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A last hurrah for holidays

Celebrate your way around the Web.

Holidays. Every culture has them; for many of us, they stem from the same ancient roots of peoples, religions, and the marking of time. We recognize them as days off from work, time to gather with family and friends, or ways to remember important people and events. Rarely do most of us stop to consider the historical context in which these traditions were born, or how they change according to country or religion. Of course, with the myriad special days denoted by your typical 365-day calendar, covering everything from Arbor Day to World AIDS day, who has time to realize that it’s Kamarampaka Day in Rwanda, or Niklaus of Flue Day in Switzerland? The World Wide Web, that’s who–once again proving that someone, somewhere, really is keeping track of this stuff, and helping us make a connection.

Qatar to Kiribati

Take the Earth Calendar, for example, which just may be the ultimate worldwide link. If you’re traveling, for example, click on the country or countries you’re visiting–which you’ll find organized by first letter–for a look at the year’s significant dates, both secular and religious. This is a great way to find out not only when travel might be more or less expensive in a certain country, but also to get a first glimpse of a country’s historical and cultural high points. Each listing also includes the country’s flag, which links to its official government Web site, and a “map it” link for the geographically challenged (one could have hours of fun here just looking up countries such as Kiribati, a string of islands located in the Pacific just south of the Marshall Islands).

Another worthy stop is Holiday Festival, which includes helpful information about time-zone changes and local customs. For example, the site notes that in France, if a holiday occurs on a Tuesday or Thursday, many workers will take off the adjacent Monday or Friday. It also lists upcoming dates for some religious holidays whose dates change annually, such as Easter or the Chinese New Year.

Celticism to Catholicism

For a broader worldview, search holidays by religion instead of country to find out which parts of the world will be observing Ramadan or Purim, for example. The Earth Calendar also handily displays the icon associated with each religion-a plain cross for Christianity, let’s say, or a lotus for Baha’i. Because many religious holidays have no exact fixed date, and instead vary from year to year according to the phases of the moon, the Earth Calendar also includes a way to search for significant holidays by lunar phase.

The Interfaith Calendar is another good year-at-a-glance source for religious holidays, and also provides some basic information about the roots of a religion, such as Jainism, for example. For a fascinating digression about the roots of the differences between religious calendars, see Religious Tolerance.org.

The melting pot

For a Cliffs Notes version of arbitrary holidays celebrated in the United States, turn to InfoPlease.com’s listing of major holidays, religious and secular. Because the site lists holidays by date in a given year, you’ll find Eid al-Adha, the Islamic Feast of Sacrifice, a few listings after Groundhog Day. Whether or not this existential clash is intentional, it feels good. You can also find a listing of holidays strictly by religion, as well as selected national holidays from around the world.

U.S. historical holidays

If you’ve ever wondered about Flag Day and why it’s celebrated in June (of course you knew it was June!), you may be surprised that the best place to find out is from a page hosted by the U.S. embassy in Sweden or Germany, not somewhere in the many pages of our own government Web sites. At the English-language programs division of the United States Information Agency of Sweden or Germany, visitors can read in detail about the origins of Flag Day (I won’t spoil it for you here), as well as Mardi Gras, Presidents’ Day, Mother’s Day, and even good old Arbor Day. Now if they could just tell us who decided on a plural apostrophe for Presidents’ Day, but a singular for Mother’s and Father’s Day…maybe some things are better left unwebbed.

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