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20 Greatest Religious Festivals and Their Significance

Religious festivals are a time of spiritual renewal and communal celebration that have been observed for centuries. These festivals serve as a reminder of the beliefs and values that unite people of different faiths around the world. From colorful processions to elaborate rituals, each festival is unique and special in its own way.  

In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the greatest religious festivals that are celebrated across various cultures and religions and explore the significance and traditions that make them truly awe-inspiring. 

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1. Diwali  

diwali celebration

Diwali, the Festival of Lights, is a dazzling and beloved celebration that unites Hindus all around the world. It’s a time of spiritual significance, representing the triumph of good over evil and the light over darkness. With its roots in ancient India, Diwali is steeped in traditions and customs that have been passed down through generations. 

The festival spans five days, each one marking a special occasion. On the first day, Dhanteras, people purchase gold and silver, believed to bring good luck and prosperity. Choti Diwali, the second day, is all about preparing for the main event by cleaning and decorating homes with colourful rangolis and diyas. 

The third day is the climax of Diwali, a day of joy and togetherness where families come together, exchange sweets and gifts, and light up their homes with diyas and candles. On the fourth day, Lord Krishna is celebrated, and on the final day, Bhai Dooj, the bond between siblings is honored. 

Diwali is not just a festival, but a time of reflection, gratitude, and renewed hope. It’s a time to reconnect with loved ones, spread happiness, and bask in the warm glow of light and love. 

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2. Ashura 

a man praying

Ashura, a significant event in the Islamic calendar, is a day of deep reflection and solemn remembrance for Muslims worldwide. It’s a day when we commemorate the sacrifice of Imam Hussain and his followers in the Battle of Karbala, a tragic event that holds great historical and spiritual significance for many communities. 

Occurring on the 10th day of Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar, Ashura is a time when Muslims come together to honor the memory of Imam Hussain and reflect on his unwavering commitment to justice and truth. Some people fast on this day, while others participate in mourning processions, recite Quranic verses and prayers, and listen to sermons that highlight the significance of Imam Hussain’s sacrifice. 

But Ashura is not just a day of mourning. It’s also a day of solidarity and compassion. Many Muslims engage in charitable acts to express their support for the oppressed, just as Imam Hussain stood up against injustice and tyranny. By observing Ashura, Muslims renew their commitment to upholding the values of justice, compassion, and peace

3. Baha’i Naw-Ruz  

set of happy naw-ruz postcards
Send these “Happy Naw-Rúz” postcards to your loved ones. See it here.

As winter recedes and spring ushers in new beginnings, Baha’is worldwide celebrate Naw-Ruz, the start of the Baha’i New Year. This festive occasion is a time for reflection, renewal, and unity. 

On or around March 21st, the vernal equinox marks the beginning of a new year in the Baha’i calendar and the start of spring, a season of rejuvenation and growth. It’s a time when Baha’is reflect on the teachings of Baha’u’llah and recommit to promoting unity, equality, and justice. 

Naw-Ruz is celebrated differently by Baha’i communities worldwide. Some gather for prayer and meditation, while others engage in joyful activities like music, dancing, and feasting. A common Naw-Ruz ritual is cleaning homes and workplaces, symbolizing the importance of cleanliness in both physical and spiritual aspects. Giving gifts and showing hospitality are also essential elements of Naw-Ruz, fostering stronger bonds of friendship and community. 

In essence, Naw-Ruz is a time when Baha’is celebrate the onset of a new year with hope, joy and a renewed commitment to the values of the Baha’i faith. 

4. Beltane  

Beltane altar

Beltane, the ancient Celtic festival, marks the start of the summer season with a bang! This vibrant celebration falls midway between the spring equinox and the summer solstice, signaling the end of winter’s icy grip and the arrival of brighter days. 

Beltane is a time to revel in the fertility of the earth, the abundance of agriculture, and the flourishing of life. The god Belanus, a symbol of fire and light, plays a crucial role in Celtic mythology and is an integral part of Beltane festivities. 

To commemorate Beltane, modern-day pagans, and Celtic enthusiasts come together to light bonfires, an exhilarating symbol of the sun’s strength and the warmth of summer. Dancing around the maypole, adorned with ribbons, flowers, and greenery, is also a Beltane staple, representing the harmonious union of masculine and feminine forces of nature. 

As Beltane approaches, the air is filled with the sweet aroma of hawthorn, bluebells, and daisies, evoking the beauty and fertility of the earth. Join in the merrymaking and embrace the warmth of summer at Beltane! 

5. Christmas  

christmas decorations

Christmas, one of the most celebrated holidays globally, marks the birth of Jesus Christ, the savior of the world. People worldwide celebrate Christmas on December 25th with great joy and merriment. The story of Jesus’ birth, with its message of hope, love, and redemption, is a powerful symbol of faith and belief. 

During Christmas, traditions such as decorating Christmas trees with twinkling lights, colorful ornaments, and tinsel abound. Christmas carols, evoke the spirit of the season, fill the air, and bring people together in song and celebration. 

The ritual of gift-giving is also a significant part of Christmas, spreading love and cheer amongst family and friends. The joy of exchanging presents and the joy of togetherness is what makes Christmas such a special and heartwarming holiday. 

6. Day of the Dead  

el dia de los muertos

Dia de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead, is a captivating and colorful celebration that honors the cherished souls of our ancestors. This mesmerizing festival, deeply rooted in Indigenous Mexican beliefs, blends Catholic traditions with ancient Aztec customs, resulting in a unique and awe-inspiring event. 

During Dia de los Muertos, families gather to pay respect to their deceased loved ones, recognizing this time as when the partition between life and death is the most fragile. The festival’s explosion of color and artistry is one of the most striking aspects, with intricately designed sugar skulls, vibrant marigold flowers, and hand-painted paper-mâché skeletons, or calaveras, dancing in the streets. 

Amidst the bold and lively decorations, Dia de los Muertos reflects the festival’s joyful spirit, uniting families to honor their ancestors with love and laughter. This festival offers a meaningful opportunity to pause and reflect on the lives of those who have gone before us, fostering a deep sense of interconnectedness and gratitude for the precious gift of time. 

7. Easter 

Personalized Easter Basket
Celebrate easter with these personalized easter baskets. See them here.

Easter, the most significant Christian holiday, commemorates the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and brings a message of hope and renewal to people worldwide. The festival incorporates a variety of customs, from egg hunts and colorful egg decorations symbolizing new life to the chocolate eggs and bunny-shaped sweets evoking the sweetness of life. 

The spiritual aspect of Easter is just as important, with Holy Week services preceding Easter Sunday, and worshippers gathering to celebrate the miracle of Christ’s resurrection. The hymns and prayers create a sense of unity and uplift the spirit. 

Easter is a time for reflection and contemplation, as well as joy and celebration. It is a holiday that transcends religious boundaries, offering a message of hope and renewal to all who embrace its spirit. 

8. Eid al-Adha  

muslims praying in mosques for eid al-adha

Eid al-Adha, the Festival of Sacrifice, holds a special place in the Islamic faith. It commemorates the steadfast obedience of Prophet Ibrahim, who was willing to sacrifice his son as commanded by Allah. This festival embodies the virtues of faith, devotion, and selflessness that are fundamental to Muslim belief. 

The festive spirit of Eid al-Adha is marked by a special congregational prayer held in mosques and prayer grounds. Muslims dress in their finest attire and gather to express gratitude for their blessings and seek spiritual guidance. 

The highlight of the celebrations is the act of Qurbani or animal sacrifice. Families purchase and sacrifice an animal, sharing the meat with family, friends, and the less fortunate. This act of generosity ensures that everyone can partake in the festive meal, promoting a spirit of sharing and compassion. 

9. Eid al-Fitr  

happy eid-al-fitr banner
Decorate your place for Eid al-Fitr with this banner. See it here.

Eid al-Fitr is an exhilarating Islamic festival that marks the end of Ramadan’s holy month. After a month of devotion, fasting, and self-reflection, Muslims celebrate with their families and communities. This festival serves as a reminder to be grateful for the blessings of Allah and the spiritual growth experienced during Ramadan. 

At the heart of Eid al-Fitr, Muslims perform Zakat al-Fitr, an act of charity aimed at alleviating poverty. This generous gesture reinforces the importance of compassion and generosity in the Islamic faith, promoting unity and togetherness. 

Eid al-Fitr is also a time for delicious food and shared meals with loved ones. Traditional dishes and sweets, such as biryani, samosas, and sweet vermicelli pudding, are prepared and enjoyed by all, as a reward for discipline and commitment during the month of Ramadan. 

Eid al-Fitr prayers are held in mosques and open grounds, with worshippers dressed in their finest attire. Children receive gifts, and families exchange greetings and well wishes, creating a joyful and exciting atmosphere that reverberates throughout the community. 

10. Guru Nanak Jayanti  

guru nanak dev ji jayanti digital artwork
Artist’s rendition of Guru Nanak Jayanti. See it here.  

Guru Nanak Jayanti is a joyous and meaningful celebration in the Sikh faith that honors the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak. This special occasion carries both religious and cultural significance as Sikhs reflect on the life and teachings of their spiritual leader. 

The festival commences with Amrit Vela, a pre-dawn prayer that brings the community together at the Gurudwara to seek blessings and offer prayers. Throughout the day, devotees sing hymns and recite scriptures that remind them of Guru Nanak’s wise teachings and profound insights. 

Unity and togetherness are key components of Guru Nanak Jayanti. The day is marked by the tradition of Langar, where everyone is invited to partake in a communal meal, regardless of their background or beliefs. This practice highlights the importance of equality and service, central values of the Sikh faith. 

Colorful processions and parades add to the festive mood of the occasion, with homes and Gurudwaras adorned with vibrant decorations. This celebration of Guru Nanak’s birth serves as a reminder to Sikhs everywhere of the beauty of their faith and the wisdom of their beloved leader. 

11. Hanukkah  

Origins and History of Hanukkah Traditions

The Festival of Lights, called Hanukkah, is a beloved Jewish holiday celebrated worldwide. It commemorates the miracle of the oil in the Temple of Jerusalem and holds great religious and cultural significance. 

The heart of Hanukkah is the lighting of the menorah, a nine-branched candelabrum. Each night, an additional candle is added to commemorate the oil’s miraculous burning for eight nights. Lighting the menorah symbolizes the triumph of light over darkness, reinforcing faith and hope. 

Hanukkah also features mouth-watering delicacies like latkes, potato pancakes fried in oil, and sufganiyot, jelly-filled doughnuts. These festive treats remind us of the oil miracle and the Temple’s importance in Jewish history. Families and friends gather to share these scrumptious foods, creating a sense of togetherness and joy. 

Hanukkah is also a time for giving and sharing. Jews exchange gifts and donate to those in need, a fundamental Jewish practice called Tzedakah. The holiday fosters a sense of community and celebration, bringing people together in merriment. 

12. Holi  

children celebrating the holi festival

Holi, the Hindu festival of colors, is a vibrant celebration that exudes joy and enthusiasm across India and beyond. This festival is a symbol of hope, triumph, and the arrival of spring. 

Holi transcends social boundaries and reinforces the importance of forgiveness, love, and friendship. The festivities begin with Holika Dahan, a bonfire that signifies the destruction of evil and the emergence of good. On the day of Holi, people come together to play with brightly colored powders, splash water, and drench each other with colored water balloons. 

Amidst the merrymaking, Holi ignites a spirit of harmony and unification, transcending cultural and religious divides. This festival exemplifies the importance of coming together to share joy and happiness. 

13. Inti Raymi  

Inti Raymi festival
Inti Raymi at Plaza de Armas. Source

Inti Raymi is a vibrant Incan festival that celebrates the sun god, Inti, and the arrival of the new year. As one of the most significant cultural events in Peru, it’s a time to reconnect with ancient traditions and pay tribute to the land. 

The festival takes place during the winter solstice, a time when the sun is at its lowest point, and darkness prevails. Participants gather to express gratitude for the past harvest and seek blessings for the future. Through colorful rituals and music, they honor the sun god and the earth goddess, Pachamama, underscoring the importance of environmental preservation. 

Inti Raymi fosters a sense of pride and community among participants, highlighting the richness and diversity of Incan culture. Visitors from around the world come to witness this unique celebration, leaving with a deeper appreciation of Peru’s history and traditions. 

14. Kumbh Mela  

Kumbha Mela Festival Prayagraj India photo
Artist’s photo of the Kumbh Mela festival. See it here.

The Kumbh Mela is a grand celebration of Hindu culture and spirituality that takes place every 12 years in India, drawing in millions of devotees from across the world. The festival, which happens at four different locations along the Ganges and Yamuna rivers, is a time for reflection and renewal, as Hindus come together to purify their souls and seek enlightenment through holy dips in the rivers. 

At Kumbh Mela, cultural diversity and spiritual richness are on full display, with participants engaging in everything from chanting and meditation to traditional music and dance. The festival promotes the ideals of tolerance and inclusivity, encouraging individuals of all backgrounds to come together in a spirit of harmony and respect. 

The Kumbh Mela serves as a reminder of our interconnectedness as human beings, showcasing the power of faith and community to bridge divides and foster understanding. 

15. Mawlid al-Nabi  

Malaysian Sunni Muslims in a Mawlid procession in capital Putrajaya
Mawlid al-Nabi procession. Source

Mawlid al-Nabi, also known as the Birthday of the Prophet, is a vital celebration in the Islamic faith that resonates worldwide. The occasion honors the life and teachings of Prophet Muhammad, inspiring Muslims globally to commemorate his life. 

During the Mawlid al-Nabi festival, participants express their gratitude and love for Prophet Muhammad, reciting Quranic verses and carrying out special prayers. The event rekindles the teachings of Islam, emphasizing the significance of compassion, kindness, and peace. 

Mawlid al-Nabi encourages Muslims worldwide to reflect on their relationship with God and to embody the core principles of Islam in their lives. The festival fosters a deeper understanding of Islamic teachings, inspiring individuals to lead their lives in accordance with the Prophet’s wisdom and teachings. 

16. Navaratri  

kids dressed as avatars of amman navarathiri for navaratri festival
Girls dressed up during the Amman Navaratri festival. Source

Navaratri, the nine-night Hindu festival, is a celebration of the divine feminine and the triumph of good over evil. The festival has immense religious and cultural significance, and it is an occasion to honour and praise the goddess Durga while reaffirming the values of Hinduism. 

During Navaratri, devotees offer prayers and offerings to the goddess, seeking her protection and blessings. Each of the nine nights of the festival is dedicated to a different aspect of Durga, reflecting her power, strength, and grace. 

Navaratri is also a time for music, dance, and celebration. Garba and dandiya, traditional dances from the state of Gujarat in western India, are popular during Navaratri. The festival’s vibrant and colourful atmosphere creates a sense of unity and togetherness among participants, fostering a deep sense of community and shared values. 

17. Paryushana  

paryushana jains celebration
Paryushana celebration of Jains. Source

Paryushana is a remarkable Jain festival that lasts eight days, promoting self-reflection and spiritual rejuvenation. It holds great cultural and religious significance, emphasizing the values of Jainism and the significance of compassion. 

During Paryushana, Jains engage in prayer and meditation to achieve an understanding of Jain philosophy and connect with their inner selves. The festival’s emphasis on nonviolence, truthfulness, and selflessness, all essential Jain principles, encourages individuals to apply them to their daily lives. 

Paryushana brings Jains of different backgrounds and beliefs together, creating an atmosphere of unity and harmony. It is a time of introspection and growth, allowing individuals to reflect on their actions and renew their commitment to living a compassionate and fulfilling life. 

18. Passover  

beitzah passover meal

Passover is a time of great significance for Jewish people worldwide as they celebrate their freedom from slavery in Egypt. This festival reaffirms the core Jewish values of freedom and justice and reminds us that these principles remain as important today as they were in the past. 

The Seder meal, a special dinner held on the first two nights of Passover, is at the heart of the celebration. During the Seder, participants retell the Exodus story and engage in traditional rituals, such as the drinking of wine and the eating of symbolic foods like matzo and bitter herbs. 

Passover is a time of reflection, as Jews think about the struggles and hardships their ancestors faced in Egypt and celebrate their eventual triumph over oppression. It’s also a time of renewal and rebirth, as participants seek to make positive changes in their lives and embrace the values of compassion, kindness, and justice. 

19. Ramadan  

Ramadan ornaments decorations
Artist’s designs for Ramadan decorations. See them here.

Ramadan, the ninth Islamic month, is a significant festival that spans a month, focusing on fasting, spiritual renewal, and self-reflection. Fasting, abstaining from food and drink from sunrise to sunset, cleanses both body and mind while promoting self-control and faith. Muslims also practice abstinence from other pleasures during Ramadan, emphasizing moderation and simplicity. 

Charity and prayer play a vital role in Ramadan, reinforcing the values of compassion, generosity, and understanding. Muslims engage in special prayers and give zakat to show their commitment. 

Through introspection and renewal, Muslims aim to deepen their faith and spiritual connection during Ramadan. It inspires them to live a life of kindness and service, striving to improve the world around them. Ramadan is an occasion to reflect on the significance of Islamic principles, and it encourages individuals to lead a life rooted in compassion and spirituality. 

20. Baha’i Ridvan  

set of happy ridvan postcards
Postcard designs for the Baha’i Ridvan festival. See them here.

One of the lesser-known but fascinating religious festivals is the Baha’i Ridvan Festival. It celebrates the declaration of Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i faith, as a prophet of God. 

The festival lasts 12 days and takes place from late April to early May. The first, ninth, and twelfth days are considered particularly significant. The first day marks Baha’u’llah’s arrival in the Garden of Ridvan, where he declared his mission, while the ninth and twelfth days mark his departure from the garden. 

During the festival, Baha’is come together for prayer, reflection, and celebration. They decorate their homes and gardens with flowers and lights and exchange gifts and hospitality. The Ridvan Festival symbolizes the joy and hopes that Baha’is derive from their faith and reminds them of the importance of unity and service to humanity. 

Wrapping Up 

The world is full of fascinating and diverse religious festivals, each with its own unique customs, traditions, and practices. Despite their differences, these festivals all share a common goal: to inspire and uplift individuals, fostering a sense of hope and unity in a world that can often feel divided.  

As we continue to celebrate these festivals, may we always strive to embrace the values of kindness, generosity, and empathy, and to work towards creating a better world for all. 

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Nemanja Đukić
Nemanja Đukić

I am a writer and a teacher of rhetoric, international humanitarian law, and entrepreneurship. As a writer, I specialize in writing about history, politics, and finding quirky ways to elevate all the great selling points of a product/service. I obtained my bachelor's degree in International Relations at the University of Montenegro and completed my master' s studies at the Corvinus University of Budapest, Hungary where I studied diplomacy. I believe studying diplomacy and politics sets you up for knowing how to craft a sentence, how to fill it with content and ensure that your audience understands the message.