Weekly Warm-Up: 4 Springtime Holidays Around the World

As the spring equinox approaches, several cultures and religious groups will be celebrating holidays.

For students, holidays are an exciting break from the norm. Why not take advantage of this week of overlapping celebrations to teach students about world cultures and religions? Check out this map of major world religions to get started.

Magha Puja Day: February 11, 2017

More than 2,500 years ago, Buddhists believe that 1,250 enlightened monks—without any prearranged plan to meet—converged on the same spot in India to hear the Buddha speak. Today, Buddhists in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and several other countries, remember this historic day with a festival that can include gift exchanges, chanting, meditation, and candle-lit processions.

Magha Puja Day is sometimes called Sangha Day because “sangha” means “Buddhist community,” and the day recalls the community that came together so many years ago. Some think of this day as an important time to reaffirm their commitment to Buddhist practices.

A monk celebrates Magha Puja Day in Thailand. Photo by Tevaprapas, courtesy Wikimedia. CC BY-SA 3.0.

Purim: March 11-12, 2017

Purim is a joyous occasion that celebrates the Jewish people escaping death and persecution in Persia. The Hebrew Bible’s Book of Esther tells the story of an evil king’s advisor who plotted to have all the Jewish people in the kingdom killed. At the same time, the king was hosting a contest to choose a new queen. At the advice of her cousin Mordechai, a woman named Esther entered and won the contest but did not reveal her Jewish identity. When Esther learned of the evil advisor’s plot, she informed the king and shared her Jewish origin, inspiring the king to save her people.

Many Jewish people celebrate Purim with a long meal filled with storytelling. One tradition even encourages participants to drink alcohol until they can no longer tell the difference between the good characters in the story and the evil ones.

Some people celebrate Purim by dressing in costumes or attending plays or parades. Photo by Nikola Herweg, courtesy Wikimedia. CC BY-SA 3.0.

Holi: March 12-13, 2017

Several Hindu stories form the basis for Holi. For example, an evil king named Hiranyakashipu forbade his son from worshipping the Hindu god Vishnu, but his son did not obey. In a rage, the king challenged his son to sit on a pyre. The son prayed for protection from Vishnu and was untouched by the flames. This story is often symbolized with a bonfire.

Another story has blue-skinned Lord Krishna mischievously applying color to his lover Radha’s face so they could have the same complexion. Today, many Hindus gather to playfully spray each other with colored powder mixed with water, inspired by this tale.

Holi is a springtime festival celebrated mostly in Northern India. Photograph by Nilanjan Basu
Holi is a springtime festival celebrated mostly in Northern India.
Photo by Nilanjan Basu, National Geographic Your Shot

Easter: April 16, 2017

Some Christians think of Easter as the religion’s most important holiday because it celebrates the belief that Jesus Christ, the son of the Christian god, rose from the dead. This conquering of death represents the salvation of all Christian people from their own wrongdoings. Many Christians celebrate this holiday by participating in processions and parades, most famously in Spain where some marchers go barefoot to acknowledge extreme repentance for their sins.

Of course, there are also more secular traditions for celebrating Easter that include chocolate bunnies and Easter egg hunts. These traditions may have started because early Christian missionaries wanted to appeal to the springtime symbolism the pagans already embraced, which included eggs and hares.

Several Spanish cities host elaborate processions to celebrate Semana Santa, the week before Easter. Photo by Anna and Michal, courtesy Flickr. CC BY 2.0.

Challenge your students to consider the similarities, differences, and connections with springtime among these holidays. Or, connect one or more of the celebrations with a regional unit you’re already working on. You could even practice map skills by charting the latitude and longitude of important sites related to each ritual. Let us know what you come up with! Respond in comments or send your ideas to education@ngs.org.

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