Mabon (pronounced "MAY-bon"), or the Harvest Home festival, coincides with the autumn equinox and celebrates the final harvest as the earth begins settling in for winter. It is a joyous time of thanksgiving, with feasting, wine and a celebration of nature's bounty. But because Mabon is one of only two days during the year that features an equal number of light and dark hours, the festival also recognizes the presence of the underworld. ("Equinox" literally means "equal night.") Interestingly, medieval British Christians transformed the Celtic celebration of Mabon into "Michaelmas," or the feast of the Archangel Michael, but retained many of the holiday's festive trappings.
Recommended Reading: Llewellyn has cornered the market in providing one-volume guides to all of the major pagan sabbats and festivals, and its 2002 book Mabon by Kristin Madden has become the standard work on the subject.
Rosh Hashanah (Judaism) Tishrei 1—2, 5764
Rosh Hashanah, or New Year, begins a season known in Judaism as the High Holy Days or Days of Awe. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur differ from other Jewish festivals in that they do not commemorate a particular event in Jewish history. They are holy days that encourage individual repentance and introspection: Rosh Hashanah is observed in the synagogue with special prayers and the Piyut, or liturgical poetry. The Rosh Hashanah service is marked by the blowing of the shofar, or ram's horn, with a loud, sustained blast. For the next 10 days (between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur), Jews focus their minds on repentance and forgiveness, hoping that at the end of this period, God will inscribe their names in the Book of Life. Reform Jews observe Rosh Hashanah for one day, and other Jewish denominations celebrate it for two.
Recommended Reading: In Treasures of the Heart: Holiday Stories that Reveal the Soul of Judaism, Diane Wolkstein draws on biblical examples, legends and folk tales to offer stories about Rosh Hashanah and eight other Jewish holidays. Each chapter begins with a brief description of the holiday in history and practice (Schocken, Sept. 16).
Yom Kippur (Judaism) Tishrei 10, 5764
Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement, the holiday that concludes the High Holy Days (the period that began with Rosh Hashanah). Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year for Jews. It is a time of confession, fasting and prayer, as Jews take advantage of the auspicious nature of the day to receive forgiveness from God for all sins committed in the previous year. No work can be performed on Yom Kippur, and most Jews spend the day praying in the synagogue. It is customary for rabbis, cantors and some people in the congregation to wear white, to symbolize the purity they are striving for. The liturgy emphasizes the corporate confession of sins, with penitents using the plural "we" instead of the singular "I."
Recommended Reading: Alan Lew's This Is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared: The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation takes readers on a spiritual journey through the heart of the High Holy Days, focusing on the season as a time of self-examination and reflection (Little, Brown, Sept.).
Diwali/Divali (Hinduism) 15 Kartika
Diwali, also called the Festival of Lights, is a five-day celebration in India. Before the holiday begins, people clean their homes from top to bottom, scrubbing the windows to permit light to shine forth; during the holiday, families place small oil lamps in windows, courtyards, and rooftops to illuminate the nights. Because India is a religiously diverse country, there are many variations of Divali. Throughout much of India, the holiday honors the goddess Lakshmi (prosperity), but in Bengal it is associated with Kali, and in parts of northern India, it commemorates Rama's homecoming and coronation. Almost everywhere, however, it is a festival associated with gift-giving, sweets, new clothes (as a symbol of the newness of life) and light. Fireworks are staples of the celebration.
Recommended Reading: The small gift book Hindu Gods: The Spirit of the Divine by Priya Hemenway has helpful information on the major deities of the Hindu pantheon, including Lakshmi, Rama and Kali (Chronicle, May). There's also the new book Fire's Goal: Poems for the Hindu Year, Laurie Patton's compilation of sacred poetry for Hindu festivals (White Cloud, Sept. 20).
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, a time when Muslims fast from sunup to sundown and strengthen their spiritual commitments. During times of fasting, Muslims are also not permitted to smoke or engage in sexual relations. Each evening, Muslims break their fast with a special prayer and a simple meal called the iftar; some follow the ceremonial meal with a more substantial one. Muslims emphasize the spiritual significance of the fast and its role in forging community.
Recommended Reading:Islamic Holidays: Surahs, Stories, and Celebrations by Noorah Al-Gailani and Chris Smith offers a full chapter on Ramadan observance around the world, including suggestions for crafts, stories of Ramadan generosity and recipes for delicacies like sweet chicken and tamarind cordial (Hawthorn, May). In February, Oxford will release Frederick Mathewson Denny's Muslims in America, the latest installment in its Religion in American Life series for young adult readers.