Editorial | All religious holidays deserve equal recognition

Although the United States was founded in part on the basis of religious freedom, all religions — and therefore their holidays — are often not treated equally.

Three distinct religious celebrations overlap this month — Islam’s Ramadan, Judaism’s Passover and Christianity’s Lent and Easter. Although Islam, Judaism and Christianity are prominent, established religions, non-Christian holidays are often not treated with equal representation or respect as Christian holidays.

Despite these holidays occurring this year around the same time, Passover and Ramadan are often overlooked compared with Easter. It is common for businesses to be closed on Easter, but non-Christian holidays are often not given off on a corporate scale. While employers must provide reasonable accommodations to employees under federal law, they can keep workers on the clock by showing that accommodating them would cause an “undue hardship.”

In stores across the country, themed treats, toys and accessories are widely sold. We’ve all seen the “Happy Easter” placemats, chocolate bunnies and array of Easter crafts, but seldom do we see any specialized decorations commonly sold for Jewish holidays, and almost never for Islamic, Buddhist or Hindu ones.

With 1.8 billion people identifying as Muslim and 15.2 million people identifying as Jewish in the world, there are plenty of reasons why the American public should recognize and familiarize themselves with not only their religious holidays, but those of their neighbors — and the same goes for the two other prominent world religions: Buddhism and Hinduism, whose following is also quite extensive.

Ramadan is a monthlong celebration during the holy ninth month of the Islamic calendar, and this year it began on April 2 and will end on May 1. It is a period defined by intense worship, fasting from dawn to dusk and attempts to read the entire Qur’an with the overall goal of strengthening the physical and spiritual connections to Allah, or God. Muslims also accomplish this by welcoming self-reflection and maintaining a focus on morality.

Passover, also known as Pesach, is an eight-day celebration held during the month of Nissan, falling this year from April 15-23. The holiday commemorates the emancipation and exodus of enslaved Israelites in Egypt, and is celebrated in two parts. The first portion, celebrated on the first two nights, is welcomed with Seder feasts and traditional readings from the Haggadah. The other days are called Chol Hamoed, or intermediate days of celebration.

Lent is a 40-day period starting on Ash Wednesday, which was on March 2 this year, and prepares Christians for Easter Sunday. The period marks the remembrance of Jesus’ travels through the desert and is defined by fasting and prayer. Overall, the holiday’s core feature is people showing their appreciation for Jesus’ suffering by forgoing some of their indulgences and demonstrating thanks by giving.

When we come together to appreciate holidays outside of our own religion or culture, we can better develop our empathy for others. By understanding how another religion celebrates, and the historical significance of their traditions, we can become more aware and educated people. Spring holiday celebrations may be occurring now, but this remains true for all religious celebrations.

Intolerance is bred by ignorance, so taking just a few minutes out of your day to learn about other religions and their celebrations can help people not to make prejudiced conclusions. Even if some schools don’t teach about other religions or their holidays, the least we can do is take the time to understand what our peers, neighbors and friends celebrate and how we can respectfully wish them a happy celebration.