Mawlid al-Nabiy (Islam) Muslims believe that the Prophet Muhammad was born on the 12th day of the third month of the Islamic calendar in the year 570 C.E. On Mawlid al-Nabiy (which occurs on the 12th day of the third month each year), they commemorate the prophet's birth, life and teachings. Celebrations typically begin in the evening; in the mosque, Muslims will pray and listen to chants about the prophet's life and deeds, while at home, they celebrate with music and feasting. For many Muslims, Mawlid al-Nabiy is the third most important holiday of the Islamic year, after 'Id-al-Fitr (the "Night of Power" that concludes Ramadan) and Id al-Adha (the festival of sacrifice). The prophet's birthday is a particularly spectacular festival in Egypt, where streets are decked out with lanterns and colorful flags, and children enjoy special toys and sweets.
Recommended Reading: Readers who want to understand the sayings attributed to the Prophet Muhammad can learn more in Paul Hardy's Traditions of Islam: Understanding the Hadith (I.B. Tauris, May 30). This summer, Oxford will release a new paperback version of its Oxford World's Classics edition of the Qur'an (Aug.). And for children, DK is putting out a signature full-color guide called Islam, geared for ages 9—12 (Apr. 18).
April 21—May 2
The Feast of Ridvan (Baha'i) Ridvan is the 12-day holy period that commemorates Baha'u'llah's self-declaration as a prophet and a manifestation of God. It is one of nine holidays all Baha'i practitioners must observe. During Ridvan, the first, ninth and 12th days are the most important, and Baha'is are expected to rest from work and to gather for special prayers and celebrations. Ridvan is also customarily the period when Baha'is conduct their elections for local spiritual assembly leaders. The word "Ridvan" means paradise, and the holiday is named after a beautiful garden where Baha'u'llah announced his divine mission.
Recommended Reading: Last year, Baha'i Publishing released the comprehensive God Speaks Again: An Introduction to the Baha'i Faith, which explains the religion's origins, beliefs and distinctive practices in detail. For a brief primer, try Margit Warburg's The Baha'i Faith, part of Signature Books's Studies in Contemporary Religion series (2003).
April 24—May 1
Pesach/Passover (Judaism) Beginning at sundown on April 23 and continuing for eight days, Passover commemorates the ancient Israelites' hasty and miraculous flight from Egypt. During Passover, Jews around the world hold seders, ritual meals that symbolically reenact various elements of the Exodus. The seder plate includes roasted egg (to symbolize mourning); sweet charoset (the kindness of God); a lamb bone (the lamb that was killed in the place of the firstborn son from each Israelite household); and salt water and bitter herbs (the bitter lives of the Hebrew slaves). A green vegetable may symbolize the humble origins of the Jewish people. Throughout the Passover season, Jews eat unleavened bread (matzo) as a reminder of the abrupt departure from Egypt, when the Israelites did not have time to allow their bread to rise.
Recommended Reading: To learn more about seder customs and ritual objects, try the lovely coffee-table book Passover Splendor: Cherished Objects for the Seder Table by Barbara Rush (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, Apr.). Jews seeking to better understand the Passover ritual will find help in Rabbi Nathan Laufer's Leading the Passover Journey: The Seder's Meaning Revealed, The Hagaddah's Story Retold (Jewish Lights, Feb.). And Christians wanting a quick introduction to the seder will enjoy Let Us Break Bread Together: A Passover Haggadah for Christians. Written by a pastor (Michael Smith) and a rabbi (Rami Shapiro), the book serves as a bridge to interfaith understanding (Paraclete, Feb.).
Pascha/Easter (Eastern OrthodoxChristianity) Eastern Orthodox Christianity follows many of the same holy days and feast days as Western Christianity. However, because Orthodox Christians use the Julian calendar rather than the Gregorian one, the dates of these holidays in the east usually occur slightly later. So while Western Christians celebrate Easter on March 27 this year, Eastern Christians won't even be two weeks into their Lenten season by then. Easter has the same ritual significance in Orthodoxy that it does in Western Christianity; the feast celebrates the crowning moment of the Christian story, when Christ is believed to have been resurrected from the dead. However, Eastern Christians begin their celebration with a midnight service that carries on well into the wee hours. Right at midnight, every light in the church is extinguished, to symbolize Christ's death and sojourn in the tomb. Then the priest carries a single lighted candle through the main door of an icon screen that cloaks the altar, to symbolize the resurrected Christ emerging from the tomb. All the members of the congregation then light their own candles from this flame, beginning a joyful liturgy of music and feasting.
Recommended Reading: The classic books on Orthodoxy are still Timothy Ware's The Orthodox Church (Penguin, 1993) and Frederica Mathewes-Green's memoir Facing East: A Pilgrim's Journey into the Mysteries of Orthodoxy(Harper San Francisco, 1997). A more recent book is Windows to Heaven: Introducing Icons to Protestants and Catholics by Elizabeth Zelensky and Lela Gilbert (Brazos, Feb.). For a Western look at a foundational spiritual practice for Easter, try Mary Ford-Grabowsky's Stations of the Light: Renewing the Ancient Christian Practice of the Via Lucis as a Spiritual Tool for Today (Doubleday, Mar.).