4/16 Easter (Western Christianity)
4/23 Easter (Eastern Christians)
In this most important Christian festival, Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, reflecting their belief that he returned to life after his crucifixion. In contrast to the somber feel of Lent (the 40-day period of penance before Easter) and Good Friday (the commemoration of Christ's death), Easter is profoundly joyous, featuring special foods, songs and traditions. Some more secular Easter customs, such as the Easter egg and the Easter bunny, trace back to pre-Christian fertility festivals of spring.
Recommended reading: Since spring's verdure has always gone hand-in-hand with Easter, it's perhaps fitting that Jane Mossendew joins the earth with Christian liturgy in Thorn,Fire, and Lily: Gardening with God in Lentand Easter (Continuum, May). Also, the new pope offers Journey to Easter: SpiritualReflections for the Lenten Season (Crossroad, Feb. 25).
Passover begins this year at sundown on April 12, when Jews remember the liberation of Israel from Egypt; long ago, a series of miraculous events resulted in Pharaoh permitting Moses to lead his people out of Egyptian slavery and into the promised land. Jews have celebrated Passover for more than 3,000 years, though customs vary from place to place. In Israel, for example, the festival lasts for seven days, but in other parts of the world it is eight. On the first two nights, Jews gather in the home for a ritual meal called a seder, reading from the Haggadah, recounting the Exodus story; In Israel only one seder is celebrated.
Recommended reading: This season brings a paperback edition of Jewish Lights's successful 2003 book The Women's Passover Companion: Women's Reflections on the Festival of Freedom, edited by Sharon Cohen Anisfeld, Tara Mohr and Catherine Spector. For little ones, there's More Than Matzah: A Passover Feast of Fun,Facts, and Activities by Debbie Herman and Ann Koffsky (Barron's, Feb.). And coming this summer: In How This Night Is Different:Stories, young novelist Elisa Albert uses Passover and other Jewish holidays as the backdrop for a collection of short fiction (Free Press, July 10).
40th Anniversary of Haile Selassie's visit to Jamaica (Rastafarianism)
On this date in 1966, Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia first visited Jamaica and brought hope to many people there. Rastafarians proclaim the divine nature of Haile Selassie, believed to be a direct descendant of King Solomon who will one day bring about the return of all black people to Africa. Today it is unknown how many Rastafarians exist, but their influence has been felt widely in the West Indies and in urban areas around the world, especially through reggae music, which originated in Rasta celebrations and was popularized by practitioner Bob Marley.
Recommended reading: There is a dearth of objective and accessible books on Rastafarianism, with some regarding it as little more than a historical footnote. Other treatments, mostly written by those within the fold, are primarily apologetic works in the movement's defense. One book that bridges the gap is French journalist Helene Lee's The First Rasta: Leonard Howell and theRise of Rastafarianism (Lawrence Hill Books, 2004), a well-received biography of the movement's understudied founder.
Wesak/Buddha Day (Buddhism)
Celebrated at the full moon each May, Wesak (also called Vesak) is the most important of all the Buddhist festivals. It commemorates not only the Buddha's birthday, but sometimes also his death, reflecting the wheel of life in Buddhism. The festival features special prayers, chanting, processionals, and rituals like bathing the Buddha and making offerings to the Buddha. For laypeople, Wesak is an opportunity to show generosity to monks and to honor those who are following Buddha on the path to Enlightenment.
Recommended reading: Stephen Asma's The Gods Drink Whiskey: Stumbling Toward Enlightenment in the Land of the Tattered Buddha—part memoir, part Cambodian travel guide, and part spiritual wisdom—explores grassroots Theravada Buddhism as it is experienced by ordinary people (Harper San Francisco, May).