Ramadan, Hanukkah and Christmas

Ramadan (Islam)—Magda Bayoumi

Magda explained that the term Ramadan is the name of a month in the Arabic calendar. Ramadan is one of the most special months for Muslims because it is the month that the Qur’an came to Muhammad.

Fasting during Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam. The other pillars are a belief in one God, with Muhammad as the last prophet of God; prayer five times daily; charitable giving; and the hajj.

Muslims fast the whole month from dawn to sunset. After sunset, they break fast with dates and then eat a meal. Magda showed small lanterns that children light after they break the fast; some of the lanterns play a tune or a call to prayer.

Magda likened the observance of Ramadan to taking a refresher course in school: it is a time for Muslims to refresh themselves on their beliefs and activities, to check that they are doing the good deeds they want to do. During Ramadan, Muslims read through the whole Qur΄an individually and hear it read at the masjid (mosque).

Ramadan ends with a celebration on Eid al Fitr (December 6 this year). This is a special time of family celebration and gift giving.

Hanukkah (Judaism)—Phyllis Berman

Phyllis discussed Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, which occurs in November or December. For her, Hanukkah comes with a quality of mystery. It is a celebration of freedom and signifies the importance of the temple in Jewish life. Hanukkah commemorates an event in Judea thousands of years ago when the Maccabees rededicated and cleansed the temple. They found only one tiny jug of oil, but in a miraculous occurrence the oil burned for eight days.

Phyllis said that Jews today celebrate this miracle for eight days, lighting candles on the menorah each night. Children often play with spinning tops, called dreidels. A common food is potato pancakes. Gifts are exchanged. It is a time of great merriment.

Christmas (Christianity)—Nancy Riffer

Nancy discussed her traditions in observing Christmas, the birth of Jesus Christ. She grew up Methodist and is now a Quaker. She learned as a child that Christmas was a time of watching and expectation. Her mother told her to watch for something unexpected; it might be a group caroling at the door or a surprise Advent calendar coming in the mail. Something happened every year.

Nancy demonstrated one of her favorite presents received as a child: stilts made with large cans and string! She shared the simple ways her family celebrated Christmas: making a manger scene out of plain materials, hand-making ornaments for the tree, taking a family shopping trip to buy clothes and a toy for a needy child, making a gingerbread house with the children.

Nancy outlined several ways that she and others have tried to observe a less commercial Christmas. “Buy Nothing Day” is the day after Thanksgiving when people do not go shopping! Nancy gives alternative gifts, donating presents to charity in honor of people rather than buying those people presents of their own.