For a lot of families in Australia, there are a number of significant events in the yearly calendar of family celebrations and get together. Often these are celebrated within a religious context, but as often they are associated with some other tradition, practice or time of year; such as school holidays (Easter), the exchanging of gifts (Christmas) and yearly sporting events (Boxing Day Test).

Often it may be the only time family members see each other all year and family members may travel great distances to spend this time together. It can also become linked with some favourite family holiday destination.

There is little wonder then that, when families separate, the time that the children spend with each of Mum and Dad on these occasions form a big part of negotiating parenting arrangements.

The big occasions for most Christians and people with a western cultural background are obviously Christmas and Easter. But the children’s birthdays, Father’s Day and Mother’s Day have also become significant traditions integral to the yearly calendar of celebrations for a lot of families.

BWB have had many clients from quite a wide range of diverse religious and cultural backgrounds. We are constantly trying to improve the firm’s awareness of cultural diversity, to try to better understand, communicate with, and represent all of our clients, no matter what their background.

Given that followers of Islam are about to celebrate Eid al Fitr (the end of Ramadan) and National Reconciliation Week is about to commence on 3 July 2016, Kiara Greenway and I thought it timely to look at other big occasions and celebrations, including those that are significant to non-Christian religions and/or non-western cultures. We are, after all, a country made up of people from many backgrounds, many cultures and many religions. In the 2011 Census, almost 40% of the Australian population did not identify as being Christian. Given the religious and cultural landscape of Australia is constantly changing and diversifying, the next census to be held this year will no doubt see an increase in the number of Australians who follow religions other than Christianity based ones.

Zoastrianism

It makes for fascinating reading – the many different religions being practiced by Australians. Wikipedia lists 2,700 Australians as practising the ancient religion of Zoroastrianism (said to be the world’s oldest monotheistic religion, dating back to 1500–1200 BCE) is traditionally practiced by Parsi’s, people who settled in Bombay in 600AD, after being driven out of Persia by Genghis Khan.

Zoroastrians celebrate six seasonal festivals, each one being associated with the aspects of creation – the sky, the waters, the earth, plant life, animal life and humankind. Each of these festivals is usually celebrated over five days.

There are also six other holy days that are observed – two of these being the birth and death of Zarathustra, as well as fifteen name-day feasts.

Orthodox Easter/Pascha (different day to Christianity)

Pascha is the Orthodox celebration of Easter. It occurs about four to five weeks after the Western celebration, with the actual dates varying each year according the lunar calendar. The holiday extends for 50 days, which includes a period of lent which lasts 44 days. Pascha celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The most significant day is the feast, which occurs on the final day of Pascha on Easter Sunday.

Islam

Given the Islamic lunar year is 11 to 12 days shorter than the Gregorian year, the Islamic New Year does not fall on the same day of the Gregorian calendar. Al Hijra (usually celebrated in October) marks the beginning of the Islamic calendar year and is observed on the first day of Muharram.

The most widely celebrated holidays of the Islamic religion are Eid al Fitr and Eid al-Adha. Eid al Fitr, (“festival of breaking of the fast”) commemorates the completion of the month of Ramadan. Ramadan is a 29 to30 day period during June when muslims fast from dawn to sunset. Eid al Fitr is celebrated with family and friends, large feasts, gift giving and the wearing new clothes.

The second holy day celebrated by muslims is Eid al-Adha (“Sacrifice Feast”), which usually occurs in September. It is the holiest of the two days and honours the willingness of Ibahim to sacrifice his son at the command of God. Celebrations of the festival include gatherings of family and friends to share meals and observe eid prayers, gift giving as a token of love and assisting the less fortunate by making donations.

Hinduism

Krishna Janmashtami is celebrated on the eighth day of the dark fortnight (Krishna Paksha). It generally falls between the months of August and September. This annual celebration involves observing puja, prayer and fasting. It acknowledges the birth of Lord Krishna, a Hindu deity, which occurred more than 5000 years ago.

Hindu, Sikh and Jain faiths also celebrate Deepavali (Diwali). Known as the Festival of Lights, Diwali occurs during the spring each year. Often deemed the most important festival in Hinduism, the festival celebrates the spiritual victory of light over darkness (good over evil). It also represents the triumph of knowledge over ignorance and hope over despair. Festivities include an abundance of lights shining on buildings, elaborate decorations, fireworks displays, performances and feasts.

Judaism

Jews celebrate a number of different significant holidays each year. The first is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year festival. This commemorates the creation of the world and celebrated between September and October and includes the blowing of the Shofar – a ram’s horn trumpet.

The holiest day of the Jewish year is Yom Kipper, or Day of Atonement. Jewish people generally commemorate the day by fasting for approximately 25 hours and engaging in intensive prayer. Followers are required to refrain from work and any indulgent activities.

Shemini Atzeret is the biblical Jewish holiday, celebrated in October. It is a holy day devoted to the spiritualty of the festival of Sukkot. Jews engage in intensive prayer for rain, with the most distinctive feature being the celebration of Simchar Torah, which marks the conclusion of the annual cycle and the beginning of a new cycle.

Chanuka (Hanukkah), also known as the Festival of Lights, is an eight day celebration, occuring annually between November and late December. It marks the successful rebellion of the Maccabees against Antiochus IV Epiphanes. The holiday is celebrated by the lighting of candles every night, the recital of Hallel prayer, eating special food and the playing of traditional games.

Buddhism

Vesakha, (or Buddha Day), is a holiday celebrated annually by Buddhists. The day signifies the birth, enlightenment and death of Gautama Buddha – it is usually celebrated in late April/early May. Buddhists celebrate the event by meditating, eating vegetarian food and bathing the Buddha.

The death of the Buddha is also observed. Known as Nirvana Day it is observed on either the 8th or 15th February on what is.

Mormonism

Mormons follow the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Founded in 19th Century America it comprises over 12 million members globally. Although based on Christ, the Church differs significantly in its belief in comparison to the Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox Christian Churches.

Mormons recognise Easter and Christmas at the same time as western religions. However, an additional festival, Pioneer Day, is held each year on 24 July to signify the arrival of the pioneers of the religion in Salt Lake Valley in 1847. Pioneer Day occurs mainly in Utah (where it is recognised as both a state and church holiday) where it is celebrated with parades, fireworks and rodeos.

Sikhism

The Parkash Utsav Dasveh Patshah festival is the most celebrated Sikh festival. It occurs in early January each year and marks the birth of Guru Gobind Singh. The festival lasts for three days and is marked by early morning hymns, the reading of religious texts, the singing of devotional songs and decorations including posters, banners, flags and flowers.

Sikhs also celebrate Vausakhi in April every year. The festival signifies the day the 10th Guru of Sikhs laid down the Order of the Pure Ones – recognising the acceptance of the five articles of the Sikh faith. The event is celebrated with parades, Baptism ceremonies, prayers and processions.

The Australian Sikh Games are held annually to provide an opportunity for Australia’s Sikh communities to unite through sporting and social activities. The games were held in Coffs Harbour in 2016.

Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year, or “Spring Festival”, signifies the turn of the traditional lunisolar Chinese calendar. The first day of the New Year falls on the new moon, between 21st January and 20th February. Chinese New Year is celebrated with a vast array of customs and traditions including lion and dragon dances, fireworks and family gatherings. 

All Australians

Finally, we are about to enter into National Reconciliation Week (from 3 to 10 July), an an annual celebration important for all Australians – a time for all Australians to reflect on our shared histories, and on the contributions and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.

The other day that is becoming increasingly important to all Australians each year is Harmony Day, held every year on 21 March to coincide with the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The message of Harmony Day is everyone belongs. It’s a day to celebrate Australia’s diversity – a day of cultural respect for everyone who calls Australia home.

What celebrations or special occasions are important in your family’s yearly calendar?