Brief explanations of major holy days

 Anant Chaturdashi

(Jainism) Regarded as one of the holiest days in Jainism, which is celebrated with fasting, worship, meditation and confession.

Asalha Puja day

(Buddhism) Also known as Dhamma day, is one of Theravada Buddhism’s most important festivals, celebrating as it does the Buddha’s first sermon in which he set out to his five former associates the doctrine that had come to him following his enlightenment.

Ascension of Baha’u’llah

(Baha’i) Commemorates the date in 1892 when Baha’u’llah, the prophet-founder of the Baha’i faith, passed away near Haifa, Israel. At the time of his death, he had been a prisoner of the Shah of Persia and the Ottoman Empire for 40 years. The event is usually observed at the actual time of his passing, 3 a.m.

Ash Wednesday – Lent begins

(Christianity) The seventh Wednesday before Easter, Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent (which lasts 40 days). Lent is a period of prayer, repentance, and self-denial which leads up to Easter. On Ash Wednesday, a cross of ashes is marked on the forehead as a sign of penitence and mortality.

Ashura

(Islam) The day of Ashura is marked by Muslims as a whole, but for Shia Muslims it is a major religious commemoration of the martyrdom at Karbala of Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.

Baisakhi New year

(Sikhism) Also spelled Vaisakhi, is the festival which celebrates Sikh New Year and the founding of the Sikh community, known as the Khalsa, in 1699.

Beltane

(Wicca/Paganism) Also called May day. This fertility festival celebrates the conjoining of the infinite potential of the Goddess with the life-sparking energy of the God in a sacred marriage.

Birth of Baha’u’llah

(Baha’i) Baha’u’llah was born Mirza Husayn ‘Ali into one of Persia’s leading noble families in 1817. His title means “The Glory of God” in Arabic. He is the founder of the Baha’i faith.

Chinese New year

(Confucianism, Daoisti, Buddhism) Celebration starts with the New Moon on the first day of the new year and ends on the full moon 15 days later. The 15th day of the new year is called the Lantern Festival, which is celebrated at night with lantern displays and children carrying lanterns in a parade. 

Christmas

(Christianity) The annual Christian festival celebrating Christ’s birth.

Corpus Christi

(Catholic /Christianity) Corpus Christi is a Christian observance that honours the Holy Eucharist. It is also known as the Feast of the Most Holy Body of Christ, as well as the Day of Wreaths. 

Dasera

(Hinduism) Dassehra celebrates the victory of good over evil – Lord Rama’s victory over the demon Ravan, and the Goddess Durja’s victory over a demon. It follows the nine-day celebration of Navarati (nine nights) and Durga Puja (worship), when other Goddesses are also worshipped.

Day of the Covenant

(Baha’i) The eldest son and appointed successor of Baha’u’llah, ‘Abdu’l-Baha, is referred to as the “Centre of the Covenant”. The Covenant was established by Baha’u’llah to safeguard the unity of the Baha’i community. It was ‘Abdu’l Baha’s wish that the Covenant be celebrated rather than his birth date. 

Declaration of the Bab

(Baha’i) The Baha’i Faith began in Persia (now Iran) on May 23, 1844. This date commemorates the announcement by Bab, of his mission as a manifestation of God whose purpose was to prepare the world for the coming of a promised manifestation of all religions, Baha’u’llah . This event is usually celebrated two hours after sunset.

Diwali

(Hinduism) Known as the Festival of Lights, it is dedicated to the Goddess Kali in Bengal and to Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth, in the rest of India. Diwali is associated with the destruction of evil by Vishnu in one of his many manifestations. Also called Deepvali .

(Sikhism) Also called Bandi Chhor Divas, which means “the day of the prisoner’s release”. It commemorates the return of the sixth Guru, Sri Hargobind Ji, to the holy city of Amritsar after his release from detention. Since he was released on the day of Diwali, Sikhs in Amritsar illuminate the city.

(Jainism) Celebrated throughout India. For Jains, Diwali holds special significance as it was the day in 527 BCE that Mahavira gave his last teachings and attained ultimate liberation (Mahavira Nirvana). Some Jains fast for the two days of Diwali .

Dormition of the Theotokos

(Orthodox Christianity) The feast of the Dormition or Falling-asleep of the Theotokos is celebrated on the fifteenth of August, preceded by a two-week fast. This feast, which is also sometimes called the Assumption, commemorates the death, resurrection and glorification of Christ’s mother. It proclaims that Mary has been “assumed” by God into the heavenly kingdom of Christ in the fullness of her spiritual and bodily existence.

Easter

(Christianity) Easter commemorates the resurrection of Jesus Christ. On Good Friday, Jesus was crucified. His body, when taken down, was placed in a cave which had a large stone covering the entrance. On the following Sunday, the cave was discovered empty. Later that day and for days after, Jesus was seen by many people. God had raised Jesus from the dead. This is the most important festival of the Christian religion. Eastern Christian religions refer to this day as Pascha .

Eid al Adha

(Islam) This is the Festival of Sacrifice. It is celebrated to honour Prophet Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael to God. To commemorate this sacrifice, Muslims sacrifice a sheep or goat and donate the meat or its equivalent value in cash to charity. This is the “minimum” requirement for those who can afford it.

Eid al Fitr

(Islam) This festival marks the end of Ramadan.

Epiphany

(Christianity) It is a public holiday in many countries and marks two events in Jesus Christ’s life, according to the Christian Bible. The first event was when the three wise men, or kings, visited infant Jesus. The second event was when St John the Baptist baptized Jesus.

First day of Ridvan

(Baha’i) The twelve day festival commemorating Bahá’u’lláh’s announcement of his claim to prophethood and his departure from Baghdad in 1863.

Ganesh Chaturthi

(Hinduism) also known as ‘Vinayak Chaturthi’ or ‘Vinayaka Chavithi’ is celebrated by Hindus around the world as the birthday of Lord Ganesha.

Gantan-Sai (New year)

(Shintoism) festival observed with prayers for inner renewal. The holiday lasts seven days during which some people wear their best clothes and visit shrines to pray for good health and prosperity. They also pay visits to the homes of friends to offer good wishes. 

Good (Holy) Friday

(Christianity) This is the Friday before Easter. It is a day of mourning in the church as it commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Eastern Christian religions refer to this day as Holy Friday.

Guru Arjan Dev Martyrdom

(Sikhism) Guru Arjan was the fifth Sikh Guru and the first Sikh martyr: he gave up his life for the Sikh people.

Guru Gobindh Singh birthday

(Sikhism) Guru Gobind Singh was the last of the ten Gurus, the one who transformed the Sikh faith. In 1699 he created the Khalsa (Pure), a community of the faithful who wore visible symbols of their faith and trained as warriors. Today the Khalsa comprises all practising Sikhs. 

Guru Nanak Dev Sahib birthday

(Sikhism) The birthday of Guru Nanak Sahib Ji, founder of the Sikh religion, is celebrated this year on November 28. It is the most important Gurpurab (celebration of Sikh gurus) in the Sikh religious community.

Guru Tegh Bahadur Martyrdom

(Sikhism) Guru Tegh Bahadur was the ninth of the ten Gurus who founded Sikhism.

He’s honoured and remembered as the man who championed the rights for all religious freedom.

Hanukkah/ Chanukah

(Judaism) Celebrates religious freedom and commemorates the historic victory of the Jews 2000 years ago which followed a 3-year long uprising against the Syrian-Greek regime that had imposed strict sanctions against Jewish religious practices and values. Eight candles are lit (one each day) in commemoration. 

Hanuman Jayanti

(Hinduism) Hanuman Jayanti is celebrated all over India in the month of Chaitra in Hindu calendar. The great Hanuman is known for its great strength, power and his immortal devotion towards Lord Rama.

Hijra – New year

(Islam) The Islamic cycle of months begins. Formulas determine holy days based on lunar events.

 Hola Mohalla

(Sikhism) is a Sikh festival that marks the new year in the lunar Nanakshahi calendar of the Sikhs. Started by Guru Gobind Singh, it is celebrated with mock battles, followed by music and poetry competitions.

Holi

(Hinduism) Holi is the colourful festival that welcomes the spring and celebrates the energy and new life of the season. It is also called the “Festival of Colours”. People celebrate by street dancing and throwing coloured powder and water at each other. 

Holy Saturday

(Christianity) This is the day that Christ’s body lay in His tomb. It should be the quietest day of the Christian year; however, the evening is a time of joy and expectation for Easter.

Imbolc – Lughnassad

(Wicca/Paganism) Imbolc celebrates the Goddess of fire, healing and fertility. A fire is lit to celebrate the increasing power of the Sun over the coming months. Rituals and activities associated with this festival include making candles, planting spring flowers, reading poetry and telling stories. Imbolc is also known as Imbolg, Candlemas, Brigantia, The Feast of the Waxing Light, Oimelc.

Lughnassad, which is also known as Lammas, is a festival that celebrates the grain harvest. 

Jnana Panchami

(Jainism) The day is referred to as the Day of Knowledge and celebrates Saraswati Devi, the deity of knowledge and learning.

Khordad Sal

(Birth of Prophet Zarahushstra)

(Zoroastrianism)

Founder of Zoroastrian faith.

Krishna Janmashtami

(Hinduism) The celebration of the birth of Lord Shri Krishna, the incarnation of Lord Vishnu, who is believed to have been born about five thousand years ago in Mathura in ‘Dwapar Yuga’.

Kwanzaa

(African Culture) Celebrated by those of West African descent in recognition of their African heritage. Candles of a seven-branched candelabrum are lit over the seven-day festival to symbolize unity, self-determination, responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.

Lag B’Omer

(Judaism) Lag Ba’Omer is a minor Jewish holiday that falls between the holidays of Passover and Shavuot. “Lag” is a combination of two Hebrew letters: lamed and gimmel.

Lailat al Bara’ah

(Islam) Lailat al Bara’a (also called Mid-Sha’ban) is remembered by some Muslims, but for different reasons.

In the Shia view, Laylat ul Bara’ah is the date when Imam al-Mahdi was born. Shias believe him to be the twelfth, final and current Shia Imam and also the Mahdi, a very important Islamic figure who is believed by all Muslims to bring absolute justice to the world by establishing Islam as the global religion.

In the Sunni view Mid-Sha’ban is a night of worship and salvation, commemorating when Allah saved Noah followers from the deluge. Allah prepares the destiny for all people on Earth for the coming year. For this reason it is sometimes called the Night of Emancipation (Lailat ul Bara’at).

Lailat al Miraj

(Islam) Commemorates the ascension of the Prophet Muhammad into heaven.

Lammas

(Wicca/Paganism) Lammas is a time of excitement and magic. The natural world is thriving around us, and yet the knowledge that everything will soon die looms in the background. This is a good time to work some magic around the heart and home. 

Laylat al Qadr

(Islam) This festival which translated means, The Night of Power, commemorates the night on when the Prophet Muhammad received the first revelation of the Qur’an.

 Litha

(Wicca/Paganism) Also called Summer Solstice or Midsummer’s Eve. This festival is in celebration of the sun and the divine powers that create life. The Goddess, who took over the Earth from the horned God at the beginning of spring, is now at the height of her power and fertility. For some, the Summer Solstice celebrates the marriage of the God and Goddess and it is that union that creates the harvest’s fruits. 

Lord’s Evening Meal

(Jehovah’s Witness) Celebrated each year on the anniversary (or Memorial) of Jesus Christ’s death.

Mabbon

(Paganism/Wicca) This celebration, also called the fall or Autumn Equinox, occurs when day and night are of equal duration. This is a time of reflection on the past season and recognition of the seasonal changes to come. 

Magha Puja day

(Buddhism) This festival is also known as Fourfold Assembly or Magha Puja Day.

Sangha Day is the second most important Buddhist festival. It is a celebration in honour of the Sangha, or the Buddhist community. For some Buddhists Sangha refers only to monks and nuns. It is a chance for people to reaffirm their commitment to Buddhist practices and traditions.

Maghi

(Sikhism) This is the first day of the month of Magh . This day commemorates a battle in which 40 Sikhs (called the Immortal Ones) laid down their lives for Guru Gobind Singh Ji. 

Maha Shivaratri

(Hinduism) This festival is dedicated to Shiva, one of the major Hindu deities. Celebrants fast during the day and hold vigil at night. The festival is also called Shivaratri or “Great Shiva Night”.

Mahavir Jayanti

(Jainism) This celebration is considered being the most sacred festival in the Jain religion.

It marks the birth anniversary of Lord Mahavira, one of the main propagators of Jainism and the last of the 24 Jain teachers. The date of the festival varies each year and falls on the 13th day of the lunar month of Chaitra, which also marks the arrival of spring.

Mahayana New year

(Buddhism) Observed with diverse ceremonies — such as yak-butter sculpting in Tibet — the New Year in Mahayana countries is a time of cleansing from sins of the past year and resolving to make a fresh start.

Martyrdom of the Bab

(Baha’i) At age 31, the Bab was put to death by firing squad in the market square of Tabriz, Persia in 1850. This event is observed at noon.

Maundy Thursday

(Christianity) The day of the Last Supper, when Jesus washed the feet of his disciples and established the ceremony called the Eucharist.

Mawlid an Nabi

(Islam) Celebrates the birth of the Prophet Muhammad.

Meskel

(Ethiopian Christianity) The Meskel Festival has been celebrated for over 1,600 years. The word “Meskel” means “cross” and the festival commemorates the moment when the crucifix was revealed to Empress Helena of Constantinople, mother of Constantine the Great. The festival is also seen as a moment to welcome in the spring season by displaying the distinctive yellow Meskel daisies.

Mid-Autumn Festival

(Confucianism) Focussing on the moon, this celebration is centred on popular deity, Ch’ang O. People go to the countryside, eat moon shaped cakes and enjoy the holiday spirit.

National Aboriginal day

(Aboriginal Culture) A celebration of the diverse cultures and rich contributions made by the First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples.

Navaratri

(Hinduism) This is a nine-day festival celebrating the victory of good over evil. Also called Durga Puja or Dusserah .

Naw Ruz (New year)

(Baha’i) Baha’is celebrates New on the first day of spring. The celebration is usually held during the evening.

New Church day

(Swedenborgian Christianity) New Church Day refers to the Church of the New Jerusalem, founded in London in the late 18th century by the disciples of Emanuel Swedenborg, the Swedish scientist, philosopher, and theologian.

Nineteen day Fast

(Baha’i) As in many world religions, the Fast is a time for reflecting on one’s spiritual progress and making an effort to detach from material desires.

Ninth day of Ridvan

(Baha’i)commemorates a profoundly symbolic event in Baha’i history. Baha’u’llah, who had been previously exiled to Baghdad by the Shah of a hostile Persian government in 1852, had once again been officially banished from Baghdad to Constantinople (now known as Istanbul, Turkey), the capitol of the Ottoman Empire. 

Nirvana day

(Buddhism) Usually held on the second Sunday in February, this day commemorates the date of Shakyamuni Buddha’s death and passing into Mahaparinirvana (complete extinction of ego-self and reunification with the universe). 

Norouz (New year)

(Zoroastrianism)On the Fasli calendar, this is the first day of the Zoroastrian and Persian year. It is a time of religious observance preceded by 10 days of remembrance of the dead. It symbolizes the renewal of the world after the winter. Zarathrustra received his revelation on this day.

Obon

(Shinto) Obon is an annual Buddhist event for commemorating one’s ancestors. It is believed that each year during obon, the ancestors’ spirits return to this world in order to visit their relatives.

Orthodox Sunday

(Orthodox Christianity) Orthodox Easter consists of a series of celebrations (movable feasts) commemorating the resurrection of the Lord, Jesus Christ.

Ostara

(Paganism/Wicca) Ostara, also called the Spring Equinox, is a celebration of the renewed life of the Earth that accompanies the spring. Changes in the seasons are attributed to the God (The Green Man) and Goddess (Mother Earth) who reawaken the seeds within the earth. It is celebrated with day and nights are of equal duration (like the Fall Equinox).

Palm Sunday

(Orthodox Christianity) commemorating the triumphal entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem.

Paryushan Parva

(Jainism) this celebration is a time of intensive study, reflection, and purification. Unlike other festivals,Paryushan Parva is also known as the festival of forgiveness

 Pavarana

(Buddhism) Pavarana marks the end of the Rains Retreat (Vassa). This is also Founder’s Day in Canada, marking the introduction of Buddhism into Canada in 1905 and the first assembly of Canadian Buddhists in Toronto in 1980.

Pentecost

(Christianity) Pentecost is a holiday on which Christians commemorate the coming of the Holy Spirit on the early followers of Jesus.

Pesach (Passover)

(Judaism)Also known as the “Festival of Freedom”, Pesah commemorates the ending of the Jews bondage in Egypt. It is also known as the “Holy Day of Spring” because it is celebrated in the spring – beginning with the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan (April). It is also known as the “Festival of Matzah ” because a special form of unleavened bread, called matzah, is eaten. First Seder is on the evening of April 23rd.

Pioneer day

(Mormon) members of the Church worldwide celebrate the great history of the pioneers by holding pageants, parades, commemoration concerts, re-enactments of the trek west, and other pioneer themed church activities. 

Posadas Navidenas

(Christianity) This is a Christian tradition in Mexico that represents the period during which Mary and Joseph searched for shelter when Jesus was due to be born. 

Presentation of Christ in the Temple

(Anglican Christianity) Celebrating the Holy family and about the meaning of the Incarnation.

Purim

(Jainism) Purim celebrates victory over an oppressive ruler, as related in the Book of Esther.

Raksha Bandhan

(Hinduism) A festival honouring the loving ties between brothers and sisters in a family.

Rama Navami

(Hinduism) The day of birth of Lord Rama, the 7th incarnation of God Vishnu.

Ramadan begins

(Islam) Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. All Muslims who are physically able fast during this period each day from dawn to sunset.

Ridvan

(Baha’i) Baha’is observe the first, ninth and twelfth days of this period (ie . April 21st, 29th, and May 2nd). It was during this period that Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i faith, declared his mission as the most recent messenger of God. The actual declaration took place in a garden, can Ridvan (paradise) in Baghdad, Iraq in 1863.

Rohatsu – Bodhi day

(Buddhism) Buddhists observe the enlightenment of the historical Buddha.

Rosh Hashanah

(Judaism) This is the Jewish New Year. Rosh Hashanah is also known as the Day of Remembrance and the Day of Judgment.

Samhain

(Wicca/Paganism) This is the most important date in the Pagan calendar. It celebrates the Celtic New Year. The dying God returns to the womb of the Goddess in preparation for rebirth at Yule. At Samhain, loved ones who have died are remembered and their souls are invited to join in the feasting and celebration. This is also the third and final harvest.

Setsubun-Sai

(Shintoism) Setsubun-sai is a Shinto celebration based on the lunar calendar and celebrated primarily in Japan. Historically, it was considered the start of the new year. Setsubun-sai is a festival of good luck and marks the change of season, from winter to spring. For this reason, it is a celebration.

During Setsubun-sai, people participate in mame-maki, or bean scattering. Beans are scattered to ward off evil spirits and to welcome good fortune for the new year.

Shavuot

(Judaism) “The Holy Day of the Giving of the Torah”. Shavuot commemorates the giving of the Torah to the Israelites and the completion of the God’s purpose to create a special people.

Shemini Atzeret

(Judaism) A day to “hold on” a little longer with God after a whirlwind several weeks of significant holy days.

Simchat Torah

(Judaism) “Rejoicing in the Law”. This is the beginning of the synagogue’s annual Torah reading cycle. Reform Jews celebrate it with Shmini Atzeret.

Sukkok

(Judaism) Sukkot is a pilgrimage feast and a time of thanksgiving celebrating God’s presence in creation and among the Jewish people. The eighth day, Shimini Atzeret is a distinct festival.

Theravadin New year

(Buddhism) New Year festival for Theravada Buddhists, celebrated for three days from the first full moon day in April.

Timkat

(Ethiopian Christianity) The celebration of the baptism of Jesus.

Tish’a B’av

(Judaism) This day commemorates the destruction of the first and second temples in Jerusalem.

Trinity Sunday

(Christianity) The next Sunday after Pentecost, observed in the Western Christian Church as a feast in honour of the Holy Trinity.

Twelfth day of Ridvan

(Baha’i) Ridvan is a twelve day festival celebrated in the Baha’i faith. This festival celebrates the commencement of the prophethood of Baha’u’llah, the founder of Baha’i.

Ulambana – Obon

(Buddhism) The day on which offerings are made to Buddha, the Dharma/Teachings, the Sangha /Monastic Community on behalf of ancestors. Also called Happy Buddha Day.

Vasant Panchami

(Hinduism) This festival is dedicated to Saraswati (Goddess of learning).

Visakka Puja – Buddha day

(Buddhism) Celebrated on the first full moon day in May (except in leap years, where the festival is held in June), Vesak is the major Buddhist festival of the year. It celebrates the birth, enlightenment and death of Buddha on the one day. 

Waqf al Arafa – Hajj day

(Islam) Waqf al Arafa is the Islamic observance day during Hajj in which pilgrims pray for forgiveness and mercy. Pilgrims stay awake at night to pray on the hill of Arafat, the site where Muhammad traditionally delivered his last sermon.

Watch Night

(Christianity) It is traditionally a time of giving thanks for the old year and making new commitments for the new year.

World Religion day

(Baha’i)The purpose of this day is to create harmony and to draw attention to the similarities of various religious principles. This goal is achieved through interfaith discussions, conferences, and other events.

Yom Ha’atzmaunt

(Judaism) Celebration for the national independence day of Israel.

Yom Hashoah

(Judaism) Commemorates the Holocaust during which 6 million perished.

Yom Kippur

(Judaism) Also known as the Day of Atonement. It is the most solemn day on the Jewish calendar. To re-establish oneness with God, Jews ask forgiveness and forgive others. Then they confess their sins and ask God’s forgiveness. Yom Kippur begins at sundown the previous day.

Yule

(Wicca/Paganism) Also called Winter Solstice, Yule marks the birth of the God. It is a time for looking forward to spiritual development of the coming year.

Zarathosht Diso (Death of prophet Zarathushtra)

(Zoroastrianism) Founder of Zoroastrian faith. Believed to have lived in the first or second millennium BCE.