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Major Holy Days
Saturday, July 05, 2008


Baha’i observe eleven holy days each year. They are commemorated with community gatherings for prayer, reflection, and fellowship. On nine holy days, Baha’i abstain from work.

1. March 21 – Feast of Naw-Ruz (Baha’ New Year)
2. April 21 – Festival of Ridvan
3. April 29 – Ninth Day of Ridvan
4. May 2 – Twelfth Day of Ridvan
5. May 23 – Anniversary of the Declaration of the Bab
6. May 29 – Anniversary of the Ascension of Baha’u’llah
7. July 9 – Anniversary of the Martyrdom of the Bab
8. October 20 – Anniversary of Birth of the Bab
9. November 20 – Anniversary of Birth of Baha’u’llah

There is no work proscription for the following observances:

1. November 26 – Day of the Covenant
2. November 28 – Anniversary of the Ascension of Abdu’l-Baha

There is a yearly obligation to fast. Baha’u’llah designated this 19-day period of fasting from sunrise to sunset each day. It coincides with the Baha’i month of Ala (March 2-21), the month immediately preceding the Baha’i new year (the vernal equinox). The period of fasting is viewed as a time of spiritual preparation and regeneration for a new year’s activities. Women who are nursing or pregnant, the aged, the sick, the traveler, those engaged in heavy labor, and children under the age of 15 are exempt from observance.

The fasting period involves complete abstention from food and drink. It is essentially a period of meditation, prayer, and spiritual rejuvenation.


1. Parinirvana Day (February 15) – This date commemorates the death of Shakyamuni Buddha.
2. Buddha Day (April 8) – This date celebrates the birth of the Buddha.     
3. Bodhi Day (December 8) – This is a celebration of the enlightenment of the Buddha when he set out on quest of the Middle Way.
4. Vesak Day, the full moon day in May – This day is a celebration of the birth, the day of enlightenment, and commemorates the death of Shakyamuni Buddha.

Eastern Rite Catholicism

There are approximately twenty-eight holy days in the Eastern Rites. However, only some require attendance at the Divine Liturgy.

In the Byzantine Rite, those requiring attendance are: Epiphany, Ascension, St. Peter and Paul, Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and Christmas. Of the other fifteen solemn and seven simple holy days, attendance is not mandatory but recommended.

In the Ukrainian Rites, the following are obligatory feasts: Circumcision, Easter, Dormition of Mary, Epiphany, Ascension, Immaculate Conception, Annunciation, Pentecost, and Christmas.


Dashera/Ramlila in October

This holy day celebrates the victory of good over evil: the victory of Lord Rama over the demon Ravan, and the victory of Goddess Durga over an asura (demon). This account is described in the epic the Ramayana. The exact date changes yearly because the celebration is based on a lunar/solar calendar.

Diwali in October or early November

This is perhaps the most popular of all Hindu festivals. Also known as the Festival of Lights, it is dedicated to the Goddess Kali in Bengal and to Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth, in the rest of India. This holy day is also associated with one of the stories of the destruction of evil by Vishnu in one of his many manifestations (avatara). The exact date changes yearly because the celebration is based on a lunar/solar calendar.



This is the Breaking of the Fast, feast and is the ceremonial holy day after the end of Ramadan when it is obligatory to end the fast. This is a day free from work for Muslim inmates who request this accommodation in writing. It is the first day of the new month succeeding Ramadan, called Shawwal. Religious rites include a special prayer which is performed well after the sun is above the horizon, followed by a Khutbah. It is customary to eat, before the prayer to ritually end the Ramadan fast.


This is the feast of sacrifice commemorating the sacrifice of Ibrahim (Abraham) which falls on the 10th day of the lunar month called Thul-Hijjah. The religious requirements include a special prayer to be made after the sun is well above the horizon and a Khutbah. A lamb is sacrificed with two-thirds given to charity and only one-third kept. This day also corresponds to the Day of An-Nahr when the pilgrims on their Hajj are returning to Mecca to perform the rites of throwing pebbles at one of the places where Satan appeared to Ibrahim, make an offering of an animal sacrifice, shave the head, and walk around the Kaa’ba. It is customary not to eat before the prayer.

Jehovah’s Witnesses

The most important religious event of the year for Witnesses is the commemoration of the Memorial of Christ’s death, which takes place on the anniversary of the Last Supper. The memorial meal is held after sundown on the date corresponding to Nisan 14 on the Hebrew calendar. Witnesses believe that this is the only observance commanded by Christ.

Weddings, anniversaries, and funerals are typically observed, but common celebrations and religious or national holidays such as birthdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter are regarded as unchristian and are not celebrated. Witnesses point out that Jesus did not ask his followers to mark his birthday.


Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish spiritual New Year. It marks the start of a ten day period of spiritual self-examination and repentance which culminates with Yom Kippur. Rosh Hashanah celebrates the creation of the universe and the divine judgment of mankind. These awesome days call for introspection and self-criticism during which the Jew resolves to alter his spiritual and ethical shortcomings. This is no small order - but, if there is to be no change, can there be a new year?

The great theme of these ten days, beginning with Rosh Hashanah and reaching a climax on Yom Kippur, is standing trial in a court of law with God as the judge deciding on life or death, comfort or penury, health or disease, for every living person. The message of Rosh Hashanah is one of Jewish accountability to God and recognition of His kingdom.

The accouterments needed for Rosh Hashanah include a shofar, honey, apples, challah, and High Holy Day Prayer books. The first two days of Rosh Hashanah are days of work proscription. If eligible, inmates may be granted a ritual immersion (Mikvah) the day before Rosh Hashanah at a Mikvah in the community.

Yom Kippur

The climax of the Jewish spiritual year is Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur serves as an annual deadline for reconciliation, for expressing regret, and asking for forgiveness. This is also true for forgiving and forgetting the sins of others. Living piously under God is not sufficient.  A Jew must first live in harmony with his neighbors and friends. Sins committed against a fellow man or woman can be forgiven only if one first makes an attempt to appease the person who was wronged.

Yom Kippur is a day of fasting and work proscription


The Succos festival follows naturally on the heels of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are awesome and intense; they are solemnized by prayers and observances that deal with the major ponderous themes of the Jewish faith: creation, death, justice, and sin. Succos, a natural complement, is the celebration of harvest, the affirmation of pleasure and success, the buoyant festival of frail huts that symbolize trust in God and his divine protection, the triumphant dancing of the Torah - these are the hallmarks of this Festival.

Succos contains a powerful, universal message. This was demonstrated by the Succos sacrifices of seventy oxen in the Jerusalem Holy Temple for the seventy nations of the ancient world. These offerings were a public expression of Israel’s solidarity with all the nations of the world. Succos thus embodies a messianic ideal: “Let us pray and work for all humanity.”

For Succos, Jews need a Succah, either prefabricated or made in institution, the four species, the etrog, lulav, myrtle, and willow. The first two days of Succos are days of work proscription. The Eighth and Ninth day, Schmene Atzeres and Simchas Torah, are days of work proscription.


Passover commemorates the deliverance of the Jewish people from Egyptian bondage 3300 years ago. The story of Israel’s increasingly oppressive servitude, the divine mission of Moses, the series of divinely ordained catastrophes against the oppressor is all recorded in the Bible. These events became the focal point of Jewish history because they crystallized the Jewish national identity and marked the birth of the Jews as a free people. So important are these concepts that the first of the Ten Commandments begins with a clear reference to the Exodus.

The Seder is the religious service that includes a festive meal. It occurs on the first two nights of Passover. The following items aside from the dinner foods are necessary in order to properly observe the Seder requirements: grape juice, romaine lettuce, shmurah matzoh, celery, and potato. Each of these items needs to be made available to every inmate in the required amounts as mandated by Jewish law.

A ceremonial plate on the table must contain an egg, shank bone, charosis (a thick mixture of finely chopped apples, walnuts, grape juice, and cinnamon), bitter herbs (e.g. pieces of horse radish), romaine lettuce, celery, and potato. Also the Seder table should contain salt water and generous amounts of matzoh.


Shavuos commemorates the event when the Jewish people received the Torah at Mount Sinai. This was an event of such awesome proportions and unequaled spiritual experience that it indelibly stamped the Jewish people with their unique character, faith, and destiny. The holiday of Shavuos emphasizes that the release from Egyptian bondage does not constitute complete freedom unless it culminates in the acceptance of Torah and the fulfillment of its teachings. The name Shavuos means weeks and it is derived from the fact that it is observed seven weeks after the second day of Passover.

The two days of Shavuos are days of work proscription.


Chanukah is observed for eight days. It commemorates the historic victory of the Jewish people against the ruling Assyrian-Greek regime and their Jewish supporters who conspired to impose restrictions against Jewish religious practices approximately 2200 years ago. Chanukah means dedication and refers to the rededication of the Holy Temple after it had been defiled with pagan images and practices. It is permissible to work on Chanukah.

A menorah and candles are needed for each evening of Chanukah. The candles must be lit each of the eight days in Chanukah.


Purim is a one day celebration observed one month before Passover. It commemorates the saving of the Jewish communities living under Persian rule about 2500 years ago. Purim is a most joyous holiday. In fact, many Jewish communities sponsor parades and carnival-type activities on Purim. The most prominent feature of this holiday is the reading of the Scroll of Esther (or Megillah) on Purim evening and morning in a communal setting. The Megillah is a parchment scroll that is written by hand. It relates the events that took place 2500 years ago in Persia. Reading the Megillah is a skillful act and is usually accomplished in a communal setting. Accordingly, opportunities for communal worship should be provided Purim evening and Purim morning. Purim is not a day of work proscription.

An additional feature of Purim is the exchanging of food or drink with a friend. This can be fulfilled in an institutional setting by having inmates simply exchange a token amount of food. Since this is not generally authorized, chaplains should notify staff of the custom and assure that detainees are not sanctioned for the food exchange.

It would also be appropriate for the chaplain or Food Services to provide a small quantity of hamentaschen or kosher cookies to share after the reading of the Megillah, if baked goods are provided for other special occasions in the chapel.

Tisha B’Av

Tisha B’Av is the saddest and most tragic day for the Jewish people. It is a day of fasting and mourning. It commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. In subsequent centuries, Tisha B’Av became identified with still more tragic events. The expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 and the beginning of World War I in 1914 (both occurred on Tisha B’Av). If Tisha B’Av falls on Shabbos it is observed on the next day, Sunday.

Since Tisha B’Av is a day of public fasting, provision must be made for meals after the completion of the fast. Make provisions for the wearing of non-leather shoes for inmates who make the request for religious accommodation.


Holy day observances are unique for each Orisha, and generally observed by individual seekers or devotees on the feast day honoring the particular Roman Catholic saint whom the Orisha embodies. This list includes the major Orishas honored in the United States, according to scholars and practitioners. Because of the importance of culture and geography in defining the worship, there will never be a comprehensive list of Orishas – one should not conclude that other Orishas are not legitimate objects of worship or occasions for celebration.

1. Oggun (January 29): Saint Peter
2. Oya (February 2): Candelaria/ Saint Teresa
3. Ochagrinan (March 19): Saint Joseph
4. Aguema (May 5): Our Lady of Immaculate Conception
5. Orichaoko (May 15): Saint Isodore
6. Ochosi (June 16): Saint Norbert
7. Ellegua (June 13): Saint Anthony of Padua
8. Aganyu-Sola (July 25): Saint Christopher
9. Yewa (August 11): Saint Clare
10. Yemaya (September 7): Our Lady of Regla
11. Obatala, sometimes named Osshun (September 8-12): Virgin of Mercy, Protector of Cuba (September 24)
12. Los Ibeyi (September 26): Ss. Cosmas and Damian
14. Orunla (October 4): Saint Francis Assisi
15. Dada (October 7): Our Lady of the Rosary
16. Inle (October 24): Archangel Raphael
17. Chango (December 4): Saint Barbara
18. Babalu-Aye (December 17): Saint Lazarus
19. Osain (December 31): Saint Sylvester/Saint Ambrose

The feasts of Obatala, Ellegua, and Chango are common days of celebration. The Orisha-worshiping community may request to have their ceremonial meal on one of these days. According to the legends (patakis) of Orisha worshipers, Obatala is the oldest and wisest of the Orishas. It would be good practice to determine with the Orisha-worshiping community which days the group would prefer to observe for their group ceremonial meal. It would be best to allow them to discuss this and reach a conclusion about the birthday of the Orisha they desire to observe. The date should be set at the beginning of the calendar (or fiscal) year, in accordance with local practice.

Orthodox Christianity

There major feast days on the Orthodox calendar are:

1. Pascha (Easter)
2. Nativity of the Mother of God
3. Presentation of the Mother of God
4. Annunciation, Nativity of Christ (Christmas)
5. Presentation of Christ
6. Theophany (Epiphany)
7. Transfiguration
8. Palm Sunday
9. Ascension
10. Pentecost
11. Dormition (Assumption)

During the week before Pascha, there are special observances each day. Some dates of these Holy Days are fixed; others are variable. Dates are determined in either the Old or New calendar, depending on the Orthodox jurisdiction involved. It is important to note that Orthodox holy days – especially Pascha (Easter) – often occur on different days than their Western counterparts.

Protestant Christianity

Protestantism, in general, embraces the concept in Psalm 118:24 in which every day is considered a unique gift from God and that none more so than others impart special merit in regards to their observance. However, there are several days of religious significance important to the Protestant believer. These dates are recognized as days of work proscription.

1. Christmas – the celebration of Christ’s birth
2. Good Friday – the celebration of Christ’s death and burial. The date changes since the date follows and lunar/solar cycle.
3. Easter – the celebration of Christ’s resurrection from the dead. Often sunrise services are held at the institutions. The date changes since the date follows and lunar/solar cycle.


1.  July 23 – This date celebrates the birthday of Haile Selassie.
2. September 11 – The Rastafarian New Year is celebrated on this date.
3. November 2 – The coronation of H.I.M. Haile Selassie on November 2, 1930, is celebrated. In 1982, the 52nd anniversary of the coronation, a nine day celebration was established, using different colored candles, the recitation of different psalms, and the eating of certain natural foods.

Roman Catholicism

1. Immaculate Conception - December 8
2. Christmas – December 25
3. Solemnity of Mary – January 1
4. Ascension Thursday – Thursday of the 6th week of Easter
5. Assumption of Mary – August 15
6. All Saint’s – November 1


Vaisakhi, April 13 or 14

This is both a spiritual and temporal holy day. It is the first day of the solar year. The temporal commemorates the formation of the Khalsa in 1699 by Guru Gobind Singh when he baptized the five Sikh disciples. The spiritual commemorates the harvest as it is also an agricultural festival.

Guru Gaddi Day, in October/November

This holiday celebrates the passing of the Guruship from Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Guru, to the Siri Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh sacred scriptures.


All information in this section has been compiled from the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ Technical Reference for Inmate Religious Beliefs and Practices