A spiritual season

- March 24, 2016

The Dalhousie Multifaith Centre's building at 1321 Edward Street in Halifax. (Provided photo)
The Dalhousie Multifaith Centre's building at 1321 Edward Street in Halifax. (Provided photo)

The Easter holiday is upon us, and for students and others at Dalhousie who identify as Christian, the weekend represents one of the holiest times of the year. The weekend includes both Good Friday, which commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, and Easter Sunday, which marks his resurrection.

They’re holidays that almost everyone knows of since, like at many civic institutions across Canada, the university is closed on Good Friday.

What you might not know is there are a number of other notable religious dates which also fall around this time of year. Dalhousie’s Office of Human Rights, Equity and Harassment Prevention hosts a mosaic calendar that features religious and cultural dates from around the world. This week alone includes occasions such as Jewish holiday Purim and the Fast of Esther, the Indian Spring Festival of Holi and the Sikh festival of Hola Mohall.

Even though Canadian civic holidays have been historically structured around Christian occasions, these additional holidays and others like them are an important part of Canada’s increasingly diverse cultural mosaic, both here on campus and across the country. This fact is not lost on the Dalhousie community, and there are many groups in and around campus who work to facilitate the observance of different religious traditions and ceremonies.

Supporting faiths on campus

One such group is the Dalhousie Multifaith Centre. We asked Reverend Tesshin James Smith, the Associate Abbot of Training for the Mokurai Soto-Zen Order here in Halifax and the Coordinator for Dalhousie Multifaith Centre, about how the centre works to facilitate the celebration of various different religious traditions here on campus.

“The Multifaith Centre has chaplains of all different faiths: there are several Christian denominations, a couple of Rabbis, a couple of Imams from the Islamic Mosques locally, a Baha’I chaplain and a couple of different denominations of Buddhism,” says Smith “We work together, the chaplains to try and promote interfaith harmony.”

This promotion can take many different forms, and the Multifaith Centre provides a space to have meaningful dialogues about both one’s own faith as well as the faiths of others. “For instance, each Monday throughout the year, there’s been a number of chaplains who have volunteered to oversee an interfaith meal” explains Smith.

The centre also takes an active role in helping connect students with their various faith communities throughout Halifax from Orientation Week onwards, working to link new students with the spiritual resources they need. The centre provides a variety of different services and is always looking for more students to help get involved.
Smith also points out the Mosaic Calendar as an excellent resource for making students and others in the Dal community more aware of the diversity of holidays and important dates observed by members of our community.

Holidays and spiritual dates

Learn more about the Multifaith Centre at its website. And, from the Mosaic Calendar, here’s some background on some of this week’s religious and spiritual dates:

March 21 – Naw Ruz
Naw Ruz or Nowruz is the first day of Farvardin, the first month of the Iranian solar year. It is the traditional Iranian new year holiday celebrated by Iranian, Turkish, and many other peoples in West Asia, Central Asia, South Asia, Northwestern China, the Caucasus, the Crimea, and the Balkans. Nowruz marks the first day of spring and the beginning of the Iranian year. It is celebrated on the day of the astronomical vernal equinox (start of spring in northern hemisphere), which usually occurs on March 21 or the previous/following day depending on where it is observed. This is a non-work day for Baha’is. As well as being a Zoroastrian holiday, it is also a holy day for adherents the Baha’i Faith. This is a non-work day for Baha’is. In Iran it is also referred to as an Eid festival, although it is not an Islamic feast. Alawites and Nizari Ismaili Muslims also celebrate Nowruz.

March 23 – Purim
A Jewish Holiday, where work should be avoided. The holiday commemorates the deliverance of the Jewish people in the ancient Persian Empire from destruction in the wake of a plot by Haman, a story recorded in the Biblical Book of Esther.

March 23 – Ta’anit Ester
Also known as the Fast of Esther, this is a Jewish fast from dawn-to-dusk on the eve of Purim, which commemorates the three-day fast observed by the Jewish people in the story of Purim. Since the Fast of Esther is not one of the four public fasts ordained by the Prophets, the laws are more lenient; pregnant women, nursing mothers, and those who are weak are not required to observe it.

March 24 – Holi
In India the Spring Festival is called Holi, the festival of colours. It is a festival of fun and frolic and has been associated with the immortal love of Lord Krishna and Radha. The festival mainly started to welcome the spring season and win the blessings of Gods for good harvests and fertility of the land. It is the second most important festival of India after Diwali. Holi closes the wide gaps between social classes and brings Hindus together. Together, the rich and poor, women and men, enjoy each other’s presence on this joyous day.

March 25-27 – Hola Mohalla
Hola Mohalla or simply Hola is a Sikh festival that takes place on the first of the lunar month of Chet which usually falls in March. This follows the Hindu festival of Holi; and the Guru made Hola Mohalla an occasion for the Sikhs to demonstrate their martial skills in simulated battles. Together the words "Hola Mohalla" stands for "mock fight." During these festivals, processions are organized in the form of army type columns accompanied by war-drums and standard-bearers and proceeding to a given spot or moving in state from one gurdwara to another. The custom originated in the time of Guru Gobind Singh who held first such mock fight event at Anandpur in February 1701.

March 25 – Good Friday
This day commemorates the death by crucifixion of Jesus. Good Friday occurs two days before Easter Sunday. It is the day when Christians commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, which plays an important part in the Christian faith. It is also a statutory holiday in all Canadian provinces and territories except Quebec, where it is partially observed.

March 27 – Kuan Yin Day
Kuan Yin is the bodhisattva of compassion as venerated by East Asian Buddhists, usually as a female. She is also known as the Chinese Bodhisattva of Compassion. The name Kwan Yin means “Observing the Sounds (or Cries) of the World.”

March 27 – Easter Sunday
Easter is the most important religious feast in the Christian liturgical year. On Easter Sunday, Christians celebrate the resurrection of the Lord, Jesus Christ. It is typically the most well-attended Sunday service of the year for Christian churches. Christians believe according to Scripture that Jesus came back to life, or was raised from the dead, three days after his death on the cross.


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