Warmer temperatures, sunshine, wildflowers bursting with sweet scents and color, the cheerful twittering of birds singing in trees that have regained their leaves — all of these are reasons why many celebrate the spring months.

Others may look forward to April’s traditional arrival of the Easter Bunny, dying eggs, Easter egg hunts, Easter baskets overflowing with candy and other treats, or the time to gather with friends and family from far away.

Sunday, April 21, marks the Christian holiday of Easter. Beneath the fun traditions, Easter is celebrated by many Christians as the most important event in the Christian calendar, commemorating the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

Sperling’s Best Places, a data collection company, reports that 46 percent of residents in Yakima are “religious,” with a majority belonging to Christian denominations. But Yakima County also is home to Buddhists, pagans, Muslims, Jews, and Hindus, among others, all of whom have their own traditions, holidays, and celebrations surrounding springtime.

Leaders from four faith traditions shared with the Yakima Herald-Republic the specifics of their springtime celebrations and what the season means to them.

Faith-YHR-04052019-1.jpg

Pastor Carolyn Hellerich poses for a portrait on Monday, April 8, 2019 inside the chapel of Central Lutheran Church, 1604 West Yakima Avenue in Yakima, Wash.

Easter

The Christian holiday season of Easter includes several holy days, including Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday, to commemorate the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in the Christian tradition.

Palm Sunday commemorates Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem, with palms symbolic of triumph and victory in the Greco-Roman culture of the Roman Empire. “Maundy” comes from the Latin word mandatum, or commandment, reflecting Jesus' giving of a new commandment to his disciples during the Last Supper — the last meal he shared with them prior to his crucifixion on Good Friday. Holy Saturday commemorates the day that Jesus' body laid in the tomb prior to his resurrection the following day.

The Rev. Carolyn Hellerich, of Yakima’s Central Lutheran Church, said Easter is such a major holiday for the Lutheran congregation that it involves an entire week of celebration.

Hellerich said one of the most dramatic services of the year includes an evening service on Holy Saturday, when a bonfire is lit outside and followed by a candlelight procession into the dark depths of the church — a tradition that symbolizes Jesus' resurrection. The service includes readings from the Old Testament’s Book of Exodus, which details how the Israelites left slavery in Egypt through the strength of God.

Sunday’s church services, celebrating Jesus' return from the dead, are “big,” Hellerich added.

“This is the highest holy day of the year,” she said. “God has conquered death itself. This shows that nothing that ever happens in this life, including the end of it, can separate us from God’s love.”

Hellerich said an important point she hopes her congregation will take from the season is about the depth of that love.

“The important thing we teach is there is nothing we need to do to receive God’s salvation,” Hellerich said. “All salvation is a gift of grace, through Jesus Christ.”

Faith-YHR-04052019-3.jpg

Dave Sakamoto lights a candle on Friday, April 12, 2019 at the Yakima Buddhist Church, 212 West Second Street in Wapato, Wash.

Hanamatsuri

April 8 this year marked the observance of Hanamatsuri in the Buddhist tradition, commemorating the birth of Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha.

According to tradition, the Buddha was born in Nepal to King Suddohana and Queen Maya amidst gentle rain, birds singing, and flowers blooming. The day is a celebration of birth, the intertwined nature of life on the planet, and gratitude for life.  

The day also is a reminder to honor the Buddha’s teaching of interdependence — that all life is connected and should be treated with respect and care.

Lon Inaba, president of the Wapato Buddhist Hall, said that the temple’s observance of the day includes decking the altar with brightly colored flowers, a symbol that life consists of moments of youth and beauty that eventually fade and die. The lotus flower, another important flower in Buddhism that begins its life rooted in murky and shallow water and mud, also represents that beautiful things can grow out of the quagmire of life, if one lives with sincere effort to reach enlightenment, according to information from Buddhist Churches of America.

The Wapato Buddhist Hall hosted several meditations in addition to its regular Sunday services, including a 45-minute sit of silence on the morning of April 14. David Sakamoto, of the Bodhi Center of Yakima, gave the Dharma Talk during the regular service that followed.

Dharma in the Buddhist tradition refers to cosmic law and order,  and the dharma talk allows for a Buddhist leader to share important tenets or teachings of the faith. Sakamoto’s choice of reading stressed humility: that people need to know their “limitations, ignorance, and evilness” while striving to become better human beings.

“We must learn and experience all kinds of things. We must reflect upon ourselves and become humble,” Sakamoto read, from the book "Dharma Breeze." “It is one thing to be good, but it is quite another to be humble. Being good is not good enough.”

The reading targeted several principles of Jodo Shinshu, or Shin, Buddhism, that ask people to reflect on the imperfect self, to strive to live a life of gratitude, to follow the teachings of the Buddha, to respect all sentient beings and to work toward the welfare of society and the world, according to the processional books handed out at the start of the service.

Inaba said the down-to-earth teachings make Buddhism an accessible path for everyone. Whether during the spring or any other time of the year, Inaba said that the Wapato community church believes the most important part is the sangha, or community.

“We are very welcoming. We want everyone to join us,” Inaba said. “We have a great group of people here, and we are proud of our community. Buddhism is in its element here.”

Passover

The Jewish holiday of Passover, which started Friday, April 19, and ends the evening of Saturday, April 27, commemorates the liberation of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery in ancient Egypt, after their leader Moses confronted the Pharaoh and asked for his people’s freedom.

The Book of Exodus in the Bible tells how God helped the people of Israel escape by inflicting 10 plagues on the Egyptians, including the death of the firstborn child for those who did not mark their doorposts with the blood of a slaughtered lamb.

Jewish people begin their Passover celebration with a special meal called a Passover Seder, said Paula Vornbrock of Yakima’s Temple Shalom. Vornbrock said the Seder plate holds foods that have symbolic meaning to the Jewish people.  

A hardboiled egg represents the renewal of life, since God redeemed the Israelites through the Exodus. A sprig of parsley dipped into a bowl of salt water symbolizes the tears shed by the Israelites and their chance at a new life. A special dish called charoset — which consists of chopped apple, nuts, cinnamon, wine and honey — represents the mortar that the Israelites used to make bricks while they were slaves in Egypt and also the sweetness of their freedom.

Those who observe Passover can either honor the tradition’s history or relate that history to contemporary issues, Vornbrock said.

As an example, Vornbrock said that horseradish, another facet of the Seder plate, can represent the bitterness of the Israelite slaves or the bitterness of people enslaved today.

Other important elements of the Seder plate include a lamb bone, which represents the blood of the lamb used to mark doors so the Angel of Death would pass over the Israelite homes when claiming the firstborn children, and traditional matzo — a flat bread made of water and flour that Vornbrock said must be completely prepared within 18 minutes.

“The reason for that is that when the Israelites were preparing to leave, they didn’t have adequate time to prepare,” Vornbrock said.

Observance of the first two nights of the Seder also include readings from the Haggadah, which includes a narrative of the Exodus. Events later in the week include a community Seder, which Vornbrock said is a joyous occasion for many with special traditions for children, including the breaking in half of a piece of matzah that then is hidden for the children to find. The broken matzah is a reminder that “whatever is broken apart can be put back together again,” Vornbrock said.

Vornbrock said the Passover celebration is a reminder to her of the importance of personal freedom and choice.

“It’s a reminder that people have the freedom to make a choice to not stay in hardship,” she said. “Jews have been at the forefront of looking at ways to make life better. What can we do to repair the world? What can we do to make the world a better place, not just for Jews, but for all?”

Faith-YHR-04052019-2.jpg

Reverend Ken Jones poses for a portrait on Tuesday, April 9, 2019 inside the chapel of Unitarian Universalist Church of Yakima, 225 North Second Street in Yakima, Wash. 

Yakima’s Unitarian Universalist Flower Ceremony

The Unitarian Universalist path is one with Christian roots that welcomes a nondenominational gathering of diverse individuals who support “the free and responsible search for truth and meaning” from both Eastern and Western religions and philosophies, according to the nationwide organization’s website.

Seven main principles inform the spiritual search, including a belief in the inherent worth and dignity of every person, respect for the interdependent web of life, and a goal of a world community with peace, liberty and justice for all. Christian teachings, wisdom from other world and earth-centered religions, and the words of prophets that challenge people to act with justice and compassion in the face of evil all can be sources of inspiration for those attending Unitarian Universalist services.

The Rev. Ken Jones, the minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Yakima on North Second Street, said the congregation has a special flower ceremony each May to embrace springtime as an emblem of the cycle of rebirth. Jones said that members who attend the service bring a flower with them, which they exchange with another member of the congregation.

The simple act of sharing a beautiful flower with someone else, while treating that person with kindness and compassion, is reflective of the Unitarian Universalist positive view of worldly life, Jones said.  

“There is forgiveness and redemption, but it goes through cycles, of loss and gain, of joy and sorrow, much like the seasons,” Jones said. “The important thing is to remember that we have the capacity to come through those times.”

The Yakima church’s services include hymns, readings, presentations, and meditations, Jones said. All are welcome.

Other celebrations

Ostara (March 20, 2019): The pagan observance of the spring equinox honors Ostara, goddess of the dawn, who is associated with new life and rebirth.  Many of the common practices associated with Easter — bunnies, baskets of sweets and Easter eggs — originated with pagan celebration rituals for this holiday.

Ramadan (May 5 to June 4, 2019): This monthlong observance for followers of Islam commemorates the first revelation of the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad. Practicing Muslims fast from dawn until sunset each day. Fasting, one of the five pillars of Islam, allows Muslims to focus on spirituality and their connection with Allah rather than their bodily needs, reminds them of the suffering of the poor, cleanses their minds and bodies and helps with the development of self-control.

First Foods Feast (varies): Those who follow the traditional Native American religion of Wáashat, also known as the Longhouse or Seven Drum religion, hold a First Foods Feast prior to hunting, fishing, and gathering each year, usually sometime in April. The feast includes salmon, deer and elk meat, roots and berries to honor legends that those animals and plants, in that order, volunteered to serve as sustenance for tribal people at the beginning of time. The ceremony is a way for tribal people to honor the gifts Creator has given and includes dancing, drumming, bell ringing and prayers. 

Holi (March 20-21, 2019): This Hindu holiday celebrates the end of winter, the arrival of spring, and the blossoming of love. Processions, bonfires, and celebrations in which people cover each other with colored water and powders are common rituals. Holi encourages people to meet each other, forgive past problems, and work on repairing broken relationships.