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Holy month: Religious observances of myriad faiths fill December calendar

Published: Friday, Dec. 21 2012 5:00 a.m. MST

Other Christian churches observe the “holy day” in a variety of ways. The Orem Community Church, for example, traditionally hosts a live Nativity tableau, with actors and real animals (this year’s live Nativity will be held Saturday, Dec. 22, from 7-9 p.m. at the church). St. Mark’s Episcopal Church holds a family service at 5:30 on Christmas Eve, followed by the Holy Eucharist at 7:30 p.m., caroling with the choir at 10:30 p.m. and midnight mass at 11 p.m., as well as a Christmas Day service at 10 a.m. Redeemer Lutheran Church features a Christmas Eve candlelight service at 7 p.m. in addition to its Christmas Day service at 10 a.m., while Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church holds its Candlelight Worship service at 11 p.m. And in Ogden, the Congregational United Church of Christ will hold its Candlelight Christmas Eve Service of Lessons and Carols at 5 p.m. (The Deseret News has compiled a more complete listing of Christmas services and observances by local Christian churches on another page.)

BUDDHIST

While many sects of Buddhism worship in Utah, the longest-standing is the Jodo Shinsu sect from Japan. During December, members of the 100-year-old Salt Lake Buddhist Temple recognize Bodhi Day on Dec. 8 and Joya E on Dec. 31.

Rev. Jerry Hirano also encourages his congregation to celebrate Christmas as a way to express gratitude for where they live. “The essence of Jodo Shinsu Buddhism is gratitude, and you have to be grateful for the birth of Jesus Christ if you’re American or live in Utah because without (the early settlers' faith in) Jesus Christ we wouldn’t be living here,” he said.

Hirano also said celebrating Christmas is also an opportunity to be inclusive of each other and “recognize human beings hoping for the best for each other.”

On Bodhi Day, which is the day Siddhartha Gautama became Buddha, or enlightened, while meditating under a Bodhi tree, Japanese Buddhists express gratitude for Buddhist teachings during regular services. No unique rituals are observed.

Hirano said most Buddhists celebrate the birth, enlightenment and death of Buddha in the spring, but most Japanese Buddhists are unique in that they celebrate those events separately.

Instead of a time for partying to ring-in the new tear, the observance of Joya E, which means last night gathering, is a time of reflection over the past year. An altar is decorated with a special rice cake stacked in the shape of a traditional Japanese mirror to symbolize the time of reflection. As for food, a special noodle is prepared after the service that separates a long life.

“They will also hit a bell 108 times” to represent overcoming 108 “klesha,” or passions, such as greed, anger or ignorance, Hirano said.

HINDU

The Sri Ganesha Hindu Temple of Utah will celebrate Vaikunta Ekadasi on Dec. 23 at 9 a.m. According to legend, Vaikunta Ekadasi commemorates the day the goddess Ekadasi slew the demon Muran in protection of the Lord Vishnu. Those who fast and pray on Vaikunta Ekadasi are redeemed of their sins, a practice that bears a redemptive connection with the Christian belief in the birth of a Redeemer on Christmas.

And Christians are welcome to make those connections.

“These forms of worship are timeless,” said Balaji Sudabettula, president of the Sri Ganesha Hindu Temple of Utah. “Depending on how you were raised and what your perception of God is, you can give God any form you wish. God is formless, and everyone worships in his own way. One is not better than another. Whatever brings you to God is good, whether it's Christmas or Vaikunta Ekadasi or anything else.”

JEWISH

Ellen Silver, executive director of Jewish Family Service, said, “We go by the lunar calendar so we just finished Hanukkah this last weekend.”

She explained that Hanukkah (also spelled Chanukkah) is an eight-day celebration known as the Festival of Lights. "It commemorates the miraculous extension of one night’s worth of lamp oil for eight nights at the time of the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

“So we burn candles, one a night for eight nights,” Silver said. “It isn’t the most religious of Jewish holidays, but it certainly is a festive one. We share gifts and usually it’s a small gift every night for the eight nights. Growing up we got one gift every night. “

Hanukkah also features traditional foods, including potato pancakes called “latkes.”

“These foods are traditional mainly because they are fried in oil, and the oil is representative of the oil in the temple lamp that burned for eight nights,” Silver said.

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