23th April is the start of Ramadan
Ramadan is considered one of the holiest months of the year for Muslims. In Ramadan, Muslims commemorate the revelation of the Qur’an, and fast from food and drink during the sunlit hours as a means of learning self-control, gratitude, and compassion for those less fortunate. Ramadan is a month of intense spiritual rejuvenation with a heightened focus on devotion, during which Muslims spend extra time re-reading the Qur’an and performing special prayers. Those unable to fast, such as pregnant or nursing women, the sick, or elderly people and children, are exempt from fasting.
A Muslim family usually rises about 5:00 a.m. before the first of dawn and eats a modest, breakfast-like meal called suhur. After the meal, the family performs the morning prayer, and depending on the circumstances, the family goes back to bed or begins the day. Particularly during the long summer months, people often take a nap in the late afternoon after work or school. At sunset, family members break the fast with a few dates and water, and depending on the culture, other light foods such as soup, appetizers or fruit. This is referred to as iftar which means “breaking the fast.” After performing the sunset prayers, the family eats dinner. Inviting guests to break the fast or going to someone else’s house for iftar is very common in Ramadan. Many families then go to the mosque for the night prayer and a special Ramadan prayer called taraweeh. After completing their prayers, the families return home around 11:45 p.m. (All of these times vary depending on the time of year, with shorter days in the winter and longer days in the summer.)
Many mosques host daily community dinners where Muslims can break their fast together. This is a great service for students, the poor and anyone who desires a break from cooking. Almost all mosques also host a community dinner on the weekends.
Special Ramadan prayers called taraweeh are held in most mosques after the night prayer. During taraweeh, the prayer leader recites at least one thirtieth of the Qur’an so that by the end of the month the entire Qur’an will have been recited.
Since Ramadan is a time for Muslims to be especially charitable and fasting helps Muslims feel compassion for the hungry and less fortunate, many mosques hold food drives or fundraisers for charity during Ramadan. Many mosques also host open houses for their friends and neighbors of other faiths to join them for their fast-breaking dinner or iftar at the end of the fasting day.
The Night of Power known as Lailat al-Qadr, is believed to fall on one of the odd nights during the last ten days of Ramadan, but is most widely observed on the 27th night of Ramadan. It is considered the most blessed night in Ramadan because it is believed to be the night in which the Qu’ran was first revealed. Mosques are open all night as Muslims hold vigils in prayer, Qur’anic recitation, and contemplation.
Breaking the fast with dates is the only strictly traditional culinary custom associated with Ramadan. It is interesting to note the suitability of dates for this purpose as they are a concentrated source of energy and easily digestible. Different Muslim-populated countries have a variety of special dishes and desserts for Ramadan.
January 10th is the New Year for Mahayana Buddhists.
The first full moon of January is when Mahayana Buddhists celebrate the new year by honoring and praying for Buddha and other deities. Every Buddhist is expected to visit a nearby temple to light candles which are believed to bring happiness and good luck for the commencing year. Songs are sung as an offering to deities while statues of Buddha are washed as a sign of respect. Mahayana Buddhism is the largest sub-division of the Buddhist religion. Mahayana Buddhists believe enlightenment can be acquired during one’s lifetime. They also believe that not only nuns and monks can achieve it, but also ordinary Buddhists.