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Dec. 8th – Bhodi Day

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The Buddha in front of our home, who greets all of our visitors, and reminds me that I really need to rake the leaves someday.

Bhodi Day is a Buddhist holiday commemorating the day that the Buddha experienced enlightenment after meditating on the root of suffering whilst sitting under a tree.

From Wikipedia: “Traditions vary on what happened [during his meditation]. Some say he made a great vow to Nirvana and Earth to find the root of suffering, or die trying. In other traditions, while meditating he was harassed and tempted by the god Mara (literally, “Destroyer” in Sanskrit), demon of illusion. Other traditions simply state that he entered deeper and deeper states of meditation, confronting the nature of the self.” (Wikipedia – Bhodi Day)

Traditions for Bhodi Day are simple and unencumbered, as you might expect – meditation, chanting, studying the Dharma, and performing acts of kindness.  Some Buddhists add a meal of tea and cake (though it’s not specific about what kind of cake…)

We’re still a bit behind on our celebrations, and doing our best to catch up – so I’m commemorating a Belated Bhodi Day by spending some time in quiet meditation, and preparing some acts of kindness that we will be performing in the near future, in honor of this and several other holidays. (I may even listen to some Nirvana as I do so!)

Do you celebrate Bhodi Day? If so, tell us about it in the comments!

Nov, 27th (sunset) – Dec. 5th (sunset) – Chanukah

Chanukah (or Hanukah, Hanukkah, etc.), also known as the Festival of Lights, is an eight-day holiday celebrating the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. It is celebrated on the 25th day of Kislev (a month in the Hebrew calendar), and may occur anytime from late November to late December.  This particular Chanukah is rare in that it coincides with Thanksgiving – an event that last happened in 1888, and won’t happen again for over 79,000 years.

Chanukah is celebrated in many ways by the Jewish people – prayers and blessings, reading the Torah, the lighting of a special candelabra (called a menorah), the singing of hymns, playing games with a top/die called a dreidel, and (my favorite part, of course) the preparing and eating of special foods, including potato cakes called latkes.

Chanukah is actually a minor Jewish holiday, but has seen increased importance with many Jewish families, especially secular Jews, in the latter part of the 20th century.  Many regard it as a cultural alternative to Christmas, and some families will even cease their Chanukah celebrations once the children have grown and left the home.

(Wikipedia – Hanukkah)

We celebrated Chanukah with our friends George and Carol Mason, who we met through our involvement in the local community theatre.  George is a cantor, a member of the clergy who leads worship, teaches, and performs other duties in the Jewish community.  When we asked if they would be willing to teach us a few things about Chanukah, they generously offered to have us come to their home to have dinner and celebrate the holiday with them.

Once there, we enjoyed latkes with sour cream and corned beef and fried chicken and some really awesome cole slaw that George made himself (Secret ingredient: sour cream! Go figure!). We listened to stories about the Maccabeean Revolt and the miracle of the oil. We sang traditional songs, and some non-traditional ones. (George had us sing the Dreidel Song, but with our own lyrics, changing what the dreidel is made from each time. Mine went something like “Dreidel dreidel dreidel, I made you out of rock, and so nobody finds you, I keep you in my sock!”)

We lit menorahs – one for each of us – using the shamash, the “attendant” candle that has a place either above, below, or behind the others in the menorah.  We played a heck of a lot of dreidel – first by spinning them on foam plates with numbers written on them to score points, and then in the more traditional way, using Tootsie Rolls for gelt.

It was wonderful and fun and educational and loving and all of the stuff that a holiday should be.  I don’t think I can say any more than that, really. Many, many thanks to the Masons for welcoming us into their home, feeding us wonderful food, teaching us, and making us laugh. L’chaim!

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Latke Larry is NOT an official Chanukah mascot. I checked.

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The Masons (Carol and George) lead us in lighting the menorahs.

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The Masons had enough menorahs for all of us…

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…and an awesome collection of beautiful dreidels.

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George had more than enough dreidels to go around.

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Jelly doughnuts are a Chanukah tradition. I’m coming very close to converting. (Also – dreidel cookies made from Fig Newtons!)

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Other friends have told us that Chanukah candles are often difficult to find this time of year. I think it’s because the Masons buy them all!

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Our Hebrew was a bit rusty. (Okay, VERY rusty. Okay, we didn’t know what ANY of those characters mean.) Thankfully, there were translations, so we could join in the blessings.

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We sang Chanukah songs!

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We want the gelt. Gotta get that gelt.

Do you celebrate Chanukah? If so, tell us about your traditions and stories in the comments!

Time for some catch-up!

We’ve been very busy with some other life activities, so it has been tough for me to find the time to write up our most recent holiday celebrations. This is just a note to let everyone know that I’ll be catching up with those in the next few days. Thanks to all for being so patient!

Nov. 28th – Thanksgiving

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Playing a game of Cloud 9 after a Thanksgiving feast at my sister’s house. Nolah frequently uses terrifying methods of intimidation to achieve victory.

Thanksgiving is a holiday rooted in giving thanks for a successful harvest, expressing hope that all future harvests will be fruitful, and generally appreciating family, friends, and all of the good things in life. In the United States, it is recognized on the fourth Thursday in November (since federal legislation in 1941). (Wikipedia – Thanksgiving)

There is quite a bit of debate on the traditions and history of the day – some claim that the holiday has been celebrated continuously since the Puritans’ first feast, while others say it wasn’t, for example, and a few historians say that a feast and festival would not have been permitted as a religious ceremony by the Puritans. But despite the differences, most folks who celebrate the day see it as a time to gather with family, give thanks and prayer, and enjoy and appreciate the things that mean the most to them.

Our family commonly celebrates Thanksgiving in some fairly traditional ways, as well as some that are not so common – watching the Macy’s Parade in the morning, listening to silly songs about food and eating, enjoying a traditional turkey feast, discussing which of our family members actually likes cranberry sauce (I’m on the “pro” side, most others are “cons”), and playing boardgames after the meal.

Nov 9th – Carl Sagan Day

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I couldn’t find any turtlenecked shirts to wear, though…

Carl Sagan Day is “is a celebration of the life and teachings of Carl Sagan, whose many books, television appearances (most notably Cosmos), and NASA projects influenced a generation of thinkers.” (from carlsaganday.com).

Maybe it’s not a “proper” holiday in the more traditional sense, but as someone who loves learning in general, and science and astronomy more specifically, I feel it is an appropriate addition to our repertoire.

I celebrated Carl Sagan Day last night by spending some time staring up in wonder at a clear, star-filled sky. Which is exactly how Carl would have wanted me to, I’d like to think.

Some semi-random pearls of Carl’s wisdom:

“Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.”

“The brain is like a muscle. When it is in use we feel very good. Understanding is joyous.”

“But the fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright Brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.”

“A book is made from a tree. It is an assemblage of flat, flexible parts (still called “leaves”) imprinted with dark pigmented squiggles. One glance at it and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps someone dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, the author is speaking, clearly and silently, inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people, citizens of distant epochs, who never knew one another. Books break the shackles of time ― proof that humans can work magic.”

Nov. 3rd – 7th – Diwali

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The lights make Slenderman look so festive, don’t they?

Diwali is a five-day festival that usually falls between mid-October and mid-November, is celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs, and Jains, and is an official holiday in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Mauritius, Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago, Suriname, Malaysia, Singapore and Fiji. While the significance of the holiday varies between beliefs and cultures, in general it is celebrated as a festival of light and victory of good over evil.

Each of the days of Diwali have names (drawn from their designation in the Hindu calendar), and special significance and traditions – lighting oil lamps and other lights to signify the triumph of good over evil, (and to make the goddess Lakshmi feel welcome), lighting firecrackers to scare away evil spirits, brothers giving gifts to their sisters and asking them to pray for them, sharing sweets, girls receiving Henna tattoos, wearing new clothes, bathing before sunrise (bathing while the stars are still out is equivalent to bathing in the Ganges river), meeting with friends and family, and much, MUCH more.

Through most cultures, the “good over evil” theme comes in the form of an actual battle – in North India, Krishna defeated the Indra, in other regions of India Vamana (a form of Vishnu) defeated Bali, or Krishna defeated Narakasura. Diwali also marks the end of the harvest season in most of India, and is a time for farmers to offer thanks for a good harvest, and pray for more in the future.

This isn’t even scratching the surface. There are a LOT of different Diwali traditions and ways to recognize the holiday. If you’re interested in learning more, I encourage you to visit the Wikipedia page (Wikipedia – Diwali).  There was even an episode of The Office based around a Diwali celebration (s3e6, if you’d like to load it up on Netflix).

As for our celebration – I’ve put up some lights around the door to keep evil from coming in. We’ll be trying to do some henna tattoos on the girls later, and listen to Indian music and learn some traditional Indian dances.  I’ll try to post pictures and/or videos later.

Do you celebrate Diwali? Share your traditions and stories in the comments!

Nov. 5th – Guy Fawkes Night

Guy Fawkes Night, also known as Gunpowder Treason Day, is a commemoration of the 1605 Gunpowder Plot, in which a group of English Catholics attempted (and failed) to assassinate King James I (a Protestant) in an effort to install a Catholic head of state. (Wikipedia – Guy Fawkes Night)

The thing is, celebrating this day is really itchy. It’s hard to commemorate such an event without seeming to be anti-Protestant (or possibly even anti-Catholic), or endorsing terrorism.

So we’re probably just going to watch V for Vendetta and be done with it, if that’s cool with everyone.