HOLIDAYS : Sharing a World View : A diversity of religious and cultural observances are celebrated in the Valley.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; R. Daniel Foster contributes frequently to The Times

In a city as culturally diverse as Los Angeles, the holiday season harbors celebrations that are far removed from Santa and silver bells. Some churches and temples offer a twist on traditional festivities while others celebrate birthdays of gurus and other important dates of spiritual leaders.

The Epiphany is a festival, not unlike Christmas, that originated partly to incorporate the baptism of Jesus in Eastern churches. The feast is celebrated on Jan. 6 by various Armenian churches, among other denominations. This year, the congregation at the Armenian St. Peter Apostolic Church in Van Nuys is hoping to once again celebrate the Epiphany in its sanctuary, which sustained $1 million in damage from January's earthquake.

"Our dome's stained-glass windows shattered, and the roof has had to be completely renovated," says Father Shnork Demirjian. The renovated sanctuary of the 28-year-old church, the largest Armenian church in the Valley, will be inaugurated with the Epiphany services.

The Epiphany celebration begins at 10:30 a.m. and includes the liturgy, hymns with a choir and an immersion of a cross into a font of blessed water, commemorating the baptism. From 3,000 to 4,000 usually attend the service, which lasts until 1 p.m. Following the celebration, attendees meet in the church hall for cognac and chocolates. "That part isn't religious, it's just a custom," Demirjian says.

St. Peter Apostolic Church, 17231 Sherman Way, Van Nuys. (818) 344-4860.

A meditative spin on New Year's Eve can be found at several area Hindu and Buddhist temples. Hindu Temple Society of Southern California in Calabasas will begin New Year's Eve at 9 p.m. with devotional songs and the traditional burning of camphor. The observance lasts until midnight.

On New Year's Day, Hindus from across Southern California come to visit the temple's shrines to Siva, Ganesha, Hanuman and Lakshmana, among other deities. The temple is open New Year's Day from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Hindu Temple Society of Southern California, 1600 Las Virgenes Canyon Road, Calabasas. (818) 880-5552.

At Buddhist temples, some monks traditionally chant through the night of Dec. 31 as an auspicious way to bring in the new year. At the Maitthri Vihara Buddhist Meditation Centre in Sun Valley, monks begin chanting and reciting Buddhist teachings at 6 a.m. on Dec. 31 in a special room called a manadapa . They finish 24 hours later at dawn on New Year's Day. Although others are not invited to chant along, you can reap the benefits of the monks' focused prayer at a New Year's Day service that begins at 10:30 a.m.

At the service, water that was placed before the monks is used to anoint attendees, who also drink the blessed liquid. A short discourse on Buddha's teachings is given by the center's abbot.

Maitthri Vihara Buddhist Meditation Centre, 10819 Penrose Ave., Sun Valley. (818) 768-9382.

At North Hollywood's Wat Thai Temple, the public begins gathering at 10 p.m. on Dec. 31 to join in chants with monks until midnight.

"For new people, we have printed sheets of chants so all are welcome," says Sumanatissa Barua, a monk. The midnight hour is observed by three strokes on a large gong. The monks chant "Jaya mangala ga ta" as the gong is sounded. "It means 'victory of the virtuous,' " says Barua. "And a hope that everyone will have happiness and prosperity in the new year." (The traditional Thai new year is celebrated every April 13.)

At 9:30 a.m. on New Year's Day, hundreds of people gather in the temple. Buddhists "give merit to their ancestors" by offering food and gifts to monks and the elderly, Barua says.

Wat Thai Temple, 8225 Coldwater Canyon Ave., North Hollywood. (818) 780-4200.

Other temples celebrate the enlightenment of Sakyamuni Buddha (also called Gautama Buddha) on Dec. 11, the closest Sunday to the actual date, Dec. 8, called Bodhi Day. Buddha's enlightenment is celebrated by other Buddhists on the first full moon in May.

At the Haongwanji Buddhist Temple in Pacoima, a service begins at 9:30 a.m. Dec. 11 and lasts about an hour.

"We focus on the historical aspects of the enlightenment," says the Rev. Kakuyei Tada, who officiates at the 50-year-old temple.

After the service, light refreshments are served in the temple hall. The Pacoima temple belongs to the Jodo Shinshu sect of Japanese Buddhism and falls under the organizational name Buddhist Churches of America.

The temple also will observe the new year with a short service that begins at 7 p.m. Dec. 31. Bells are rung 108 times to "signify the elimination of our evil minds, since there are supposed to be 108 evil minds as taught in Buddhist Scriptures," Tada says.

A Jan. 1 service begins at 10 a.m. and lasts about one hour. It includes meditation, chanting, singing and a short sermon.

Haongwanji Buddhist Temple, 9450 Remick Ave., Pacoima. (818) 899-4030.

The birthday of the Sikh's 10th and final guru, Guru Govind Singh, is celebrated shortly after the new year on Jan. 7 at the Los Angeles Sikh Temple in North Hollywood. The Sikh religion was founded in the late 15th Century by Guru Nanak and his nine successors, called the 10 gurus. Govind Singh founded the fraternity called the Khalsa ("pure"), which remains the Sikh's principal tradition.

The celebration begins at 11 a.m. Jan. 5 when five holy pupils read continuously from the Dasam Granth, a holy book that Govind Singh introduced before his death in 1708. The continuous reading, called the akhand bath, is completed on Saturday morning.

Sikhs and the public visit the hall, which accommodates more than 500 people, during the reading. Various Sikh scholars will speak during the two days. Call for times.

Sunday's 11 a.m. service includes religious music called kirtana, poetry and songs. A free dinner is served between 1 and 3 p.m.

The Los Angeles Sikh Temple, 7640 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. (818) 765-9399.

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