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This lesson will provide information on religious festivals and their significance to various religions.

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Welcome to this tutorial on festivals. We're going to be taking a look at festivals in some different traditions, and the functions that they play in religions around the world. Some of those purposes for festivals, festivals passed the beliefs of a tradition onto the next generation.

Festivals are oftentimes fun for those who participate, and this is important for children. So the festival helps to retell religious stories, and it also has an important function of connecting the participants to God, the gods, or the sacred. And this helps to create cohesion in the community.

By celebrating a festival together, the community grows stronger and more closely knit. Some of the things that festivals celebrate, agricultural seasons, the events in the life of a founder figure, the mythology of the tradition. And let's take a look at some of the many components of festivals.

There could be fasting, it could be a period of fasting, followed by breaking the fast. It could be celebrations, with actually feasting, so both fasting and feasting could be part of a festival. Religious observances, worship a deity, giving offerings to the deity, rituals and theater. Perhaps all night vigils, or dance celebrations, street fairs and festivals, giving to charity, these are just a few of the things that might be part of religious festivals.

Let's take a look at four different festivals. First of all, the Jewish Passover Seder, which commemorates the Passover in the Book of Exodus, where God spared the Jewish children from being killed, but slew the firstborn of the Egyptians. So this was a plague that was visited upon Egypt for holding the Hebrew people in captivity, and Jews celebrate Passover each year to commemorate this event. It is a meal that is eaten with unleavened bread and bitter herbs, and it is eaten around the table with family and friends gathered.

And in this way, the Jewish people remind themselves of the way that they were delivered from bondage in Egypt. Next, the Muslim Ramadan Fast. The Ramadan Fast commemorates the time that the profit spent in a cave, on retreat by himself, a time in which the words of the Quran were revealed to the profit. So during the month of Ramadan, which is calculated according to the lunar calendar, Muslims do not eat any food or drink anything during the day.

They're allowed to eat and drink after dark. This is one of the major observances of Islam. It's one of the five pillars of Islam. So it's considered obligatory for all Muslims, unless they are sick, or pregnant, or-- there are exceptions, but those who are able are required to participate. And then, after the fact is over, there's a holiday called Eid, in which there's actually feasting, so fasting and feasting go together.

Next, Vesak Puja which is "Buddha Day." This day is the Buddha's birthday. Vesak is a major Buddhist festival, since it celebrates the birth of the Buddha, as well as the enlightenment and death of the Buddha. It is celebrated on the first full moon in May, and it's called Vesak Puja because of the name of the month in the Indian calendar.

Southeast Asia, Vesak Puja is the most important holy day of the year. It's spread so in Thailand, and throughout Southeast Asia this is the very important holiday, and it will be celebrated with a week long festival. There might be parades, fireworks, candlelight processions, temples would burn incense, and people bring food offerings to monks, and in some cases there would be a ritual washing of an image of the Buddha as a child. So this is a very rich tradition that is filled with very colorful observances.

Another holiday which has been gaining more attention lately is the Hindu Diwali celebrations. Most recently, because the President of the United States, Barack Obama, actually celebrated Diwali. This gained a lot of attention from the news media, and from Hindus, who were very happy to see their holiday recognized on such a scale. Diwali is the festival of lights, and it commemorates the triumph of good over evil.

It is also the time of year when Rama and Sita returned from their exile, and were welcomed back into the city of Ayodhya. It might be celebrated with worship celebrations, so Puja offering food, and fruit, and flowers to the gods. Also, dance, and food, and very large cultural gatherings during Diwali. The goddess, Sita, is viewed as an incarnation of Lakshmi, the consort of Vishnu the preserver.

So Diwali is sacred to Lakshmi, and in order to honor her, Hindu devotees clean their homes, they wear new clothes, they light many, many lamps. Diwali, or Dipavali, dipa means "light," so Diwali is the "festival of lights," and it is a way to honor the goddess, and welcome peace, prosperity, and wisdom into the home.

Thanks for watching this tutorial on festivals. We said that festivals help to pass religious beliefs on to the next generation, and that they bring communities closer together, while reinforcing their mythology and teaching. We said that festivals may celebrate seasons, agricultural seasons, or perhaps the important events in the life of a founder, or maybe the mythology of the tradition. We said that there are many different ways to celebrate festivals.

We gave a few examples from different traditions. The Hindu tradition of Diwali, Jewish Passover Seder, the Muslim month of Ramadan, and the Buddhist tradition of Vesak Puja, which can also be called Vaisahka Puja, or various different ways of pronouncing the word in different areas of Asia.

Let's also take a look at the vocabulary. Diwali is a five day Hindu festival that celebrates the victory light over darkness, and Saturnalia, this goes along with agricultural festivals. This is a festival that happened in December, it was a festival of gift giving, this is the basis for the Christian tradition. During Saturnalia, masters would serve their servants, and there were social reversals, it was a kind of carnival atmosphere, and it sort of celebrated death and rebirth, so this is very much likes some traditions that are still around today.

Terms to Know

A five day Hindu festival, also known as the "festival of lights".


An ancient Roman festival honoring the deity Saturn.