Religious Festivals and Holidays: January - March 2015

Religious Holidays and Festivals

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

5 January

Birth of Guru Gobind Singh

Narinder Nanu / Getty Images

Indian Sikhs at the Golden Temple in Amritsar

Indian Sikhs celebrating the birth of Guru Gobind Singh at the Golden Temple in Amritsar.

Guru Gobind Singh was the last of the 10 human Gurus of the Sikh faith. He was born in 1666.

Guru Gobind Singh is known for creating the Khalsa, historically a community of committed Sikhs who wore visible symbols of their faith and trained as warriors. Today the Khalsa refers to the community of baptised Sikhs who've undergone the Amrit initiation ceremony, said to have been introduced by Guru Gobind Singh. He's also known for naming the Sikh holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib, as his successor Guru for all time.

The gurus and warriors of the Sikh kingdom

6 January


The Granger Collection/TopFoto

RIDE OF THE MAGI. North Choir Aisle Bible Windows, Canterbury Cathedral, England.

Detail of the Ride of the Magi window in the North Choir Aisle at Canterbury Cathedral.

The Epiphany falls on the 12th day after Christmas and signals the end of the Christmas season for Western Christians.

The word Epiphany means 'revelation' and it's the day when Christians celebrate the coming of God in human form through his son, Jesus Christ. It's also said to be the day when the Magi (wise men) visited the child Jesus, bringing their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Who were the three wise men?

7 January

Orthodox Christmas Day

RIA Novosti / TopFoto

Christmas service at Kazan Cathedral, St Petersburg, January 2013

Russian Orthodox Christmas service at Kazan Cathedral, St Petersburg.

The majority of Orthodox Christian churches celebrate Christmas on 7 January.

This is because they continue to use the Julian calendar, while Western churches use the Gregorian calendar.

Why Western and Eastern churches use different calendars

24 January

Vasant Panchami - Saraswati Puja

Hindustan Times / Burhaan Kinu

Vasant Panchami Festival, Hindus immerse the goddess Saraswati in the Yamuna river

Hindus immerse the idol of the Goddess Saraswati in the River Yamuna in Noida, India.

Vasant Panchami is the Hindu festival that welcomes spring. It falls in the Hindu lunar month of Magh (January/February).

It’s also the time to pay tribute to Saraswati, the Goddess of Wisdom. She is usually portrayed with four hands to represent four aspects of the human intellect. She sits on a lotus to symbolise her wisdom and is clothed in white to symbolise purity.

Why do Hindus celebrate God as a woman?

2 February


Rick Harrison / Getty Images

Fire dancer at Marsden Imbolc festival

Fire dancer at Marsden Imbolc festival, near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire.

Imbolc is celebrated by Pagans midway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.

In the ancient world winter stores of food would be running low by this time of the year, and with spring around the corner, rituals were performed to ensure a good growing season. Like many Celtic festivals, Imbolc celebrations centred around the lighting of fires, as fire celebrates the increasing power of the sun.

BBC News: A journey through the English ritual year

15 February

Nirvana Day

Godong / Getty Images

Nepalese representation of the Buddha's death (Parinirvana)

A Nepalese painting of the Buddha's death.

Nirvana Day (Parinirvana) is the day when Buddhists from the Mahayana tradition remember the death and enlightenment of the Buddha.

Nirvana Day is celebrated by some Mahayana Buddhist traditions on 8 February.

Find out more about the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism

17 February

Shrove Tuesday

Kate Hiscock / Getty Images

Ingredients for pancakes

Making pancakes on Shrove Tuesday was a way to use up ingredients like eggs, fats and milk that were not allowed during Lent.

Shrove Tuesday is the day before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. It's also known as Pancake Tuesday or Pancake Day.

Shrove Tuesday gets its name from the ritual of shriving, i.e. the process of confessing and repenting of sins by fasting and abstaining from luxuries during Lent. Lent is the period of 40 days which comes before Easter in the Christian calendar.

Pancake recipes at BBC Food

17 February


Moritz Wolf

Statues of Shiva and Parvati from a Temple in Tamil Nadu

Statues of Shiva and Parvati from a Temple in Tamil Nadu.

At Shivaratri Hindus honour Lord Shiva. It falls on the 14th night of the new moon in the Hindu month of Phalgun (February/March).

Devotees observe a day and night fast and perform rituals in honour of Lord Shiva. According to one of the most popular stories, Shivaratri marks the wedding day of Lord Shiva and Parvati and it was on this night that Lord Shiva performed the ‘Tandava’, the dance of primal creation, preservation and destruction.

Find out more about Hindu ideas of creation

18 February

Ash Wednesday

ullsteinbild / TopFoto

Ashes cross on the forehead of a Christian woman on Ash Wednesday 2008

Ashes used to mark the sign of cross can be made by burning palm crosses from the previous Palm Sunday.

Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent for Western Christian churches and is a day of penitence.

In some traditions, services are held on Ash Wednesday when worshippers are marked on the forehead with a cross of ashes as a sign of penitence and mortality.

BBC News: Ash Wednesday forehead burns mystery solved

18 February - 5 April


Nell Redmond / Getty Images

cross draped with purple cloth symbolising Lent

During Lent purple cloth is often draped over Christian crosses as it’s associated with mourning and anticipates Jesus’s crucifixion.

Lent is the period of 40 days which comes before Easter in the Christian calendar.

For Western Christian churches, Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, and is a season of reflection and preparation before the celebrations of Easter. By observing the 40 days of Lent, Christians replicate Jesus Christ's sacrifice and withdrawal into the desert for 40 days. Lent is marked by fasting, both from food and festivities.

BBC Radio 4: Beyond Belief: Lent

23 February

Clean Monday

Steve Outram / Getty Images

Lagana bread

Lagana is a Greek flatbread eaten once a year on Clean Monday at the start of Greek Orthodox Lent.

Clean Monday is the start of Great Lent in Eastern Orthodox churches. It’s a day of strict prayer and fasting.

Great Lent is the most important fasting season in Orthodox Christianity. It corresponds to Lent in Western Christianity and they both use a period of 40 days because of the 40 days that Jesus is said to have spent fasting in the wilderness.

How is the date for Easter determined?

1 - 20 March

The Nineteen Day Fast

Walter Bibikow / Getty Images

Baha'i Lotus Temple in New Delhi

The Bahá'í House of Worship, the Lotus Temple, in New Delhi. A Bahá’í House of Worship is open to people of all religions for the worship of God.

The last month in the Bahá'í calendar, Ala (meaning loftiness), is a time when Bahá'ís fast from sunrise to sunset and spend extra time in prayer.

This month immediately precedes the Bahá'í new year, and the period of fasting is viewed as a time of spiritual preparation for the new year's activities.

Discover more about the Bahá'í faith

5 March


RIA Novosti / TopFoto

Celebrating the Jewish festival of Purim in the Moscow Jewish Community Centre

It's a Jewish tradition to dress up or disguise oneself at Purim, as with this Orthodox Jewish man at the Moscow Jewish Community Centre.

Purim celebrates the events told in the Book of Esther in the Hebrew Bible.

The Jewish heroine Esther, wife of King Ahasuerus, persuaded her husband to prevent a Persian nobleman, Haman, from massacring Jews in his kingdom. Purim is a time of praise and thanksgiving, and almsgiving is an important Purim tradition. The Book of Esther is read aloud in the synagogue and the congregation use rattles, cymbals and boos to drown out Haman's name whenever it appears.

6 March


Subir Basak / Getty Images

Indian woman covered in coloured powder during a Holi festival in Kolkata, India

An Indian woman is covered with coloured powder during Holi celebrations in Kolkata, India.

Holi is celebrated on the day after the full moon in the Hindu month of Phalguna (early March).

At Holi, Hindus celebrate spring and certain events in Hindu mythology. It’s known as the ‘Festival of Colours’ due to the practice of throwing coloured water and applying coloured powder on friends and family. This ritual is said to be based on the story of Krishna and Radha. When Krishna asked his mother why Radha was fair while he was dark, she advised him to apply colour to Radha's face to see how her complexion changed. At Holi, images of Krishna and Radha are carried through the streets.

Find out more about Holi with BBC Human Planet

6 March

Hola Mohalla

Hindustan Times/Sanjeev Sharma

Hola Mohalla Celebrations in Anandpur Sahib, India, March 2014

Hola Mohalla Celebrations in Anandpur Sahib.

Hola Mohalla is a festival celebrated by Sikhs in the city of Anandpur Sahib in the Punjab, which is known as ‘the holy City of Bliss’.

Hola Mohalla follows the Indian festival of Holi and celebrates Sikh martial skills with displays of horsemanship and mock battles. It was established by Guru Gobind Singh in 1701. The festivities are followed by music and poetry contests.

BBC Radio 4: Beyond Belief: Women in Sikhism

14 March

Nanakshahi New Year

Mary Evans Picture Library

Guru Nanak

Guru Nanak

This day marks the beginning of the year 547 in the Sikh Nanakshahi calendar.

The Nanakshahi calendar was instituted by Sikhs in 1999 and has been used since then to determine the dates of their feast days, replacing the Indian lunar calendar. The Nanakshahi calendar is related to significant events in Sikh history and dates from the birth of the first Guru, Guru Nanak Dev, in 1469.

The Gurus and warriors of the Sikh kingdom

15 March

Mothering Sunday

Joy Skipper / Getty Images

Simnel cake

In the Victorian era it was traditional for young girls in service to make a simnel cake to take home to their mothers on Mothering Sunday.

Mothering Sunday falls on the fourth Sunday in Lent. It is often called Mother's Day but has no connection with the American festival of that name.

Before the Reformation it was considered important for people to visit their mother church, or cathedral, once a year and it became the custom to do this on the fourth Sunday in Lent. Historians believe this was the origin of the tradition for those working as domestic servants to be given a day off on the fourth Sunday in Lent to visit their mothers and families and bring small gifts. It became known as Mothering Sunday.

BBC Food - Simnel cake recipes

20 March

Spring Equinox

Topham Picturepoint/TopFoto

Druids' sunrise service at Stonehenge, Wiltshire at Spring Equinox

Druids welcome the Spring Equinox sunrise at Stonehenge, Wiltshire.

At Spring (Vernal) Equinox the days and nights are of equal length. The land begins to bloom and Pagans celebrate the rebirth of spring.

Spring Equinox is sometimes called Ostera (or Eostre) after the Anglo-Saxon goddess of fertility, whose symbols are the hare and the egg. To celebrate Spring Equinox some Pagans carry out particular rituals. A man and woman are chosen to act out the roles of Spring God and Goddess, playing out courtship rituals and symbolically planting seeds. Egg races, egg hunts, and egg painting are also traditional activities at this time of year.

BBC Radio 4: Beyond Belief: Stonehenge

21 March


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Iranian-born comedian Shappi Khorsandi celebrates Noruz with her family.

Historically, Noruz is the traditional Iranian new year holiday, and is celebrated by more than one religious group.

It marks the start of the Zoroastrian new year and is dedicated to fire. It was also adopted by the founder of the Bahá'í faith as the start of their new year. It coincides with the first day of spring.

25 March


Getty Images

The Annunciation

The Annunciation, detail from the Cycle of the Virgin (AD1553), fresco by Bernardino Lanino, in Novara Cathedral, Piedmont, Italy.

Annunciation celebrates the day when the angel Gabriel is said to have appeared to Mary to tell her she'd been chosen to be the mother of Jesus.

It's celebrated on 25 March, nine months before Christmas when Christians celebrate the birth of Christ.

28 March

Khordad Sal

ullsteinbild / TopFoto

Zoroaster (c.628-551 BC), founder of Zoroastrianism, from Zoroastrian fire temple in Yazd

Zoroaster (c.628BC-c.551BC), the founder of Zoroastrianism. Painting from the Zoroastrian Fire Temple in Yazd, Iran.

Khordad Sal is celebrated by Zoroastrians and Parsis as the birthday of their founder, Zoroaster.

The date is symbolic as the actual date of Zoroaster's birth cannot be accurately identified. The festival is one of the most important in the Zoroastrian and Parsi calendar, when they gather in fire temples for prayer and celebrate with feasting.

BBC News: Keeping Zoroastrianism alive after 3,000 years

28 March

Rama Navami

The Granger Collection/TopFoto

Rama and Sita riding on Garuda, the sun-eagle.

Indian miniature c. 1780 showing a scene from the Ramayana: Rama and his wife Sita riding on Garuda, the sun-eagle.

At Rama Navami Hindus celebrate the birth of Lord Rama. It falls on the ninth day of Chaitra in the Hindu calendar (March/April).

Rama Navami is one of the most important Hindu festivals. Lord Rama is an incarnation of the god Vishnu and the hero of the epic Ramayana, which is recited in its entirety in the week leading up to Rama Navama, and on the day itself.

BBC News: Deepika Chikhalia on playing Sita on TV

29 March

Palm Sunday

Dan Porges

Christians celebrating Palm Sunday in Jerusalem in 2013

Every year groups of Christians process from the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem to commemorate Jesus's arrival in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.

Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week - the week leading up to Easter.

On Palm Sunday Christians remember Jesus's arrival in Jerusalem, when crowds cheered and laid palms at his feet before his arrest and crucifixion. In some churches large palms are carried in procession, while in others small crosses of palm leaf are handed out to the congregation, to symbolise the palm leaves which the people waved when Jesus arrived, and to remember the cross on which he died. The crosses are burned at the start of Lent the next year to provide the ash for Ash Wednesday.

BBC News: Christians celebrate Palm Sunday