Religious Festivals and Holidays: October - December 2016

Religious holidays and festivals

A timeline of the the major religious holidays in the UK.

1 - 11 October


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Immersion of Durga idols at the end of Durga Puja, Kolkata, West Bengal

People witness the ceremonial immersion of idols of the goddess Durga in the Ganges Basin at the end of Durga Puja in Kolkata, West Bengal.

Navaratri is a nine day festival of music and dance when Hindus worship the female expression of the divine.

During Navaratri the creative power of the Goddess is celebrated, personified in the forms of Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati. The festival culminates on the 10th day, known as Dussehra, when Hindus celebrate the God Rama's victory over the demon king Ravana, symbolising the triumph of good over evil. In the state of West Bengal Navaratri culminates in the Durga Puja, when Durga idols are carried in procession and immersed in a river or other water bodies.

How do Hindus celebrate Navaratri?

2 October

Al-Hijra - Islamic New Year

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Muslim pilgrims visit the cave where the Prophet Muhammad took shelter during the Hijra

Muslim pilgrims visit the cave known as Ghar al-Thawr in which the Prophet Muhammad is said to have taken shelter during the Hijra.

Al-Hijra is the first day of Muharram, the first month in the Islamic calendar, and the first day of the Islamic New Year.

Al-Hijra marks the day in 622AD when Muhammad and the first Muslim community migrated from Mecca to Medina.

2 - 4 October

Rosh Hashanah

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Israeli musician, Shlomo Gronich, blowing the shofar

Israeli musician, Shlomo Gronich, blowing the Shofar.

Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year festival and commemorates the creation of the world.

Rosh Hashanah is also a judgement day, when Jews believe that God balances a person's good deeds over the last year against their bad deeds. God records the judgement in the Book of Life, where he sets out what kind of year each person will have. According to Jewish tradition the book is finally sealed at Yom Kippur. One of the synagogue rituals for Rosh Hashanah is the blowing of the Shofar, a ram's horn trumpet. A hundred notes are sounded in a special rhythm.

11 October


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Tehran's Azadi tower strung with black flags for Ashura

The Azadi Tower in Tehran hung with black flags for Ashura.

At Ashura, Muslims remember the martyrdom of Hussain ibn Ali, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, at the Battle of Karbala (AD680).

Ashura is marked by all Muslims, but it’s most important for Shia Muslims for whom it’s a solemn day of mourning.

Find out about the split between Sunni and Shia Muslims

12 October

Yom Kippur

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Kaparot market in Jerusalem

At Yom Kippur some Jews perform the ritual Kaparot in which they symbolically transfer their sins against God to a chicken which is then slaughtered.

Yom Kippur translates as the Day of Atonement and is the holiest date in the Jewish calendar.

The central themes of Yom Kippur are atonement and repentance. It's observed with a 25-hour period of fasting and intensive prayer. Yom Kippur completes the annual period known in Judaism as the High Holy Days or sometimes 'the Days of Awe', which begin with Rosh Hashanah.

How important is forgiveness to faith?

16 - 23 October


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Display of ethrogs for Sukkot

Etrogs on display in the Mea Shearim district of Jerusalem.

At Sukkot Jews remember the Israelites' 40 years of exile in the desert, living in makeshift dwellings, before they reached the promised land.

For the duration of the festival Jewish families live in temporary huts called sukkot (singular: sukkah) which they build out of branches and leaves. Each day they hold celebrations with four types of symbolic plants: palm, myrtle, willow and a special citrus fruit called an etrog. Sukkot is intended to be a joyful festival that lets Jews live close to nature and know that God is taking care of them.

20 October

Guru Granth Sahib declared Guru for all times

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Guru Granth Sahib

Pages from the Guru Granth Sahib.

Guru Gobind Singh was the tenth and last living Guru of the Sikh faith.

On his death in 1708 he said that Sikhs were to treat the Guru Granth Sahib (holy book) as their Guru for all times. The Guru Granth Sahib contains the words and writings of the founders of the Sikh faith (the Ten Gurus) as well as the words of various Hindu and Muslim saints.

BBC Radio 4: Beyond Belief: Translating Sacred Texts

True wealth does not burn; it cannot be stolen by a thief.

Guru Granth Sahib

23 - 25 October

Shemini Atzeret / Simchat Torah

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Simchat Torah (rejoicing with the Torah).

At Simchat Torah people dance in circuits with the Torah while singing its praises.

Shemini Atzeret is a Jewish holiday marking the day after the end of Sukkot and is an extra day of celebration.

Many religious Jews observe a rota of weekly readings from the Torah which allows them to read it through from Genesis to Deuteronomy on a yearly basis. Simchat Torah means "Rejoicing in the Torah" and is the day when this annual cycle of rereading the Torah ends and starts anew.

30 October

Bandi Chhorh Divas (Prisoners Release Day)

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Golden Temple lit up for Bandi Chhor Divas

The Golden Temple at Amritsar lit up for Bandi Chhorh Divas.

On this day Sikhs celebrate the safe return of the sixth Guru, Guru Hargobind, from detention in the Gwalior Gaol in 1619.

On the day of his return to Amritsar in 1619, Hindus were celebrating Diwali (the festival of lights) and the city was lit with thousands of candles and lamps. This has led to a similarity of celebrations between Sikhs and Hindus on this day although they are celebrating different events.

30 October


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Woman lighting earthen lamps during Diwali

Small earthen lamps are a feature of the home and temples during Diwali.

Diwali is known as the Festival of Lights and is celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs and Jains albeit for different reasons.

For Hindus it's the most important annual festival when they celebrate New Year and give thanks to the Goddess of Wealth, Lakshmi. Sikhs celebrate the release from imprisonment of the sixth Guru Hargobind. For Jains, it's the day when, in 527BC, the sage Mahavira gave his last teachings and achieved ultimate liberation.

31 October

All Hallows' Eve

Angela Butler Photography

Carved jack-o'-lantern

The Halloween Jack-o'-Lantern is thought to have orginated in ancient Celtic traditions where turnips or potatoes were hollowed out to make lamps.

All Hallows' Eve is commonly known as Halloween - and means eve of All Saints' (or Hallows') Day. 'Hallow' is an old English word for saint.

All Hallows' Eve marks the start of the season of Hallowtide, the time in the liturgical year when Christians remember the dead. Contemporary Halloween rituals are believed to have evolved from the Celtic festival, Samhain (see below), which was Christianised by the early Church. It is widely accepted that the early Church missionaries held a festival at this time of year to absorb native Pagan practices into Christianity, thereby smoothing the conversion process.

Halloween: More than parties and pumpkins?

31 October


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Druids performing a Samhain style blessing at Stonehenge, Wiltshire

Druids performing a Samhain style blessing at Stonehenge, Wiltshire.

Samhain marks the Celtic New Year and the beginning of what Pagans call the Wheel of the Year.

Samhain has its origin in Pagan Celtic traditions. It was the time of year when the veil between the worlds of life and death was lifted and the spirits of the dead could mingle with the living. Loved ones who had recently died were remembered and their spirits often invited to join in the celebratory feast. To most modern Pagans, death is still the central theme of the festival but this doesn't mean it’s a morbid event. For Pagans, death is part of the natural life cycle and not to be feared.

BBC News: Pagans celebrate Samhain

1 November

All Saints' Day

O. Louis Mazzatenta

Saints at the entrance doors to Chartres Cathedral, France

Saints welcoming sinners into Chartres Cathedral, France.

On All Saints' Day Christians remember all the saints and martyrs, known and unknown, throughout Christian history.

Remembering the saints and dedicating a specific day to them each year has been a Christian tradition since the 4th Century, but in AD609 Pope Boniface IV decided to include all martyrs as well. Originally 13 May was designated, but in AD837 Pope Gregory IV changed the date to 1 November.

How do you become a saint?

2 November

All Souls' Day

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Decorated skull sculptures for the Day of the Dead Festival

Decorative skull sculptures for the Day of the Dead Festival.

All Souls' Day is a day when Christians remember and pray for the dead, especially family members.

On 1 and 2 November, Mexicans around the world celebrate the Day of the Dead (Dia de Muertos) when they pay tribute to friends and family who've died.

BBC News: Day of the Dead - From Mexico to London Town

13 November

Birth of the Báb

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The Dome of the Shrine of the Báb in Haifa, Israel

The Dome of the Shrine of the Báb, Haifa, Israel.

On this day Bahá'ís celebrate the birth in 1819 of the Báb, the herald or forerunner of their faith.

This is one of the nine holy days of the year when work is suspended.

Find out more about the Báb's life and the Bahá'í faith

14 November

Birth of Bahá'u'lláh

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Baha'i Museum in Haifa, Israel

Upon his death Bahá'u'lláh's son, 'Abdu'l Bahá, was named the infallible interpreter of Bahá'u'lláh's message.

On this day Bahá'ís celebrate the anniversary of the birth in 1817 of Bahá'u'lláh, the founder of their faith. Bahá'u'lláh means 'Glory of God'.

Bahá'u'lláh gave up his privileged life to follow the Báb, the herald of the Bahá'í faith. After the death of the Báb, he became the movement's leader and laid down the laws and principles of the Bahá'í faith. His birthday is one of the nine holy days of the year when work is suspended.

Find out more about the Bahá'í faith

14 November

Birthday of Guru Nanak

World History Archive/TopFoto

Guru Nanak

Guru Nanak (1469-1539), the founder of modern Sikhism.

Guru Nanak was the founder of the Sikh faith and the first of its 10 ten Gurus. He was born in the Punjab in 1469.

Sikhs celebrate with prayers, the singing of religious songs and readings from the Guru Granth Sahib (Holy Book). Free sweets and community meals are offered to everyone at the temples. Houses and temples are lit up for the festivities.

24 November

Martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadur

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Interior of Sikh Gurdwara Sis Ganj Sahib in New Delhi

The interior of the Sikh temple, Gurdwara Sis Ganj Sahib, in New Delhi, said to have been built on the site where Guru Tegh Bahadur was martyred.

Guru Tegh Bahadur was the ninth of the Ten Sikh Gurus. He was martyred in 1675.

Among Guru Tegh Bahadur's achievements was the building of the city of Anandpur Sahib, now known by Sikhs as the 'City of Spiritual Bliss'. He was arrested and executed in 1675 on the orders of the Mughal Emperor, Aurangzeb, who tried to impose Islam on Indian Hindus and Sikhs.

27 November

Advent Sunday

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Darkness to Light Advent Procession, Salisbury Cathedral

The Darkness to Light Advent Procession at Salisbury Cathedral begins with the cathedral in total darkness, and ends with it lit by 1300 candles.

Advent is the four week period before Christmas when Christians prepare for the coming of Christ. The word Advent means 'coming' or 'arrival'.

Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas, which also marks the beginning of the liturgical year for Western Churches.

8 December

Bodhi Day

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Buddhist monks praying at Mahabodhi temple, Bodhgaya

Buddhist monks praying at Mahabodhi temple in Bodhgaya, India, which is said to mark the spot where the Buddha achieved enlightenment.

On Bodhi day Buddhists from the Mahayana tradition celebrate the Buddha's attainment of enlightenment.

The tradition is that having spent six years living an extreme ascetic life, the Buddha formulated his 'middle way' philosophy. He then spent time in deep meditation under the Bodhi Tree at Bodhgaya, India, where he achieved enlightenment and realised the Four Noble Truths.

Find out more about the Buddha's Four Noble TruthsBBC News: Meeting Taiwan's new-age Buddhists

22 December


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Yule Log

The Yule log has its origins in Pagan times when it was the highlight of Winter Solstice celebrations.

Yule marks the Winter Solstice - the shortest day of the year - when Pagans celebrate the rebirth of the sun.

The lives of the ancient Celtic people were strongly influenced by the seasons and the Earth's position with regard to the sun. The sun was vital for the cycle of life and was worshipped as a god. After the Winter Solstice, days start to lengthen and Pagans would celebrate the return of new life.

24 - 31 December


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Lit menorah

The ninth candle in the menorah serves to light the other eight candles on the consecutive nights of Hanukkah.

Hanukkah is a Jewish festival also known as the festival of lights.

The story of Hanukkah is based on the so-called 'miracle of the oil'. According to Jewish tradition, in 164BC a group of Jews, the Maccabees, recaptured Jerusalem from the occupying Greeks. When they came to rededicate the Temple, they had only enough sacred oil to light the menorah (seven-branched candlestick) for one day. Despite this, the candles miraculously stayed alight for eight days. An eight day festival was declared to celebrate this miracle.

24 December

Christmas Eve

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NT passage

Christmas Eve is the evening before Christmas Day.

Christmas celebrations traditionally start on Christmas Eve with Midnight Mass. Christian tradition holds that Jesus was born at night and Midnight Mass is a commemoration of his birth.

How to cook Christmas dinner

25 December

Christmas Day

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Nativity scene

A nativity scene showing the shepherds who, according to the New Testament, visited the infant Jesus at his birth.

Christmas Day is when Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus, whom they believe to be the son of God.

Jesus's birth, known as the nativity, is described in the New Testament of the Bible. According to tradition, Joseph and Mary travelled to Bethlehem shortly before Jesus's birth, as the Roman Emperor had ordered a census of the Jewish people, and all had to return to their place of birth. When they arrived in Bethlehem the inns were already full, but an innkeeper allowed them to stay in a cave which he used for his animals. It was here that Mary gave birth to Jesus and laid him in a manger.

Did the Romans invent Christmas?

26 December

Zarathosht Diso / Death of Zoroaster

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Zoroastrian fire temple

The Faravahar symbol, the symbol of Zoroastrianism, over a Fire Temple in Yazd, Iran.

On this day Zoroastrians remember the death of their prophet, Zoroaster. It's a solemn occasion devoted to prayer and remembering his life.

Zoroastrianism is one of the oldest monotheistic religions and was founded by the Prophet Zoroaster about 3,500 years ago. For 1000 years Zoroastrianism was one of the most powerful religions in the world and was the official religion of Persia (Iran) from 600BC to 650AD. It is now one of the world's smallest religions, estimated to have fewer than 190,000 followers worldwide.

BBC News: Keeping Zoroastrianism alive