From Hanukkah and Easter, to Holi and Diwali, the 5 major religions celebrate many different holidays around the world.
Holidays and festivals usually help to keep tradition alive, contribute to a sense of community and belonging, and ensure regular reflection and celebration.
Discover the many religious holidays in Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam and Sikhism.
The biggest Christian holiday is of course Christmas. However, being the largest religion in the world, they love a celebration and there are 18 other holidays that are more or less recognised amongst Christians.
Epiphany is a Christian feast day that celebrates the revelation of God incarnate as Jesus Christ. In Western Christianity, the feast commemorates principally the visit of the Magi to the Christ Child, and thus Jesus’ physical manifestation to the Gentiles.
Shrove Tuesday is a Christian holy day that precedes Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. In some countries Christians indulge by eating pancakes, in others they hold a Carnival. This is followed by a ritual period of fasting and penitence.
Ash Wednesday brings the Carnival celebrations of Shrove Tuesday to an end and begins Lent, a period of fasting and penitence before Easter. It takes its name from the cross of ashes that many Christians mark upon their foreheads.
Palm Sunday is a Christian feast day on the Sunday prior to Easter. It celebrates Christ’s return to Jerusalem shortly before his crucifixion. As Christ rode into the city, his path was strewn with palm leaves, hence “Palm Sunday”.
Maundy Thursday is a Christian holy day that commemorates the Last Supper. This was the final meal that Jesus shared with his disciples, and its ritual consumption of bread and wine forms the basis of Christian Holy Communion.
Good Friday is a Christian holy day that commemorates the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ on the hill at Calvary. The celebration remembers Christ’s sacrifice, which Christians believe represents the redemption of mankind’s collective sins.
Holy Saturday is a Christian holy day that commemorates Christ’s entombment, following his death, and his descent into hell. It is the last day of Holy Week, which leads up to Christ’s resurrection on Easter Sunday.
Easter Monday marks the first day after Christ’s resurrection on Easter Sunday and is a day of celebration for Christians. It is a holiday in many Christian countries and some Eastern Churches hold special services and outdoor processions.
Ascension Day is a Christian feast day, celebrated by all denominations, which commemorates the event of Christ’s bodily ascension into heaven. Ascension Day traditionally falls forty days after Christ’s resurrection on Easter Sunday.
Pentecost is a Christian holy day, which represents the end of the fifty-day period following Easter. It commemorates the coming of the Holy Spirit to the early followers of Jesus, symbolising the foundation of the Christian Church.
Whit Monday is a Christian feast day in honour of the Holy Spirit, which falls on the Monday after Pentecost. It is a popular day for baptisms, where new Christians traditionally wear white garments, hence Whit Monday (“White Monday”).
Trinity Sunday is a day in the Christian Calendar that celebrates the doctrine of the Trinity. This is the idea that God is formed from three equal entities: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Corpus Christi is a Christian feast day that provides a counterpart to Maundy Thursday. Where Maundy Thursday solemnly commemorates the sacrifice represented by the Eucharist, Corpus Christi joyously celebrates the sharing of Christ’s body and blood.
Assumption of Mary
The Assumption of Mary is a feast day observed by certain Christian denominations (largely the Catholic and Orthodox churches). It is a celebration of Christ’s mother, Mary, ascending bodily into heaven without dying.
Feast of St Francis of Assisi
The Feast of St Francis of Assisi is a Christian feast day that celebrates the life and works of its eponymous saint. He is particularly associated with animals and many churches hold special services where pets and animals are blessed.
All Saints’ Day
All Saints’ Day is a Christian feast day that celebrates the lives and deaths of all of the Christian saints. Together with All Souls’ Day, it celebrates the great spiritual connection between both living Christians and those in heaven.
All Souls’ Day
All Souls’ Day is a Christian feast day that commemorates the souls of departed Christians. Those who observe the day will often reflect and pray for the souls of their deceased friends and relatives.
Feast of the Immaculate Conception
The Feast of the Immaculate Conception is a feast day celebrated by the Roman Catholic Church. Catholic dogma holds that the Virgin Mary was unique in being born without Original Sin, thus her birth was “immaculate”.
Christmas is a Christian feast day that celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. The traditional Nativity narrative holds that Christ was born to the Virgin Mary in the town of Bethlehem, in accordance with old testament prophecy.
Hinduism is considered the world’s oldest religion and is known for it’s many vibrant festivals. Their holidays are often celebrated coinciding with seasonal changes and every festival is unique by its own virtues.
Maha Shivaratri (“the Great Night of Shiva”) is a Hindu festival that celebrates Shiva, one of the principle deities. It represents the overcoming of ignorance and darkness, and is a solemn night of prayer, fasting and meditation.
Holi is an ancient Hindu festival, which represents the symbolic victory of good over evil and the arrival of spring. After a bonfire the night before, celebrants cover one another in brightly coloured powders and party in the streets.
Raksha Bandhan is rite practised by many Hindus that centres around the offering of ritual protection, usually by tying a talisman or amulet around a person’s wrist. Traditionally this protection is given by sisters to their brothers.
In Hinduism, Janmashtami is the yearly festival that commemorates the birth of the god Krishna. The festivities, which include dancing and singing, continue up until midnight, when Krishna is believed to have been born.
Ganesh Chaturthi is the Hindu festival held in honour of the Elephant-headed god Ganesha. Lasting for ten days, the celebration includes the worship of clay idols of Ganesha, which are immersed in water and destroyed on the final day.
Navaratri is an autumnal Hindu festival, lasting for ten days. The festival commemorates a battle that occurred between the goddess Durga and the demon Mahishasura. Each night of the festival represents one of Durga’s nine avatars.
Dussehra is a Hindu festival held on the tenth day of Navaratri. Its significance and rites vary greatly throughout the Hindu world. The day is variously devoted to the goddess Durga, the god Rama and the goddess Devi.
The Jewish holidays are usually celebrated in relation to Jewish life, occasions and life-cycle events. Their holidays are categorised into one of three different fields: major, minor and modern, which helps to indicate the level of observance.
Tu B’Shevat (Arbor Day)
Tu B’Shevat is a Jewish holiday sometimes called “the New Year of the Trees”. It is one of four different new years referred to in the Mishnah. It is celebrated by some modern Jews as a day of ecological awareness.
Purim is a Jewish holiday that celebrates the Jews being saved from Haman, vizier to the King of Persia, who planned to exterminate them. It is celebrated by an exchange of gifts of food and by donating to the poor.
First day of Passover
The first day of Passover begins the Jewish festival of Passover, which lasts for seven days. It celebrates the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt after their release from slavery.
Last day of Passover
The last day of Passover brings the Jewish festival of Passover to its end. It commemorates the day on which Moses lead the Israelites, fleeing Egypt, to the Red Sea. Moses then performed a miracle and parted the sea.
Yom HaShoah is a Jewish day of remembrance that commemorates the lives of roughly six million Jews, who were exterminated in the Holocaust by Nazi Germany and other collaborating countries. It is a national memorial day in Israel.
Yom HaAtzmaut is a minor Jewish holiday that commemorates the 1948 Israeli Declaration of Independence. This marked the return of a Jewish state to the territory of Israel for the first time in 2,000 years.
Lag B’Omer is a minor Jewish holiday that celebrates the life of a Mishnaic sage. In modern Israel it has also become associated with an ancient Jewish revolt against the Romans, symbolising Jewish “fighting spirit”.
Shavuot is a Jewish holiday that commemorates the day on which the Torah was given to the Jewish people by God. It also celebrates the Land of Israel’s annual harvest of wheat.
Tisha B’Av is a Jewish day of fasting, which commemorates several calamities that were visited on the Jewish people throughout their history, including the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem and the destruction of the Second Temple.
Rosh Hashana is a two-day Jewish festival, which marks the beginning of the new year. It is traditionally held to be the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve. Observance includes prayer and sounding a ritual horn.
Yom Kippur is a major Jewish holy day, reserved for atonement and repentance. It is held that God writes down a person’s fate for the year on Rosh Hashana and then seals it on Yom Kippur, unless sins are forgiven.
First day of Sukkot
The first day of Sukkot begins a week-long Jewish festival that commemorates the forty years that the Israelites spent wandering in the desert after leaving Egypt. During Sukkot, families eat their meals in a “Sukkah”, symbolising the Israelite’s temporary shelters.
Last day of Sukkot
The last day of Sukkot, also known as Hoshana Rabbah, brings the week-long festival to an end. It is said to be the day on which God delivers his judgement for the new year, which he sealed on Yom Kippur.
Shmini Atzeret is a Jewish holiday that directly follows the last day of Sukkot. Its origins are unclear, although it is often taken as a day of reflection on the covenant between God and the Jewish people.
Jews perform a yearly calendar of readings from the Torah, and Simchat Torah is a holiday that celebrates the conclusion of this cycle and its beginning anew. Simchat Torah is a component of Shmini Atzeret.
First Day of Hanukkah
The first day of Hannukah begins the Jewish festival commemorating the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, where a lamp burned miraculously for eight days. Hanukkah accordingly lasts for eight days and nights.
Last day of Hanukkah
The last day of Hannukah concludes the Jewish festival that commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, where a lamp burned miraculously for eight days. Hanukkah accordingly lasts for eight days and nights.
Muslims are holiday minimalists. In Islam the biggest celebrations are saved for the last days of its two major holidays: Eid al-Fitr for Ramadan, and Eid al-Adha to end the hajj pilgrimage.
Isra and Mi’raj
Isra and Mi’raj is an Islamic holy day that commemorates the two journeys (both physical and spiritual) that Muhammad undertook on a single night, visiting “the farthest mosque” before ascending to heaven and speaking with God.
Laylat al-Qadr (Night of Destiny)
Laylat al-Qadr is commemorated by Muslims during the last ten days of Ramadan. It is the night on which the first verses of the Quran were revealed to the prophet Muhammad.
In the Islamic calendar, Eid al-Fitr is the final day of Ramadan, the holy month in which Muslims fast during daylight hours. This fasting honours the revelation of the Quran to the prophet Muhammad.
Eid-al-Adha is the second of the major Islamic holy days (or feast days). It celebrates the obedience to God demonstrated by Ibrahim when he prepared to sacrifice his own son in accordance with divine decree.
Muharram/Islamic New Year
Muhurram is the first month of in the Islamic calendar and the most sacred of the four holy months mentioned in the Quran. The month holds different significance to Sunni and Shia Muslims.
The Prophet’s Birthday (“Mawlid”) is a holy day for Muslims, commemorated by most (but not all) denominations of Islam in honour of the birth of the Prophet Muhammad, the author of the Quran.
Sikhs do not believe that any particular day of the week is a holy day, but they celebrate Sangraand on the first day of the Indian lunar calendar month. A Sikh festival or holy-day is called is called Gurpurb which means the Guru’s Remembrance Day, and refers to the birth or the death of certain Gurus.
Martyrdom of Guru Arjan Dev Sahib
The Martyrdom of Guru Arjan Dev Sahib is a Sikh holy day that honours Guru Arjan, who refused to stop promulgating his teachings and was tortured, before vanishing miraculously in a river.
Birth of the Guru Granth
The Birth of Guru Granth is a day in the Sikh calendar that commemorates the compilation of the Sikh holy text, the Guru Granth Sahib. The last of the Sikh Gurus (teachers) is the Granth Sahib.
Diwali (“the festival of lights”) is a multi-faith festival of significance to Sikhs, Hindus and Jains. For Sikhs, it commemorates the date on which the sixth guru was set free from incarceration. It is celebrated with lights, fireworks and gifts.
Guru Nanak Birthday
The Birthday of Guru Nanak is a major holy festival in Sikhism, lasting for three days. Guru Nanak was the first of the ten Sikh Gurus and therefore the founder of the religion.
Martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadur Sahib
The Martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadur Sahib is a significant event in the Sikh calendar, which commemorates the death of their ninth Guru, who gave his life to protect the right of other faiths (Hindus) to worship freely.