Religious festivals converge on one day

YESTERDAY, more than a billion Christians around the world marked the gravest observance on their calendar, Good Friday, the day Jesus died on the cross.

This will be followed by Easter Sunday tomorrow, which will mark his resurrection.

But unlike some holy days — say, Christmas, which some non-Christians observe informally — on this particular Friday, March 21, it seemed almost no believer of any sort was left without his or her own holiday. In what is statistically, at least, a once-in-a-millennium combination, the following occurred yesterday:

* Good Friday.

* Purim, a Jewish festival celebrating the biblical book of Esther.

* Narouz, the Persian New Year, which is observed with Islamic elaboration in Iran and all the “stan” countries, as well as by Zoroastrians and Baha’is.

* Eid Milad an Nabi, the Birth of the Prophet, which is celebrated by some but not all Sunni Muslims and, though officially on Thursday, is often marked on Friday.

* Small Holi, Hindu, an Indian festival of bonfires, to be followed today by Holi, a kind of Mardi Gras.

* Magha Puja, a celebration of the Buddha’s first group of followers, marked primarily in Thailand.

Half the world’s population would have been celebrating something, said Raymond Clothey, Professor Emeritus of religious studies at the University of Pittsburgh in the US.

Delton Krueger, of, which follows “14 major religions and six others” counted 20 holidays altogether (including some religious double-dips, like Maundy Thursday and Good Friday) between the 20th (which was also quite crowded) and the 21st. He marvelled: “There is no other time in 2008 when there is this kind of concentration.”

And in fact for quite a bit longer than that. Ed Reingold and Nachum Dershowitz, co-authors of the books Calendrical Calculations and Calendrical Tabulations, determined how often in the period between 1600 and 2400 AD Good Friday, Purim, Narouz and the Eid would occur in the same week. The answer is nine times in 800 years. Then they tackled the odds that they would converge on a two-day period. And the total is... only once: yesterday.

And that’s not even counting Magha Puja and Small Holi.

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