Holidays Around the World

Once again, ’tis the season. Starbucks has introduced their newest controversial holiday cup, department stores across the United States have decked the aisles with toys and tinsel, and Facebook feeds—at least mine—have become flooded with image after image of a creepy, mischievous little elf creating mayhem on a shelf. It is hard to ignore the fact that the Christmas season is upon us.

According to a 2013 Pew Research Center survey, 9 in 10 Americans celebrate Christmas and, surprisingly, observance of the holiday is not limited to those who identify as Christian. Eighty-one percent of non-Christians in the U.S. also celebrate Christmas, most of whom view it as a cultural rather than religious holiday. A whopping 32 percent of Jewish citizens said that they put up a Christmas tree, according to the Pew study.

Yet, while Christmas might be the most widely-known and celebrated December holiday, it is important to remember that we live in a diverse society. Many of our friends and neighbors often hail from different cultural and religious backgrounds whose holidays are just as important and sacred as Christmas is to those of us who celebrate it.

As we enter the final mad dash to check off the last gift on our Christmas lists, let us take a moment to share the season and recognize a few other important holidays celebrated during this time of the year.

*Hanukkah (Jewish)—The “Festival of Lights” or “Feast of Dedication,” Hanukkah commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem in 165 B.C. Celebrated for eight days and nights between November and December, it is observed through the lighting of the menorah. Other customs include singing songs, exchanging gifts, playing games such as the dreidel, and giving to charity.

*Kwanzaa (African-American)—A week-long celebration in the U.S., the holiday celebrates African heritage in African-American culture. Kwanzaa is celebrated from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1 and recognizes the Nguzu Saba, or seven core principles: Umoja (Unity); Kujichagulia (Self-Determination); Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility); Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics); Nia (Purpose); Kuumba (Creativity); and Imani (Faith). Customs include decorating the household with colorful and African objects, enjoying music and artistic performances, readings of the African Pledge and the Principles of Blackness, lighting of the Kinara, and sharing of a feast and libations.

*Bodhi Day (Buddhist)—This holiday commemorates the day that the Buddha Siddhartha Gautama reached enlightenment, or bodhi. Celebrated by Zen and Pureland Buddhists in China, Korea, Japan and Vietnam, Bodhi day is often observed by meditating, studying the Dharma, and chanting Buddhist texts. Other traditions include a traditional meal of tea and cakes, and performing acts of kindness toward others.

*Ōmisoka (Japanese)—Celebrated on the last day of the year, Ōmisoka is traditionally the time to complete important activities in preparation for a fresh new year. Important tasks during this time include house cleaning, repayment of debts, and purification to drive out evil spirits and bad luck. The holiday is often marked by gatherings of friends and loved ones which include enjoying a bowl of toshikoshi soba or toshikoshi udon—long noodle dishes that are associated with crossing over from one year to the next. Many who celebrate Ōmisoka visit a Shinto shrine or Buddhist temple for Hatsumōde—the first visit of the new year.

*Yule (Wiccan)—This holiday may seem somewhat familiar as it is closely-related to Christmas, though it is not a Christian holiday. In fact, many customs associated with the Christmas holiday were adopted from Yule, or Yuletide as it is also known. In the U.S., Yule begins on the winter solstice and lasts for 12 days. Wiccans recognize the holiday as the rebirth of the Great horned hunter god—the consort of the female Triple Goddess of the Moon/Mother Goddess—associated with nature, wilderness, sexuality, hunting, and the life cycle. The holiday is celebrated in many different ways which include feasts, ceremonies, and gift giving.

Of course, this is just a small sample of the many holidays celebrated around the world during this time of the year. Others include Krampusnacht (Europe), Pancha Ganapati (Hindu), Chalica (Unitarian Universalist), Hogmanay (Scottish), and Newtonmas (Atheist). As another year comes to an end and we travel home to celebrate the season, make sure to give thanks for the diversity that makes this world—and our campus—such wonderful place to call home.

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