The UK is a multicultural society and therefore dates and events of importance to different religions and cultures are celebrated throughout the year.
Although there are some religious holidays that we’ve all heard of, such as Christmas and Easter, there are some festivals that you might not be so familiar with.
Islam is the second biggest religion in the world (after Christianity) and there are around 2 million Muslims living in Britain today. So, when some of us might be thinking about buying last minute Christmas presents or what we’re going to have for Christmas dinner, others are getting ready to celebrate Eid in late December.
Eid-ul-Adha, also known as Greater Eid, marks the end of Hajj (the annual pilgrimage Muslims make to Mecca) and lasts for four days. Presents are exchanged between family and friends and, in Muslim countries, it is a public holiday, so people get time off work and school.
As well as having time off and giving presents, Eid involves going to the Mosque for prayers and giving money to charities to help the poor.
Another big holiday for Muslims is Eid-ul-Fitr. This Eid marks the end of Ramadan (a month of fasting) and takes place around October time, on the tenth month of the Islamic calendar. It’s not always on the same date because the Islamic calendar is not the same as the Gregorian calendar (the one that most people in Britain follow).
People celebrate Eid ul-Fitr by saying prayers, giving presents to children and having a big family lunch. A bit like Christmas celebrations!
Winter is also when the festival of Hanukkah takes place. This eight-day festival is a Jewish celebration that takes place in December and remembers a historical battle in which the Jewish people defeated the Greeks in order to practise their religion freely.
Jewish people celebrate Hanukkah with presents and festive food. A nine-branched candlestick called a Hanukiyah, or Chanukah Menorah, is also lit, candle by candle on each night of Hanukkah.
Another important event in the Jewish calendar is Rosh Hashanah; Jewish New Year. Rosh Hashanah takes place in September or October (the exact date differs from year to year) and is a time for Jews to pray and look back at the year gone by. The event marks a ten-day period of High Holy Days, the most religious time of the Jewish calendar.
It’s traditional to celebrate Rosh Hashanah by eating sweet foods such as bread and apple dipped in honey.
Some religions enjoy shared festivals. Hindus, Sikhs and Jains all celebrate Diwali in October or November time. People celebrate Diwali with their families, enjoying feasts, fireworks and other festivities. Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth, is especially worshipped at this time. In South Asian counties, where there are more followers of these religions, houses and streets are lit up with lamps and lights at Diwali.
One of the oldest winter celebrations in the world is the pagan festival Winter Solstice, also known as Yule. This ancient festival, which takes place around the 21st or 22nd December, marks the middle of winter and is celebrated with bonfires and fireworks.
Many of the traditions that we associate with Christmas, such as mistletoe and Yule logs (not the edible kind), are actually old winter solstice traditions that were around long before Christianity.
It’s worth remembering that there are of course many more festivals, public holidays and religious dates that are celebrated by people of various faiths and cultures in this country.
Who can help?
Visit www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/ to find out more about different religions and their histories, customs and ethics.
You can visit www.bbc.co.uk/schools/religion/ for more on religious festivals.
To find out the dates of religious festivals and holidays, take a look at www.interfaithcalendar.org/.
CBBC’s Newsround also has a good online guide to religious festivals at http://news.bbc.co.uk/cbbcnews/hi/newsid_1650000/newsid_1654900/1654945.stm.