Middle Eastern holiday celebrations

by Leonard H. Le Blanc III

During the end-of-the-year holiday season, as any resident or visitor will attest to, Thailand has tightly embraced western holidays with a passion. Up until 1941, Thais celebrated the traditional Thai New Year during Songkran in mid April. But Thailand adopted the western calendar starting on 01 January of that year. Thais have also taken Christmas into their hearts in a big way that only seems to get more gaudy, colourful and spectacular with every coming holiday season.

There are other Asian countries that also celebrate the holidays in different ways that are no less joyous in Thailand. Here are some other noteworthy festivals that people love to enjoy.

Middle Eastern festivals

Islamic festivals

Moulid el-Nabi or The Prophet’s Birthday: Prophet Muhammad is the founder of Islam. He is regarded by Muslims as the Holy Prophet of God and His last messenger. The main purpose of Moulid el-Nabi is to celebrate Muhammad’s birth and teachings.

Ramadan is a celebration that takes place in the ninth month of the Islamic calendar when the Koran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. The date is based on the moon’s cycles. Almost all Muslims will fast during the hours of daylight for the entire month. In Egypt, people now decorate their houses and streets with lanterns called fanous to celebrate. This particular custom has now spread through the Middle East.

Eid el-Fitur or the Feast of the Breaking the Fast: The festival marks the breaking of the fast for Muslims at the end of Ramadan. The celebration lasts three days. During this time families and friends will come together to celebrate with good food and give charity to the less fortunate.

Eid el-Adha or the Feast of the Sacrifice: This festival is the second most important feast in the Muslim calendar. It celebrates Abraham and his willingness to sacrifice his only son to prove to God his strict obedience.

Christian festivals

Christmas: An annual holiday that celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. It is celebrated in some Middle Eastern countries with bonfires in Syria, planting deeds in Lebanon and fasting in Iran.

The Epiphany: A Christian festival that celebrates the revelation of God in human form to mankind. In Jordan, the festival marks the Baptism of Christ.

Jewish festivals

Passover or the Festival of Unleavened Bread: This festival is when Jewish people remember how the people of Israel left bondage in slavery when  they left Egypt.

Rosh Hashanah: This festival are the High Holy Days celebrated by Jewish people. It is the traditional Jewish New Year.

Hanukkah or the Festival of Lights: It is observed by the kindling of lights on each night of the eight day holiday. It marks the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after its destruction.

Zoroastrian festivals

Jashn-e Sadeh or the Festival of Fire: This festival is a mid winter festival that was celebrated with magnificence in ancient Iran. It was a festivity to honour fire and to defeat the forces of darkness, frost, and cold.

Jashn-e Mihragān or the Festival of Mihr: This festival is a day of thanksgiving

dedicated to the highest Angel, Mithra, an important deity or divine concept in Zoroastrianism and later in Persian mythology and culture.

Yaldā or Shab-e Chelle: This festival celebrates the Winter Solstice. It is celebrated on the eve of the first day of the winter or the Winter Solstice. It celebrates the birth of Sun God Mithra. 

Secular festivals

Nowrūz or the Iranian New Year: Nowrūz is the traditional Iranian new year holiday. It is celebrated in Iran, Northern Iraq, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Albania, Georgia, the countries of central Asia plus by other Turkic speaking peoples throughout Asia. The festival marks the first day of spring and the beginning of the new year. It traditionally lasts for thirteen days. It is celebrated by all people regardless of their religion on the vernal equinox that marks the beginning of spring in the northern hemisphere. The celebrations begin with spring house cleaning and an intricate dinner, including seven items whose names begin with the letter “S.”

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