Ganesh Chaturthi (Hinduism)
Ganesha, the Hindu god of success and overcoming obstacles, is the focus of this joyous celebration in parts of India. Sculptures of the elephant-headed deity occupy pride of place in parades, community festivals and private homes. Some rituals to invoke success involve immersing Ganesha in water while reciting prayers. Devotees also make offerings of sweet food to the god and hold feasts for friends and relatives.
Recommended Reading: This has been a thin year for Hindu books, but last year's offering by John Martin Sahajananda, You Are the Light: Rediscovering the Eastern Jesus, promoted Hindu-Christian dialogue (O Books, Oct. 2004). To understand some of Hinduism's celebrated female deities, try Beauty, Power & Grace: The Many Faces of the Goddess, withart by B.G. Sharma (Mandala, 2004).
Happy Buddha Day (Buddhism)
On Happy Buddha Day, more formally called Ullambana, Buddhists make offerings on behalf of their ancestors to the Three Jewels: the Buddha, the sangha (monastic community) and the dharma (teachings).
Recommended Reading: For a good travelogue of contemporary Buddhism in southeast Asia, try Stephen T. Asma's The Gods Drink Whiskey: Stumbling Toward Enlightenment in the Land of the Tattered Buddha (Harper San Francisco, June). For dharma reflection, there's Jack Kornfield's translation The Dhammapada: A New Translation of the Buddhist Classic with Annotations (Shambhala, Aug.).
World Communion Sunday (Christianity)
During World War II, the Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America established this as a worldwide, interdenominational event. On this day, many Christian denominations join together in celebrating an ecumenical communion (also called the Lord's Supper or the Eucharist) and in taking up monetary offerings to relieve suffering around the world. It is most commonly observed among mainline and liturgical Protestant churches, and less commonly among evangelical Christians.
Recommended Reading: In the spirit of World Communion Sunday, a good reading choice is Ending Hunger Now: A Challenge to Persons of Faith (Augsburg Fortress, Oct.). Written by George McGovern, Bob Dole, and Donald Messer, the book raises Christians' consciousness about the hunger problem and offers practical solutions for individuals.
Ramadan, "the holy month," is a roughly month-long period when Muslims fast from sunup to sundown the world over. All adult Muslims who are physically able (i.e., not elderly, infirm, pregnant or nursing) undertake the fast, deepening their spirituality and commitment to the Muslim community. Each evening, they break their fast with a special prayer and a simple meal called the iftar; some follow the ceremonial meal with a more substantial one. Eid al-Fitr, the feast to end the month of fasting, occurs this year on November 3.
Recommended Reading: Christians who are interested in learning more about Islam can enjoy Meeting Islam: A Guide for Christians by George Dardess (Paraclete, Oct.). A particularly interesting anthology is Saleemah Abdul-Ghafur's collection Living Islam Out Loud: American Muslim Women Speak, with essays and poems about growing up Muslim and female in the United States (Beacon, Aug.).
October 5 — 13
High Holy Days (Judaism)
The most sacred days of the Jewish calendar, the High Holy Days begin with Rosh Hashanah, the New Year, which begins at sundown on October 4 and lasts for two days (Reform Jews celebrate one day). The period ends with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, on October 13. The days in between are commonly referred to as the Days of Awe. During the High Holy Days, Jews seek to reconcile themselves with God and atone for their sins through confession and prayer.
Recommended Reading: Reuven Hammer's critically acclaimed guide Entering the High Holy Days: A Complete Guide to the History, Prayers, and Themes is out in a new paperback edition from the Jewish Publication Society (Sept.). It recently won the National Jewish Book Award. Also, Jewish Lights offers Yom Kippur Readings: Inspiration, Information, and Contemplation, a selection of topical readings edited by Rabbi Dov Peretz Elkins (Sept.).
Simchat Torah (Judaism)
The eight-day festival of Sukkoth, which celebrates the autumn harvest, ends with Simchat Torah ("rejoicing in the Torah"), the holiday that marks the completion of the annual cycle of reading the entire Torah in the synagogue in weekly portions. Jews express joy in the Torah by exuberantly dancing, singing and passing the Torah scrolls around the synagogue.
Recommended Reading: In The Living Torah: Selections from Seven Years of Torat Chayim, editor Elaine Rose Glickman, offers 180 parashot, or Torah portions, with commentary by Reform scholars (URJ Press, Nov.).