Winter holidays celebrated around the world

Originally published in La Plaza Press

By JASMINE ROSALES, HANNAH PATRICK and ARIANA GHALAMBOR

It’s not common for the average American to celebrate Christmas and New Years but it is important that our society educates themselves and learns about the diverse winter holidays and traditions that people celebrate all around the world. America is a “melting pot” of all cultures, races, traditions, religions and colors. It’s important to educate oneself on the different cultures and celebrations of the holidays because education is one step closer to uniting people from all different backgrounds.

Diversifying your narrative means to educate oneself on the different cultural and religious celebrations around the world. (ARIANA GHALAMBOR/ La Plaza art) 

Boxing Day:

An old tradition where it allowed servants to take a day off and receive special gifts from their “ masters.” Boxing day begins the day after Christmas and it is usually used for charity drives. Typically, boxing day is celebrated in Scotland, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Boxing Day coincides with another holiday, St. Stephen’s Day, that is observed in many of the same countries. St. Stephen’s Day honors a Christian martyr who was stoned to death in 36 A.D.It is considered a shopping holiday. Boxing Day is a time to spend with family or friends, particularly those not seen on Christmas Day itself. Many people will gather for meals, spend time outside, or simply relax at home and enjoy the day off. Traditional Boxing Day food includes baked ham, pease pudding, and mince pies with brandy butter, along with a slice of Christmas cake or another dessert. Boxing Day has recently become synonymous with watching sports. A number of leagues in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland hold football and rugby matches, while Australia, New Zealand and South Africa are known for cricket matches on Boxing Day.

Omisoka:

Omisoka is a holiday celebrated and loved by Japanese people on the final day of the lunar month. (ARIANA GHALAMBOR/ La Plaza art)

Omisoka is a Japanese traditional celebration on the last day of the year. Traditionally, it was held on the final day of the twelfth lunar month. Its important activities for the concluding year and day were completed in order to start the new year fresh. Some of these include house cleaning, repaying debts and purification. About an hour before the New Year, people often gather together for one last time in the old year to have a bowl of toshikoshi soba or toshikoshi udon together. At midnight, many visit a shrine or temple for Hatsumōde, or the first shrine/temple visit of the year. People celebrate with their friends and families with various traditions to remember the past year, and bring in the new. The history behind the day is to prepare for deifying and praying for “Toshigami Sama” which can be translated into Shinto god which takes charge of the whole year, rich harvest of rice.

Three Kings Day:

Three Kings Day is celebrated Jan. 6, which is the twelfth day of Christmas known as the Feast of the Epiphany, or Three Kings’ Day. It celebrates the biblical tale in which the Three Kings, or Three Wise Men, visit baby Jesus after his birth three Kings find baby Jesus by following the path of a star across the desert for twelve days. According to the Gospel, the three Kings, named Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar traveled to Bethlehem to bring gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to baby Jesus. Children celebrate Three Kings’ Day by receiving gifts of their own. Children in Spain and Latin America are instructed to leave their shoes by the door of their house so, like Santa Claus, the three kings can come and leave them presents. Three Kings’ Day is as important and as widely celebrated as Christmas. In Mexico, bakers make a “rosca del rey”, a sweet bread meant to represent a King’s crown, that is a mile long. People fill the streets to get a slice of the special holiday bread. The bread often has a baby Jesus doll hidden inside.

Christmas: 

Christmas trees are used in several countries to celebrate Christmas. Typically, people leave presents under the trees for loved ones to open up. (ARIANA GHALAMBOR/ La Plaza art)

Christmas is celebrated to remember the birth of Jesus Christ; people celebrate Christmas Day in many ways. It is often combined with customs from pre-Christian winter celebrations. Many people decorate their homes, visit family or friends and exchange gifts. Some groups arrange meals, shelter or charitable projects for people without a home or with very little money.

Many different families celebrate the holidays with their own traditions some considered old fashioned ways such as leaving cookies and warm milk near the fireplace or tree or leaving a mistletoe above the door and a common one of the good and naughty list hence the gift of “coal” for christmas.

Every year a big staple in Christmas festivities is buying a Christmas tree and decorating it for the holidays to lay your presents under to unwrap on christmas morning. Then legend has it that a fir tree grew out of the fallen oak. 

New Year’s Eve:

New Year’s Eve is one of the largest global celebrations because it marks the last day of the year in the Gregorian calendar, Dec. 31, before the New Year. Many people celebrate New Year’s Eve to bid farewell to the year that ends and to welcome the New Year.

Common traditions throughout the United States include singing “Auld Lang Syne” to greet the New Year, and eating black-eyed peas for good luck.

On Dec 31., many people worldwide either watch a countdown on live TV or go to an event where they countdown to welcome the new year.

Chinese New Year:

Tied to the Chinese lunar calendar, the holiday was traditionally a time to honor household and heavenly deities as well as ancestors. It was also a time to bring family together for feasting. 

With the popular adoption of the Western calendar in 1912, the Chinese joined in celebrating Jan. 1 as New Year’s Day.

Ritual sacrifices of food and paper icons were offered to gods and ancestors. People posted scrolls printed with lucky messages on household gates and set off firecrackers to frighten evil spirits. A common tradition of Chinese New Year is for elders to give out money to children.

Along with every holiday comes countless traditions, a few are “Confucianism put special emphasis on filial piety, which was believed to preserve harmony and keep families together. … For thousands of years, traditional Chinese family structure was strictly patriarchal, with the father or eldest male as the head of the household as well as provider and guide” (Britannica.com), such as according to Cindy Tang. A lot of popular traditions world wide are different festivals before and after Chinese New Year.

Kwanzaa:

Kwanzaa is a cultural holiday created by Dr. Maulana Karenga, a professor and chairman of the Black Studies at California State University Long Beach in 1966. The aftermath of the Watts riots sparked an idea in which Dr. Karenga found a way to unify African Americans as a community, so he began to research African harvest celebrations. After combining several different harvest celebrations, he combined aspects of the harvest celebrations from Africa to form the basic idealisms of Kwanzaa. 

The name Kwanzaa comes from “matunda ya kwanza” which means “first fruits” in Swahili. Every family has their own unique traditions and ways to celebrate Kwanzaa in their own way, but typically they celebrate by singing and dancing with African drums and a large feast. The celebration lasts seven nights and families join together and a child will light one of the candles on the Kinara (candleholder) and one of the seven principles of Kwanzaa is discussed. The seven principles of Kwanzaa are as follows:

  1. Unity: to strive for and maintain unity in families, communities, and race
  2. Self-Determination: to define, name, create, and speak for themselves
  3. Collective work and responsibility: To build and maintain their community together and collectively solve one another’s problems
  4. Cooperative Economics: To build and maintain their own stores, shops, and businesses to profit from together
  5. Purpose: To make a collective vocation of building and developing a community in order to restore their people to their traditional greatness
  6. Creativity: To always do as much as they can for the community and leave it better than they came into it
  7. Faith: To believe with all our heart in their people, parents, teachers, leaders, and the righteousness of the Black victory in their struggle

The principles of Kwanzaa are meant to unify and strengthen the Black community by celebrating family stories, a feast, and dancing. The African feast is called a Karamu and it is eaten on Dec. 31. The candles are ceremonial objects that represent the sun’s power to provide light. 

Another important object in Kwanzaa is the “kikombe cha umoja” otherwise known as “the unity cup.” The kikombe cha umoja is a special cup that is used to perform the libation (tambiko) ritual during the feast on the sixth day of Kwanzaa. The liquid inside of the cup represents the living dead whose souls stay with them on Earth where they worked. The Ibo of Nigeria believe that to drink the last part of a libation is to invite the wrath of spirits and the ancestors because the last part of the libation belongs to them. During the feast, the unity cup is passed to each guest to drink from it and promote unity. After the cup has been passed around to everyone, the eldest guest will pour the liquid (usually juice or water) in each directional way (North, East, South, West) to honor their ancestors. The eldest will ask the gods and ancestors to join their festivities and bless all people who did not join the gathering. After the blessing, the elder will pour the liquid on the ground and the group says “Amen.”

Many Kwanzaa gatherings are held at churches. It is common for families to have a cup specifically reserved for their ancestors and everyone else has their own individual cup. The last few ounces of the libation is poured in the host’s cup who drinks from it and passes it to the oldest person in the group to make a blessing. On the last day of Kwanzaa, the community celebrates what is called “Imani” and they share gifts with one another as a sign of growth, self-determination, achievement, success, and health. They exchange gifts with only members of immediate family and especially children to reward their accomplishments. It is encouraged to give handmade gifts to promote the idea of self-determination, purpose, and creativity and to avoid material consumption in the December holiday season. It’s common for a family to spend the year making candleholders, cards, or dolls for their guests. Accepting a gift signifies the obligation to fulfill the promise of the gift: for the recipient to follow the training of the host and stay in the social relationship.

Hanukkah:

(ARIANA GHALAMBOR/ La Plaza art)

Hanukkah is a Jewish festival that starts on Kislev 25 (Dec. 25 in the Gregorian calendar) and is celebrated for eight consecutive days. Hanukkah is a holiday celebrated in Judaism and is used to remember the rededication of the Second Temple of Jerusalem by the lighting of candles on each day of the festival. Even though the holiday wasn’t officially mentioned in Hebrew Scriptures (such as the Torah), Hanukkah came to be an infamous holiday and one of the most widely celebrated Jewish observations. Hanukkah starts on Friday, Dec. 11 to Friday, Dec. 18 in 2020. It lasts for eight days because the Talmud states that when Judas entered the Second Temple in Jerusalem, he found a small jar of oil that wasn’t used by Antiochus IV Epiphanes. The jar only had enough oil to burn for one day, but as the story goes, the oil was able to burn for 8 days until a new oil was found. Hanukkah includes a variety of religious and nonreligious customs and the most famous and important of all is the menorah lighting. A menorah is a candle holder with 8 branches to hold a candle stick in each and holder for the shammash (“servant”) candle that is used to light the other eight candles. In older times, Olive oil was used for lighting the menorah, but over time the Jewish people used regular wax candles of their choice. These candles are placed in the menorah consecutively each night of the festival from right to left but are lit from left to right. Usually the people celebrating this religious observance offer a blessing while the candles are lit at night. Due to the unfortunate hatred towards Jewish people and their traditions, the menorah is now brought inside the house because before when it was placed outside the home because of offending neighbors.

Winter Solstice:

Winter solstice, otherwise known as “Shabe-e-Yalda” in Iran is one of the most ancient Persian festivals celebrated every December 21 by Iranians globally. Yalda is the celebration of the winter solstice because it is the longest night of the year and last night of autumn. Yalda directly translates to “birth” because it refers to the birth of “Mitra”, the mythological goddess of light. This is because the days get longer and the nights get shorter in winter, so Iranians celebrate the last night of autumn as the renewal of the sun and victory of light over darkness. On Shab-e-Yalda, people gather in groups of family, friends, and neighbors (usually at the home of grandparents or familial elders) eating fruits and reading Hafiz poems (a famous Persian poet). Eating is the most lengthy part of the night. Persians gather to eat typically red colored foods like watermelon, berries, and pomegranate to share the last remaining fruits from summer together. The fruits of Yalda have a symbolic meaning: watermelon symbolizes the sun by its spherical shape and is said to keep one safe from winter diseases. Pomegranate is the symbol of birth and the color red symbolizes the glow of life. Reading Hafez poems is one of the most quintessential aspects of Yalda. Each of the family members makes a secret wish as they open the book to a random page and the elder reads the selected poem loudly. Since the poem is believed to be the interpretation of the secret wish, the guests will try to guess the wishes of others.  Yalda is also celebrated in other formerly Persian Empire countries such Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Armenia and Azerbaijan sharing the same traditions and ways of celebration.

While there are many holidays celebrated at this time of year, it doesn’t mean they don’t have the same “winter-cheer.” One thing all of these holidays share is the gathering of family. It is important we all take the time to commemorate and spend time with our families, whether it be on a Zoom call or at home. Although more than 2 billion people globally celebrate Christmas, it is still important to recognize the 200 countries that celebrate other holidays in this time of year. 

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