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May Faith Traditions
Judaism, Christianity, and Islam

May Faith Traditions
Few months are so active in faith traditions as May, the spring season’s revitalization of nature similarly inspires a resurgence in religious fervor. The world’s three major faith traditions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—each celebrate significant religious holidays during May.

Judaism
Judaism
This year, Lag Ba’Omer, the 33rd day of the Omer count and the 18th day of the Hebrew month of Iyar, occurs on May 3. Lag Ba’Omer commemorates Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, a Mishnaic sage and leading disciple of Rabbi Akiva in the 2nd century, and the day he revealed the secrets of kabbalah in the form of the Zohar (Book of Splendor). Legend also has it that the ancient holiday also refers to the execution of Akiva ben Joseph by the Romans. In the Middle Ages, Lag Ba’Omer became known as a special holiday for rabbinical students with the day spent on enjoyment of outdoor sports.

Faithful Jews celebrate this festive day with outings, bonfires, parades, traditional songs, visits to Meron, and other events. Three-year-old children receive their first haircuts, and children play with bows and arrows. Ashkenazi Jews prefer to hold weddings on Lag Ba’Omer.

The festival weeks beginning with Passover and conclude the counting of Omer with Shavuot. This holiday marks the wheat harvest in Israel and the day God gave the Torah to the Israelites, thus committing the Israelites to the service of God.
Christianity
Christianity
The seventh Sunday of the Easter Season concludes the highest holy day of Christianity. Pentecost commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ, Matthias replacing Judas Iscariot who betrayed Him). Eastern traditions consider Pentecost an entire 50-day spanning Easter and the following seven weeks. In Roman Catholic tradition, the altar and sanctuary are decorated in red and the priest wears red vestments. Many countries celebrate the holiday with the following Monday off work and people enjoying outdoors activities. Some Protestant denominations dedicate the nine days between Ascension Day and Pentecost to fasting and prayer in homage of the Apostles’ prayer and preparation for Shavuot. Protestant denominations that do not regularly offer Holy Communion at their worship services do so on Pentecost. This day, dedicated to the Holy Spirit, also serves as a preferred day for baptisms. Most Christian denominations also ordinate their clergy on this day.

Islam
Various Muslim communities celebrate Lailatul Baraat, regarded as the night when men’s fortunes for the coming year are decided and God forgives sinners. Muslims pray for God’s forgiveness for the sins of their ancestors. Shiite Muslims also commemorate the birthday of Muhammad al-Madhi, the ultimate savior of humankind, on this date. Sufi and Shiite Arabs mark the holiday by handing out candy to children and the poor and gathering in communal worship.

Lailatul Baraat occurs 15 days before Ramadan, which marks the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. Muslims worldwide celebrate Ramadan, and annual observance marks one of the Five Pillars of Islam. Adults, except those who are ill, elderly, traveling, pregnant, or menstruating, are obligated to fast from dawn until sunset, so meals are served before dawn and after sunset. Muslims also refrain from sexual relations and smoking during Ramadan and engage in giving alms, reciting the Quran, and performing good deeds.

By Karen M. Smith



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