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Rebirth theme of many holidays in April

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The Romans called this month "Aprilis,” from the Latin “to open.” The people of ancient England named the month for their goddess of spring, Eostre. And your humble columnist named the month "Devotion" because of its celebrations which are observed by millions of devoted men, women, and children around the world.

Yes, we know that April is noted for such secular occasions as April Fools Day (1), Income Tax Day (15), Take Your Daughter To Work Day (22), Earth Day (22), Secretary Day (25), National Columnist Day (18) (No, I didn’t make that one up — it’s an obscure, but real holiday honoring the legendary World War II correspondent Ernie Pyle), and others too numerous to mention, but its claim to fame is truly its plethora of beautiful, religious holidays.

Let’s take a look at the calendar. We’ll start with a few spiritual dates that I call devotion holidays. These are Passover (begins sundown on the 7th), Palm Sunday (8); Good Friday (13); Easter (15) - note - the Eastern Orthodox Christian religion observes the Christian Holidays one week later; Palm Sunday (15) Holy Friday (the equivalent of Good Friday (20); and Easter (22). Even Arbor Day, which also has many devotees, is, after all, the Holiday of the Trees (27).

For children, both Easter (the oldest, and to many Christians, the most joyful of all holy days) and Passover (the holiday of freedom, newness, and rebirth) are particularly delightful times. Since Gloria considers me an overgrown youngster, I can describe both holidays as seen through the wide eyes of a child (and me).

In Easter and Passover, children are major players. For Easter, they ask, “Who brings the colored eggs at Easter?” In the United States and Canada, they are told it is the Easter Bunny. In Italy, Belgium, and France, it is said that it is the church bells. Since the bells do not ring from Good Friday through Easter Sunday, the children think that they all have flown off to Rome. When the bells fly back for Easter, they drop their many colored eggs for children to find.

During Passover, children look for the “Afikomen” a piece of matzoh (unleavened bread) which is hidden by their parents.

At the Easter Sunday dinner, when children are usually the center of attraction, and on the evening of the Passover Seder (literally, “Order,” the ritual of the Passover home service and the meal) when the youngest child is called upon to ask the traditional Four Questions, children are the stellar performers.

For Easter, the celebration of the Christian account of Jesus’ Resurrection, American children are served lamb (a symbol of Jesus). Other children, living in Eastern Europe, enjoy an Easter cake shaped as a skirt. It is called a “Lbabka,” which means “little old woman.” In Italy, the kids devour Easter cakes that are molded into the form of a rabbit, which is the symbol of birth and new life. In several other countries, Easter cookie lambs are served, along with hot cross buns which are topped with an icing shaped as a cross.

During Passover, food is also of great importance. Before it can be served, however, the Jewish home is scrubbed clean and special pots and dishes for this special holiday are brought out. New paper will line the closet shelves, and other new additions, such as dishtowels, are the order of the day. The children are taught that everything must be new and free of any leavened products, even crumbs. At the Seder — and throughout the eight days of Passover — is eaten. This is a reminder of the Jewish people who were freed from slavery in Egypt some 5,000 years ago — the Exodus. In their flight for freedom, the Jews had no time to wait for regular bread to rise, and so matzoh was hurriedly baked and eaten. This is why matzoh is often called “the bread of haste.”

During the Seder, the youngest child is called upon to recite the Four Questions, which ask the reasons why Passover is different from all other nights. The patriarch of the family supplies the answers. This annual tradition has been practiced by the Jewish people at the Passover Seder night since the Exodus.

Although Easter and Passover differ greatly in origins, both are holidays of rebirth and freshness. Families and their children get together, dress in their fineries, sing hymns and enjoy songs, eat around a festive and bountiful table, and enjoy a happy familial, religious occasion. Both are beautiful, springtime holidays.

On April 8, Buddhists throughout the world will celebrate the birthday of Buddha, the founder of one of the world's largest religions. “Buddha” means “Wise One” or “Enlightened One.” On that day, in hundreds of Buddhist temples, children stand in line and slowly approach a tiny, open shrine covered with flowers. Inside the shrine is a statue of the baby Buddha.

Then, one by one, each child takes a small ladle and pours a little sweet tea over the statue. This is the way Buddhist children show their love for Buddha. In Japan, this day is also known as the Flower Festival, since it is the time of year when cherry blossoms begin to bloom.

So, as the new month of April approaches, allow me to speak for many of the children by saying - may your Easter be happy, your Passover be sweet, and your Buddha holiday be memorable.

Readers, Daylight Savings Time is on its way, too, so remember to turn your clocks ahead on April 1

Reach Times-Ledger columnist Alex Berger by e-mail at aberger3@nyc.rr.com, or call 229-0300, Ext. 139.

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