Holiday Cheat Sheet

Quick! What the Hell is Ash Wednesday?

By admin | March 5, 2014

So much of religion centers on food. The faithful, it seems, are constantly feasting or fasting. Indulging or holding back. In Christianity, this feasting-fasting cycle is never more apparent than during the Easter season, which kicks off with Mardi Gras (feasting!), followed by Lent (fasting!), which finally — and mercifully — culminates in Easter (feasting again!) Yesterday was Mardi Gras (AKA Fat Tuesday) — which means New Orleans had one hell of a street party. Many Catholics were getting their  ya-ya’s out because today is the beginning of Lent (AKA Ash Wednesday) — the day that millions of […] Read more – ‘Quick! What the Hell is Ash Wednesday?’.
Everything You Need to Know About Islam to Get Your Kids Up to Speed (Okay, Maybe Not EVERYTHING)

By Wendy Thomas Russell | January 13, 2014

You know what my life is missing? A Muslim kid. There’s no doubt that if I had Muslim friends with a Muslim child, I would be telling my 8-year-old a lot more about Islam than I do — not just because I would want her understand her friends’ beliefs, but because it would naturally just “come up” more often. Having a living, breathing religious person in our midst really is the perfect invitation for religious literacy I’ve ever found. And vice versa! That’s part of the reason I’m glad some of my friend’s children know about […] Read more – ‘Everything You Need to Know About Islam to Get Your Kids Up to Speed (Okay, Maybe Not EVERYTHING)’.
Quick! What the Hell is St. Valentine’s Day?

By admin | January 7, 2014

Holiday: St. Valentine’s Day Religion Represented: Christianity Date: Feb. 14 Celebrates: A Christian martyr who lived in ancient Rome. What it is, really: A day people celebrate romance and love by giving each other flowers, cards and candy hearts. On a Scale of 1 to 10: St. Valentine’s Day ranks at about .5, religiously speaking. This, according to my sister’s Catholic in-laws, who said St. Valentine is rarely, if ever, mentioned at Mass. In fact, Valentine’s Day is widely considered a secular holiday. Stars of the Show: St. Valentine Back Story: No one really knows. In fact, […] Read more – ‘Quick! What the Hell is St. Valentine’s Day?’.
Quick! What the Hell is Diwali?

By Wendy Thomas Russell | November 1, 2013

Here’s the Diwali installment of Relax, It’s Just God’s beloved* Holiday Cheat Sheet, a series offering parents the quick and dirty run-down on major religious holidays, so that they might come across as intelligent beings to their kids. I’m sure you guys remember all this stuff from last year, but rest assured, Diwali is just as cool and fun as it has always been. Why? (C’mon, you don’t remember this?) Let me count the ways: 1. Fireworks 2. Bollywood music 3. Poker 4. Cool back story 5. Curry 6. Candles 7. Shopping  * too strong? Holiday: Diwali Pronounced: Di-VAH-li […] Read more – ‘Quick! What the Hell is Diwali?’.
Quick! What the Hell is Eid al-Adha?

By Wendy Thomas Russell | October 16, 2013

There are certain religions that seem to wear their differences on their sleeves. Stand a Hasidic Jew next to a Sunni Muslim, for example, and I know immediately which is which. The headgear, the clothing. One is praying to God, the other invoking the name Allah. It’s kind of a no-brainer. But if you remove the clothing and the terminology, Judaism, Christianity and Islam are so darn similar. Allah is just the Arabic word for God, after all. Both the Qur’an and Torah have their roots in the Old Testament of the Bible. And, in all three religions, […] Read more – ‘Quick! What the Hell is Eid al-Adha?’.
Quick! What the Hell is Yom Kippur?

By Wendy Thomas Russell | September 12, 2013

I read a fascinating article in the Los Angeles Times this morning about local protests against the sacrificial slaughter of chickens being conducted this week in Jewish enclaves throughout Los Angeles — and, indeed, throughout the world. The ritual, as kaparot, kapparot or kaparos, is supposed to help “cleanse” people of their sins. It’s an orthodox Jewish thing. More progressive Jews are calling the ritual archaic and meaningless, and point to the treatment of the chickens before their deaths as further reason to stop the killings. Faith leaders have joined with animal-rights activists in the protest. So, here’s the […] Read more – ‘Quick! What the Hell is Yom Kippur?’.
Quick! What the Hell is Rosh Hashanah?

By Wendy Thomas Russell | September 5, 2013

This post originally appeared in September 2011. I’m one of those people who forgets stuff, especially stuff that’s the least bit complicated or unusual. I’m just challenged that way. To retain much of anything, I have to write it down — and, even then, there’s a shelf-life to my knowledge. I think that’s why I take such copious notes and then keep those notes for pretty much my entire life. I still have my diary from when I was 12. And even though nothing remotely complicated or unusual is written there, I can report to you […] Read more – ‘Quick! What the Hell is Rosh Hashanah?’.
Quick! What the Hell is Ramadan?

By Wendy Thomas Russell | July 18, 2013

As a kid growing up, whenever I heard about Cat Stevens, it was accompanied by such, I don’t know, disappointment. Cat Stevens used to be this wonderful singer, I was led to believe, until he “got weird” and left music. “Got weird,” as it turns out, meant he converted to Islam. I mention this because, for years, I pictured Stevens living in a cave somewhere — when actually he’s been raising a family in England. And the thing I’ve enjoyed most about researching Ramadan has been revisiting some of Stevens’ Islamic music. Stevens goes by Yusuf Islam now, […] Read more – ‘Quick! What the Hell is Ramadan?’.
Quick! What the Hell is Vesak Day?

By Wendy Thomas Russell | May 24, 2013

Man, I loves me some Buddhism. But then, again, who doesn’t? It’s all just so common sensical. By following even one tenant in the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path — or at least trying — you are almost guaranteed to improve your life. If the Buddha were alive today, I’m certain he would be a self-help guru. He’d make a damn good one, too. Although Buddhism is unlike any other religion (in that you don’t necessarily need to believe a deity at all), it’s still got some of the classic markers. And the fact that there are […] Read more – ‘Quick! What the Hell is Vesak Day?’.
Quick! What the Hell is Pentecost?

By Wendy Thomas Russell | May 16, 2013

From a historical perspective, Christianity didn’t start with Jesus’ birth, his death, or even his storied ascension to heaven. It started with Pentecost — the day the “Holy Spirit” entered a room holding Jesus’ apostles and entered each of them, an event which — as my minister uncle tells me — “makes the church the church.” Although Pentecost is chock full of religious significance, it is a holiday not widely celebrated. Sort of the opposite of Hanukkah, which is widely celebrated but not religiously important. My uncle says Pentecost is a bigger deal in liturgical churches, which […] Read more – ‘Quick! What the Hell is Pentecost?’.

Relax, It’s Just God

A Blog for Secular Parents
For parents who aren’t religious, the task of talking to children about religion can be daunting. So daunting, in fact, that the entire subject often gets glossed over or ignored completely. Relax, It’s Just God is a blog (and soon a book) intended to help parents break their silence without breaking a sweat.
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