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Why is this time of year significant?

This week's clergy talk about the notable holidays that share the month with St. Patrick's Day, March 17.

Marie McNair, islandwide administrator, Baha'is of Long Island:

The Fast, which is March 2-20, is a time of spiritual renewal. We abstain from eating and drinking from sunrise to sunset. Children, the elderly, those who are unwell and those who are pregnant or nursing don't fast. They do participate in prayer and meditation. This is a time of refocusing yourself spiritually.

It leads up to the celebration of the new year, Naw-Ruz, which means "New Day" and starts at sunset March 20 and goes through sunset March 21. It is a celebration of the end of the fast and is a time of family togetherness, hospitality and parties. For some, it also is a gift-giving time.

Rabbi Scott A. Hoffman, Temple Israel of South Merrick:

The story of Purim, which is celebrated after sundown March 15 through March 16, sets itself in Persia in the time of King Achashverosh (sometimes known as Ahasuerus), one of whose advisers, Haman, had decreed that all Jews should be killed. Through the machinations of the king's wife, Esther, and her uncle, Mordecai, the decree was rescinded, and the Jews were saved.

All the celebrations of Purim are designed to be a re-creation of the story. There are four observances: the reading of the story, or the Megillah; giving of food to one another, the Shalach Manot; giving gifts to the needy to enable them to celebrate; and having your own festive meal.

This is not a major holiday, but it is a holiday, nonetheless. Many times, there is a carnival. The one thing about Purim is there are liberties you can take that you wouldn't take at any other time of the year. For example, you can come to Purim in costume. There's not any other time you'd wear a costume to synagogue.Acharya Pipalmani Sigdel, priest, Asa'Mai Hindu Temple, Hicksville:

This year, Holi festival falls on March 17. This is the most colorful festival celebrated by followers of the Vedic religion. In this great Hindu festival, people wish for happiness and success and spend the day smearing colored powder all over each other's faces, throwing colored water at each other, having parties with sweets and dancing under water sprinklers.

The festival of Holi can be regarded as a celebration of the "colors of unity and brotherhood," an opportunity to forget all differences and indulge in unadulterated fun. It is one occasion when sprinkling colored powder, Gulal, or colored water on each other breaks all barriers of discrimination so that everyone looks the same and universal brotherhood is reaffirmed.

Holi has various legends associated with it. The foremost is the legend of demon King Hiranyakashyap, who demanded everybody in his kingdom worship only him. But his pious son, Prahlad, became a devotee of Lord Vishnu. Hiranyakashyap wanted his son to be killed. He asked his sister, Holika, to enter a blazing fire with Prahlad in her lap, as Holika had a boon that made her immune to fire.

The story goes that Prahlad was saved by the Lord himself for his extreme devotion, and evil-minded Holika was burned to ashes, for her boon worked only when she entered the fire alone. Since that time, people light a bonfire, called Holika on the eve of Holi festival and celebrate the victory of good over evil and the triumph of devotion to God.

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