Although the United States was founded in part on the basis of religious freedom, all religions – and therefore their holidays – are often not treated equally.
Three distinct religious celebrations overlap this month – Ramadan in Islam, Passover in Judaism, and Lent and Easter in Christianity. Although Islam, Judaism and Christianity are well-established religions, non-Christian holidays are often not treated with equal representation or respect as Christian holidays.
Although these holidays take place around the same time this year, Passover and Ramadan are often overlooked compared to Easter. It is common for businesses to be closed on Easter, but non-Christian holidays are often not broadcast company-wide. While employers must provide reasonable accommodations to employees under federal law, they can keep workers informed by demonstrating that accommodating them would cause “undue hardship.”
In stores across the country, themed treats, toys and accessories are widely sold. We’ve all seen the Placemats “Happy Easter”, chocolate bunnies and table of Easter craftsbut we rarely see specialized decorations commonly sold for Jewish holidays, and almost never for Islamic, Buddhist or Hindu holidays.
With 1.8 billion people identifying as Muslim and 15.2 million people identifying as Jewish around the world, there are many reasons why the American public should recognize and familiarize themselves not only with their religious holidays, but with those of their neighbors – and the same goes for the other two world religions important: Buddhism and Hinduismthe sequel of which is also quite extensive.
Ramadan is a month-long celebration during the ninth holy month of the Islamic calendar, and this year it began on April 2 and will end on May 1. It is a period defined by intense worship, fasting from dawn to dusk, and attempts at reading ‘an with the overall goal of strengthening physical and spiritual ties with Allah, or God. Muslims also accomplish this by welcoming self-reflection and focusing on morality.
Easter, also known as Passover, is an eight-day celebration held during the month of Nissan, falling April 15-23 this year. The holiday commemorates the emancipation and exodus of enslaved Israelites from Egypt and is celebrated in two parts. The first serving, celebrated the first two nights, is greeted with Seder festivals and traditional Haggadah readings. The other days are called Hol Hamoed, or intermediate days of celebration.
Lent is a 40-day period beginning on Ash Wednesday, which was March 2 this year, and prepares Christians for Easter Sunday. The period marks the memory of Jesus’ journeys through the desert and is defined by fasting and prayer. Overall, the main feature of the holiday is that people show their appreciation for Jesus’ suffering by giving up some of their indulgences and showing thanks by giving.
When we come together to enjoy a vacation outside of our own religion or culture, we can better develop our empathy for others. By understanding how another religion celebrates and the historical significance of their traditions, we can become more aware and educated people. Spring Break celebrations may be happening now, but that holds true for all religious celebrations.
Intolerance is fed by ignorance, so take just a few minutes out of your day to learn about other religions and their celebrations can help people not jump to preconceived conclusions. Even though some schools don’t teach other religions or their holidays, the least we can do is take the time to understand what our peers, neighbors and friends are celebrating and how we can respectfully wish them a happy holiday.