Home for the Holidays
The disruption caused by Coronavirus touches all aspects of our daily lives, including the ability to celebrate our key religious festivals. The month of April is chock-full of such holidays such as Passover, Easter, Vaisakhi and Ramadan.
While the faithful usually congregate to celebrate and commemorate these holidays, the lockdown of most of the world and the closing of public spaces has led religious communities to get creative with traditions.
Passover in a Pandemic
The first big hitter up to the holiday plate in April is the Jewish holiday of Passover which begins at sunset on Wednesday April 8th. Also known as Pesach, this is an eight-day holiday that remembers the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt.
An important part of the holiday is the Seder, the ceremonial Passover dinner where the Haggadah (the story of the Exodus) is read. Seder is notable for being a communal celebration and more than just retelling the story of Exodus, it’s about coming together as a community.
Due to coronavirus restrictions, many families will not be able to come together for Seder. This means that in many households, there will be the unusual sight of one of the places at the table being taken up by a laptop or tablet as guests join virtually via video conferencing apps such as Zoom. This means that these virtual gatherings could be larger than normal, which amplifies the community aspect of the Seder and highlights one of the central themes of Passover, that of the community showing a collective unity in the face of adversity.
Also using technology, some synagogues are offering virtual lessons for children that explore the history and traditions of Seder.
The most important holiday in the Christian calendar, Easter Sunday, is on April 12th, with a four-day weekend common in many countries. This year, St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City will be empty. Instead, the pope’s traditional Easter address will be live-streamed.
The Vatican, as well as being the home of the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church is also one of the most well known tourist sites in the world, and if you can’t get to Rome, you can still take a virtual tour around the Pope’s home. There are seven tours where viewers can explore 360 degree views including the world famous Sistine Chapel, the Chiaramonti Museum and Raphael’s Rooms. Click here to visit.
Many churches are taking the approach, that once services resume, the first order of business will be holding an Easter service, whenever that may be.
However, some churches are getting more inventive. One church in American held drive-in services for Palm Sunday. Attendees met in the church parking lot and stayed in their vehicles while the Pastor led the service.
Other Churches have moved their services to online sites like Facebook for worship. Sharing songs, leading discussions, readings and weekly services for families to tune in to. Not needing the congregation to make the actual journey, actually opens up the church to a new audience and the lockdown is a great opportunity for many churches to raise awareness of their activities.
It is also good to report that the popular tradition of an Easter Egg Hunt is unlikely to be affected by Coronavirus. Even if you can’t take part outside, your house makes a perfectly good alternative and the New Zealand Prime Minister has clarified that the Easter Bunny is an essential worker and not subject to lockdown restrictions.
Vaisakhi, on April 13th, is an ancient spring harvest festival that became closely associated with Sikhism at the end of the 17th century, when Guru Gobind Singh, leader of the Sikhs, chose the date of the festival to create the highest order that can reached by Sikhs, known as the Khalsa Panth.
Vaisakhi is arguably the holiday that will be most affected by Coronavirus as so many of its traditions revolve around mass gatherings. Many Sikhs mark the events that took place on Vaisakhi by making pilgrimages to holy sites. In some countries large public processions known as Nagar Kirtans take place. Cities across the world that have significant Sikh populations like London, Leicester and Vancouver also hold public celebrations.
All of these events are cancelled this year. Sikh religious leaders have asked the faithful to stay at home this year and celebrate symbolically by holding Sri Akhand Path or Sehaj Path recitals at home.
On April 23rd or 24th, depending on the sighting of the moon, the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins. During the month strict restraints are placed on the daily lives of Muslims. They are not allowed to eat or drink during the daylight hours. Ramadan is a time when Muslims concentrate on their faith and it is a time of worship and contemplation.
Some mosques have started to live stream the khutbah, the sermon given before the congregational Friday prayers. This virtual congregation will continue during Ramadan so that prayers can be observed from the safety of worshippers’ homes.
In some parts of the Middle East, the athaan, or call to prayer, which is broadcast from mosques five times a day, has been used to encourage people to stay safe. In Kuwait, the call has been altered to include the phrase “pray in your homes” instead of the usual “come to pray”.
Some Muslims gather regularly to further knowledge of their faith in a study circle known as a halaqah, which increase in frequency during Ramadan. Many mosques will offer online alternatives, such as video conference platforms or live streaming, as a substitute for the centuries-old tradition.
Diwali in April
As a mark of social solidarity in the midst of a nationwide lockdown, at 9pm on April 6th, India observed a mini Diwali. Lights went out in most houses and people gathered in balconies and at doors, flashing mobile lights while many lit candles and diyas.
While, for many followers of these key religious holidays, the coronavirus restrictions massively disrupt the traditional celebrations, it is also an opportunity to show ingenuity on how to celebrate your religious festivals. It might also prove to be a chance to strengthen your individual relationship with your faith.
The festivals we have highlighted in this article are all ancient and have come through unscathed, and in many cases, stronger, from much worse than this current virus. Indeed, many of the rituals and customs in our religious festivals were forged through hardship and sacrifice, so the worst thing we could do is not celebrate at all, and ignore the lessons from the past enshrined in the traditions of our favourite festivals.