By Julia Colborn
Often in thoughts of December, Christmas is the first holiday that crosses the mind: Nativity scenes and Santa competing for attention along every store aisle and around every street corner. However, many other cultures and religions have their own celebrations at the onset of winter.
Hanukkah is the Jewish Festival of Lights in commemoration of the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. From Dec. 6 to Dec. 14, the nine-tiered menorah was lit to symbolize the holy oil that was supposed to be enough for only one day but miraculously burned for eight. Families will gather every night, recite prayers, eat food cooked in oil, exchange gelt and play dreidel.
Dec. 8 brought the observance of Bodhi Day. On this day, Siddhartha Gautauma, the Buddha, reached enlightenment after meditating under the bodhi tree. Deep meditation and reflection are paramount, but decorating with brightly colored lights and making tree-shaped cookies with children are common activities.
The Winter Solstice on Dec. 21 is based on Earth’s position relative to the sun, marking the shortest day and longest night of the year. For much of human history, this was cause enough to gather around a warm fire with close family and friends and celebrate both being together and the longer days to come. Many modern Christmas celebrations in the West come from a blend of Christianity and pre-existing local customs.
Pancha Ganapati is what HinduismToday.com calls “the Hindu Christmas.” It was founded in 1985 for western Hindu families to share in the Season of Giving without compromising their Hindu values. From Dec. 21 through Dec. 25, Lord Panchamukha (“five-faced”) Ganapati, a form of Ganesha the elephant-headed god, will be honored. Ideally, children are the ones to decorate the shrine, bestow offerings and receive presents, but adults and children alike make amends for misgivings throughout the year, forgive disputes and settle debts. This goodwill extends to business associates as well.
Although made popular by the television sitcom “Seinfeld” in a 1997 episode, the Dec. 23 celebration of Festivus came about from a family observance around 1966. Dan O’Keefe Sr., whose namesake son became a “Seinfeld” scriptwriter, was fed up with the consumerism of the season and decided to celebrate his own way. He created Festivus, a minimalistic holiday hallmarking the Airing of Grievances dinner.
1966 brought the first celebration of Kwanzaa, a seven-day holiday honoring African heritage and the seven principles of Nguzo Saba. From Dec. 26 to Jan. 1, ceremonies consisting of music, libations, passage reading and discussion, the lighting of the kinara and finally a feast will occur. Founder Maulana Karenga often spoke about how Kwanzaa is not a religious holiday. “Kwanzaa must and will remain essentially a cultural holiday which celebrates family, community and culture, stresses the producing, harvesting and sharing good in the world,” Karenga said in a 2000 interview with BeliefNet.
From all of us at the Rolesville Buzz, we wish you happy holidays.