son to be Ishmael rather than Isaac as told in the Old Testament. Ishmael is considered the forefather of the Arabs. According to the Koran, Ibrahim was about to sacrifice his son when a voice from heaven stopped him and allowed him to sacrifice a ram instead.
The feast re-enacts Ibrahim's obedience by sacrificing a cow or ram. The family eats about a third of the meal and donates the rest to the poor.
2 - Candlemas
Candlemas has a rich and diverse history. Known as the Festival of Lights, Candlemas has been celebrated for hundreds of years. In Gaelic this holiday is known as L Fhill Brghde nan coinnlean which translates as "The feast day of Brghde of the candles". Bghde is Bridget of Kildare, the Celtic goddess of fire, the hearth, smithy, fields, poetry and childbirth. She also gives blessings to women who are about to marry. Women still bear her name on their wedding day to honor her.
On the feast day, Bridget would visit and bless homes. If the sun was seen on this day winter was over but if the sun was hidden behind clouds winter was still to come. In the British Isles, spring is already on its way. Flower buds are poking through and the greenery is returning. Milk begins to flow in the udders of cows and sheep as they ready for the birth of their offspring. Older pagan names for Candlemas include Imbolc and Oimelc. Oimelc meaning "milk of ewes" and Imbolc translates as "in the belly" (pertaining to the earth).

In some countries it was believed that some type of burrowing animal, a hedgehog was popular, would come out on Bridget's Day to judge the quality of the weather. This tradition came with settlers to the New World but alas no hedgehogs could be found just groundhogs--in abundance. Thus Groundhogs' Day was born.
In France and Canada this day is known as La Féte de la Chandeleur. Traditionally crepes are eaten to insure a bountiful year. Candlemas, from whichever angle you look at it, has to do with candles. Traditionally candles are set in every window of the home and lit at sundown. They burn brightly until dawn. This is still practiced in the British Isles and in some parts of the United States. It is also customary to weave "Brigid's Cross" from straw and hang it upon the hearth.

- Groundhog Day (United States)
Groundhog Day is based on the festival known as Candlemas. The custom was brought to America by the Pennsylvania Dutch (German settlers) who believed that all hibernating animals come out to check on the weather. If the animal saw its shadow, then six weeks of bad weather would follow and the animal could go back to sleep. However, a cloudy day meant that spring was coming soon and the weather until then would be moderate. In the United States, the most famous hibernating animal turned weather fo recaster is Punxsutawney Phil who lives in Gobbler's Knob. Phil is over 100 years old and made his first weather report on February 2, 1887. His forecasts are recorded in the Congressional Record.

- Imbolc (Wiccan)
Imbolc ("IM-bulk" is an ancient festival generally celebrated ON February 2. It is also known as Candlemas, Brighid ("breed"), and Oimelc ("EE-mulk") which means ewe's milk. Imbolc is a Greater Sabbat in the Wiccan year.
The celebration signals the middle of the season of long nights and anticipates the upcoming season of light. Celebrants make Corn Maidens from corn and wheat. The Maidens are dressed up and placed in a cradle known as a "Bride's Bed". A wand, usually tipped with an acorn or other large seed, is placed in the bed with the Maiden. The Maidens are generally kept year round as a symbol of fertility.
Other interrelated interpretations of the festival center around the Irish Goddess Brighid, known for her healing, smithcraft, and poetry gifts. Additional interpretations revolve around the birth of lambs and the lactation of the ewes. Still others celebrate Imbolc as the recovery of the Earth Goddess after giving birth to the Sun God.

3 - Setsubun-sai (Shinto)
The holiday is celebrated among the Shinto of Japan is a good luck festival. Commonly known as "O-mame-maki," Setsubun-sai is the bean throwing festival and is a very popular New Year's ritual. It marks the end of the coldest season, "Kan," and celebrates the coming of spring while throwing beans to keep demons away. Shouts of "Devils out, Good fortune in" are part of the long-standing ritual.

7 - Tu b'Shvat or Tu B'Shevat (Jewish, Israel)
Tu B'Shevat, the 15th day of the Jewish month of Shevat, is a holiday also known as the New Year for Trees. The word "Tu" is not really a word; it is the number 15 in Hebrew. Tu B'Shevat is the new year for the purpose of calculating the age of trees for tithing. See Lev. 19:23-25, which states that fruit from trees may not be eaten during the first three years; the fourth year's fruit is for G-d, and after that, you can eat the fruit. Each tree is considered to have aged one year as of Tu B'Shevat, so if you planted a tree on Shevat 14, it begins it second year the next day, but if you plant a tree two days later, on Shevat 16, it does not reach its second year until the next Tu B'Shevat. There are few customs or observances related to this holiday. One custom is to eat a new fruit on this day. Some people plant trees on this day. A lot of Jewish children go around collecting money for trees for Israel at this time of year.
12 - Abraham Lincoln's Birthday (United States)
14 - Valentine's Day (United States)
Valentine's Day occurs annually on Februay 14. Modern day customs include sending greeting cards known as valentines to loved ones. School rooms are often decorated with lace and paper hearts. Gifts of candy and flowers are also given at this time.
15 - Lantern Festival (Taiwan)
Lantern Festival, also known as Shang Yuan Festival, takes place on the fifteenth day of the first moon. Last in a series of springtime celebrations, this "second New Year" is widely celebrated by families all around Taiwan. On the night of the festival, decorative lanterns depicting birds, beasts, historical figures, and any one of a number of different themes are carried by children or adorn temples. To highlight these glowing works of art, competitions are held . The Taipei Lantern Festival, held annually at Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall Plaza and the largest and most famous of these competitions, is attended every year by thousands of lantern-watchers. The Lantern Festival is further enriched by the customary lantern riddle parties that are held on this night. The night sky on Lantern Festival is also illuminated by the Tainan Yanshui Fireworks Display and Taipei Pinghsi Sky Lanterns - known together as "Fireworks in the South, Sky Lanterns in the North," as well as many other regional folk activities. In addition to displaying and appreciating lanterns, Lantern Festival is also celebrated by eating tang yuan, an important custom symbolizing family unity and indispensable to the day's festivities. The varied festivities and customs practiced on Lantern Festival not only provide celebrants with rich entertainment, like the historical-theme lantern displays and riddles, but are also instructive, by their expression of ancient wisdom. The variety of splendid lantern features different folk art techniques, impressing these arts deep in the hearts and minds of the people.

16 - President's Day (United States)
22 - George Washington's Birthday (United States)
24 - Flag Day (Mexico)
24 - Mardi Gras (United States)
Mardi Gras or fat Tuesday is a boisterous celebration held annually on Shrove Tuesday, the day before the season of Lent begins in the Western Christian liturgical calendar. The actual date varies from year to year since it depends on the date of Easter. Mardi Gras is the culmination of a long carnival season which begins on January 6, the Twelfth Night of Christmas. The custom was brought to the United States by the French who had paraded a fat ox through Paris.

The honor of the oldest Mardi Gras celebration in the United States belongs to Mobile, Alabama which first observed the holiday in 1703. However, the city most associated with Mardi Gras is New Orleans, Louisiana. Secret societies known as krewes arrange and finance the activities. The oldest krewe is Comus, which made its first appearance in 1857. However, since a 1992 New Orleans city ordinance which required the societies to open up their membership if they wanted to hold a parade, Comus has cancelled its parades in protest. The Krewe of Rex first appeared in 1872 and is synonymous with Mardi Gras. A different krewe holds a parade on each night during the two weeks leading up to Lent. The krewes also hold masked balls at which the king and queen of the krewe are presented to the society.

25 - Ash Wednesday (Protestant, Roman Catholic)

Ash Wednesday marks the first day of Lent in the Western Christian liturgical year. Lent is a season of spiritual discipline, cleansing, and fasting which occurs in the forty days (excluding Sundays which are not considered part of Lent) before Easter.

On Ash Wednesday, a priest or pastor marks a cross on the forehead of parishoners. The ashes are obtained from the burned palms used in the previous year's Palm Sunday celebration. This ritual is blessed with a passage from Genesis 3:19: "for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return." The ashes symbolize repentance and purification.

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