May 27, 2017

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FOR many people of the Christian faith, Easter is one of the most important holidays of the year. It is a celebration of Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead. It is usually celebrated on the first Sunday following the full moon after the vernal equinox (the moment when the sun crosses directly over the earth’s equator) on March 21. Depending on the occurrence of the vernal equinox, Easter is celebrated anywhere between March 22 and April 25. This year, Easter will be observed on 16 April. Although it is not clear how the word “Easter” came about, some sources claim that it was derived from Eostre, a Teutonic goddess of spring and fertility.

The following are the different ways Easter is celebrated around the world:

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So what exactly is the significance of Easter eggs and bunnies and why is Easter always associated with them? Well, truly, no one knows.

Christians adopted the egg as an Easter custom during the 13th century. The yolk represented Jesus Christ’s emergence from the tomb while eggs were painted red to represent the blood Christ shed during his crucifixion. However, there is no basis in history or evidence that explains how the association came about. Just like how the goddess Eostre is based on conjecture, the same is true to the origin of eggs and bunnies.
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1. Helsinki, Finland – Witches and bonfires

Image by Annelis from Wikimedia Commons. 

In Finland, it is believed that in the olden days, witches and evil spirits roamed around the country on the Saturday before Easter, up to mischief. The Finnish people start large bonfires to keep the evil spirits away and this tradition still continues, even though not many are as superstitious in this day and age. The bonfire is also used as another way to bring the community and families together.

Finnish children dress themselves up in witch costumes and dirty themselves in soot and go around the neighbourhood, knocking on people’s door for candy or money. In exchange, the kids give the residents a decorated twig.
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2. Athens, Greece – Silence and darkness

Image by Flickr user George M. Groutas

In Greece, Easter celebrations start on Good Friday. The body of Christ is wrapped in linen and put in a casket to symbolise the tomb of Christ. The casket is decorated with flowers and then taken to the street for a procession. Some Greeks also honour the dead by lighting a candle at the cemetery.
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On midnight of Holy Saturday, the lights in churches will be turned off to symbolise the darkness and the silence of the tomb. The whole country celebrates Easter at midnight with church bells, ships’ horns, floodlights and fireworks.

3. Haux, France – A gigantic omelette

Image by Getty Images user Remy Gabalda.

In the southwestern city of Haux in France, the people celebrate Easter by having an omelette together. There’s no typing error in the previous sentence – the entire town does share a single omelette! On Easter Day, a group of chefs fry up an omelette big enough for an entire town to consume at the town’s main square. The massive dish feeds up to about 1,000 people.

In the past, the gargantuan dish was about 10 feet in diameter and comprised 5,211 eggs, 21 quarts of oil, and 110 pounds each of bacon, onion, and garlic. A similar tradition is observed in the town of Bessieres in southwestern France. Every year on Easter Monday, around 10,000 people gather to make a giant omelette, made with 15,000 fresh eggs, a four-meter pan, 40 cooks, and extra-long baguettes.

Many believe this unique tradition harks back to an instance during Napolean’s reign when Napoleon Bonaparte and his army once spent the night in the countryside. After eating an omelette made by a local innkeeper, Napoleon demanded a gigantic omelette to be prepared for his army to eat the next day.
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4. Jerusalem, Israel – Holy Week of Easter

Image from igoogledisrael.

The Holy Week of Easter is an important celebration in Israel, and for many Christian pilgrims that visit Israel to trace the footsteps of Jesus and his last moments.

On April 9 this year, the Christian Holy Week celebrations began with the Palm Sunday procession. The Palm Sunday procession involves thousands of Christian pilgrims climbing Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives, to re-enact Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. The Palm Sunday procession typically heads down to the Church of All Nations, continues to Saint Anne Church, St. Stevens Gate (the Lions Gate), the Old City and down the Via Dolorosa.

Another interesting manner Easter is celebrated in Israel is The Way of the Cross procession. On Good Friday (April 14), in memory of Jesus’ journey up to Golgotha to be crucified, the streets and alleys of the Old City in Jerusalem will be packed with pilgrims following Jesus’s same path down the Via Dolorosa. To symbolically share in their saviour’s pain on that fateful day, many of those participating carry a cross with them in spiritual support of their Lord.

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Featured image by Pixabay user Couleur(CC0 1.0).

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Black clock showing 8.30.

HERE’S what we know about his condition so far: The stroke was due to an aneurysm. It happened when a blood vessel in the brain burst, and doctors had to perform emergency surgery last night (May 12) to relieve pressure in the brain and stop the bleeding. They were successful in closing the aneurysm and as of 11.30pm last night, he remained under intensive care at Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

What’s next? He’s expected to continue receiving treatment as Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam oversees his duties as Finance Minister. We’ll keep the updates coming.

Well wishes poured online when news of Mr Heng Swee Keat’s stroke broke in the evening after the Prime Minister’s Office issued a brief statement around 7pm. He had collapsed at around 5.30pm during the Cabinet’s weekly meeting at the Istana.

Messages on Facebook posted later by Cabinet ministers filled in what happened: After he collapsed, three ministers who were doctors immediately tended him and managed to resuscitate him. An ambulance then took him to the hospital where a CT scan showed he had a stroke. A Facebook post by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong describing him as a valuable member of the Cabinet has been shared close to 1,000 times.

The New Paper reported a neurologist, Dr Charles Siow, who said for someone to collapse from a stroke, it must have been a major one. Dr Siow did not attend to Mr Heng.

People who saw him earlier in the day say he looked fine – though, he had also been “very tired”, said Mr K Shanmugam, the Law and Home Affairs Minister in a Facebook post.

News of Mr Heng’s stroke dominated headlines this morning but there are other things you probably want to know: Such as the return of teen blogger Amos Yee, who was arrested on Wednesday after absconding overseas to avoid the police.

Police had been investigating him for remarks he made online last November about what former Nominated Member of Parliament Calvin Cheng said about Islam (NOTE: Mr Cheng spoke about killing the children of terrorists, not about Islam. We apologise for the error). This is his second arrest; Yee was convicted last year for similar comments made about Christianity.

If you’re a security supervisor or arts instructor, time to go for some extra classes if you want to keep your job.

As many as 3,300 security supervisors could be demoted if they don’t attend a compulsory course within the next three months, warned the National Trades Union Congress yesterday. The compulsory module and at least two other recommended courses are part of the Singapore Workforce Skills Qualifications Framework.

To continue teaching for the next two years, arts instructors who conduct school workshops that are subsidised by the National Arts Council (NAC) have until the end of this year to complete the NAC-Arts Education Programme. The requirement was announced in 2013 and NAC will be adding more runs to the course to help instructors complete at least 40 hours of training in time. Arts instructors who do not finish the course will not be allowed to teach NAC-supported workshops until 2018.

 

Featured image from TMG file. 

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by Clare Thng

OVER the last two days, news reports have laid out predictable trends such as falling fertility rates and climbing elderly numbers in line with the 2015 General Household survey results. But what about the lesser known, almost unbelievable, data? After trawling through pages of statistics and graphs, here are five facts we came across which you may not have known:

1. Chinese are the least bilingual.  

Over a span of five years, the proportion of the resident population literate in two or more languages has increased by almost 3 per cent. In 2015, nearly nine out of ten of literate Malays were able to read in two or more languages. This was followed by 82.9 per cent of Indians who could do so as well. On the other hand, it was the Chinese who suffered the lowest proportion of residents for multi-language literacy at only 70.3 per cent.

While a majority of the Chinese and Malay were literate in English and their mother tongue only, language literacy was more diverse among the Indians. In addition to the 45.7 per cent who could read English and Tamil, 14 per cent of Indians were literate in English and Malay as well.

2. In almost half of all marriages, husbands are as smart as their wives. 

In 2015, 46.1 per cent of married couples comprised husbands with the same educational qualifications as their wives. The other 54 per cent being married couples where either the wives had lower qualifications than husbands or vice versa. Among married males with university qualifications, 67.7 per cent of them had a spouse who was also a university graduate.

With more females joining the workforce, dual-career couples have been on the rise as well from 47.1 per cent to 53.8 per cent. Within these five years, the proportion of marriages where only the husband worked had fallen from 32.6 per cent to 27.7 per cent.

3. Almost half of primary school students walk to school.

If they chose to anyway…

In light of the close proximity of schools to their homes, 44.7 per cent of pre-primary and primary school students did not require transport to school in 2015. This was a slight fall from 46.2 per cent in 2010.

4. Indians have the most diverse religious affiliations. 

Aside from language literacy, the religious affiliations of Indians were most diverse compared to the other racial groups. In 2015, Hinduism with 59.9 per cent was the predominant religion of Indians. This was followed by Islam with 21.3 per cent and Christianity with 12.1 per cent. Other religions such as Sikhism made up about 5.4 per cent.

5. Among the ethnic races, the number of persons in Malay households saw the largest fall. 

The average household size for Malay households fell from 4.2 persons in 2010 to 3.9 persons in 2015. Over the same 5 year period, Chinese households experienced a marginal decline from 3.4 persons to 3.3 persons while that of Indian households remained unchanged at 3.6 persons. This makes the shift towards smaller households the most notable in Malays out of the ethnic groups. In spite of this dip in numbers, the Malays continue to have a larger household size on average than Indian and Chinese households.

 

Featured image by Natassya Diana.

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Old & New Side by Side by Flickr user William Cho

by Yoong Ren Yan

WE’VE finally heard the City Harvest trial verdict, and we’re just waiting for sentences to be handed down. But another delicate matter has surfaced again.

Last Wednesday, the office of the Commissioner of Charities (COC) announced that it would resume proceedings to remove seven church office-holders, including senior pastor Kong Hee. They can continue religious duties, but might be barred from serving as governing board member, key officer, trustee, agent, or employee. COC’s investigations had been postponed in August 2013 until the trial ended.

Why is COC interfering in what some might view as internal church matters? In general, churches that are registered as charities, including City Harvest, are granted tax-exempt status and other protections. In return, through COC, the G ensures that charities remain accountable to donors, members, and the public at large.

COC has been at pains to emphasise that it acts to protect charities from misconduct or mismanagement – not to interfere in internal affairs. The instruments at its disposal, however, are extensive.

According to the Charities Act, after conducting an inquiry, COC may not only remove office-holders, but bar them from membership, restrict financial transactions, appoint key staff at its own discretion, and control an errant charity’s property. These powers are subject to the Attorney-General’s approval, and can be appealed to the High Court.

None of these powers, except removal, is being invoked for City Harvest. But even these measures were hotly contested by church leaders before the trial. Some argued that, if Kong Hee and others were cleared of all charges, COC would have no grounds to remove them. This is not quite right: the standard of evidence for a criminal conviction is higher than the COC’s, and rightfully so. But after the verdict, it’s hard to imagine that the convicted leaders will keep their positions.

No matter what the result of COC’s inquiry is, the Charities Act also bans those “convicted… of any offence involving dishonesty or deception” from management positions in charities (Section 27(1)(a)). So the five office-holders convicted of criminal breach of trust, at least, will go. Another two office-holders were suspended by COC but not charged in court – their fate is less clear.

When will these removals happen? COC wants to “consider fully and fairly all representations received” first. And those affected still have the right to appeal to the High Court.

Beyond complying with disciplinary action, charities here are also obliged to submit annual reports to COC, including detailed financial information. COC says it’s been monitoring City Harvest’s finances closely since the trial began.

Financial information for City Harvest is missing from COC’s Charity Portal. We did a little sleuthing on the Portal, and found the finances for two other megachurches here, New Creation Church and Faith Community Baptist Church. These statements include, for instance, various categories of income and expenditure, and amounts in different funds. Why this secrecy for City Harvest? Wouldn’t the church want to show that its finances have been in order? Or is it sufficient to show churchgoers and COC, but not the public?

Charities here are also encouraged to improve internal governance. COC’s Code of Governance recommends that larger charities like City Harvest ensure that board members are independent, finances are audited, and conflicts of interest disclosed. In particular, because the board oversees charity staff, staff should make up no more than a third of board members, and should not chair the board.

Last Saturday, at his first public appearance since the verdict, Kong Hee pointed to improvements City Harvest has already made to its governance. According to him, “a significant majority” of the board are not staff. But its exact compliance with the Code is unclear, at least to the public.

Charities must submit a checklist to COC annually, detailing whether they comply with the Code. Although these checklists need not be made public, the two other megachurches have disclosed them on the Charity Portal. On board independence, they adhere to the Code of Governance. In contrast, City Harvest has not released its checklist – perhaps it should.

As with the National Kidney Foundation scandal in 2005, this case is bound to trigger some soul-searching about how charities – and churches in particular – are governed. Could the shady dealings have been detected earlier? Should COC take on greater powers? Should it empower whistle-blowers? How can the G maintain the trust of both religious groups and the broader public?

As these concerns are addressed, for better or worse, we won’t be seeing the back of the City Harvest saga just yet.

 

Featured image Old & New Side by Side by Flickr user William ChoCC BY-SA 2.0.

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