There’s a wide variety of holidays to help wrap up the year celebrating with family and friends. Developing a greater awareness and understanding of different holidays this season is an important first step to respecting all traditions. It’s essential to be aware that everyone celebrates different holidays based on their unique cultural and religious beliefs.
Few months present as many multicultural celebrations as December. From the most well known holidays like Christmas and Haunukkah to Ōmisoka and Rohatsu, the last month before the new year is accompanied by celebrations all over the world. Take a look at several popular holidays below!
Christmas is celebrated all over the world, by many different countries, cultures, and yet they majorly follow similar traditions of the Christian roots. In countries like Mexico, Christmas celebrations can last up to three weeks. It kicks off with the celebration of the birth of the Virgin of Guadalupe on December 12 and ends with Three Kings day on January 6. On Three Kings Day, children can wake up to presents left in their shoes just like the offerings brought to celebrate the birth of baby Jesus. This is a bit different than customs followed in the U.S., as it is a generally celebrated holiday, and many observe Christmas Day without any religious influences. We also like to celebrate it mostly on the day of Christmas here, spent with family and friends opening presents, while Christmas Eve tends to be the main day of celebration in Latin American countries.
Hanukkah is celebrated in the Jewish religion as a celebration of the end of the Maccabean Revolt and the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. While many are familiar with the Menorah, did you know that during the first celebration it was said that there was only enough oil to keep the candles lit for a single day, yet the flames continued to burn for eight days and nights?! Because of this, the Menorah has remained a tradition, lighting a candle for every night of celebration until the eighth day when all candles are lit. Hanukkah is celebrated with families for all eight days, including the singing of Hanukkah songs, playing games such as the dreidel, and eating traditional potato latkes. Here at A&M, a large-scale Menorah currently sits in Rudder Plaza for the entirety of Hanukkah for all the students and faculty of campus to observe from November 28 until December 6.
Kwanzaa is a highly celebrated holiday in America that occurs annually from December 26 to January 1st. Kwanza originated after the Watts riots in LA, which was fueled from years of social unrest due to the abuse of police and discrimination of the Black Community and resulted in a week long riot that left a thousand people injured. Following the rebellion, Maulanga Karenga, a long time activist and leader of the Black Power Movement, inspired a Black revolution movement that helped rebuild the neighborhoods and community. In a successful effort to reconnect many Black Americans to their heritage, Kwanzaa was pioneered. This holiday draws from cultures all over Africa, as the name is Swahili for “first fruits'', a reference to harvest celebrations. The day after Christmas, families gather and reflect on the seven principles of Kwanzaa for each day it is celebrated, including medication on unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith.
In Japan, the celebration of Ōmisoka occurs on the last day of the year and Shogatsu is celebrated on the first day of the new year. In America, there is a grand celebration the minute that the New Year sets in, however there is less anticipation for the actual countdown in Japan. The Buddhist Temple does ring the bells 108 times to rid people of their 108 earthly desires at midnight. Besides this, most of the celebrations take place in the company of family throughout the two days, and includes O-sechi ryori, or a New Year’s Day feast to invite good luck, prosperity and health for the new year.
In Buddhism, holidays and celebrations are directed towards the important events that occurred in the life of Buddha or other figures. According to the story of the Buddha’s enlightenment, Siddhartha Gautama reached enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree through meditation after years of searching for peace. This historical event is observed in Japanese Zen monasteries on the day Siddhartha Gautama reached enlightenment, December 8th, and is celebrated on the last day of a week long Sesshin, or a meditation retreat. Each part of the day involves meditating with silence, and each evening's meditation period is longer than the last. For those who are able, on Rohatsu, they will sit and meditate throughout the night in similar fashion to how the Buddha reached enlightenment.
This holiday season, challenge yourself to learn more about and or practice a new tradition!
- The German tradition of hiding a pickle ornament in the Christmas tree: the first to find the ornament receives an extra gift and good fortune for the coming year!
- In Iceland the celebration of Jolabokaflod, or “Christmas book food,” is the practice of exchanging books on Christmas Eve to read during the night.