Let the flurry of festivities worldwide begin.
Story by Gloria Gale
First observed in 1966, the festival of Kwanzaa celebrates the first fruits of the African harvest and has become an annual event of African-American culture. This 7-day event, Dec. 26 – Jan. 1, honors traditions of family, unity, good morals and community, honoring the seven principles of African Heritage. Candles are lit on a Kinara to acknowledge the cultural customs of the diaspora. Many families gather together for a rousing feast called Karamu at the end of the holiday.
Kwanzaa was created by activist Maulana Karenga
December brings long, chilly nights to those in the northern hemisphere. As the shortest days of the year, the winter solstice has been acknowledged for centuries with secular celebrations. Because nature and the absence of daylight is so intrinsic to the winter solstice, many cultures around the world have rituals that incorporate these two elements in the festivities.
To honor the longest night of the year, the Hopi and Zuni people of northern New Mexico celebrate Soyal. Dancing and singing traditional songs of the elders highlight this joyous time. Soyal also celebrates the new cycle of the sun or Wheel of the Year. Protective spirits embodied in handcrafted Kachinas and spirit sticks (Pahos) are used in tribal blessings.
When the holy second temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by a pagan army, a small band known as the Maccabees was called upon to defend and rebuild the temple. The Festival of Lights, as Hanukkah is known, is a joyous holiday for the Jewish people. It commemorates a time when oil was found amid the temple rubble. The oil lasted 8 days instead of one – which is said to be a miracle. Candles are traditionally lit on an 8-armed menorah. Children often play with a spinning top, the dreidel, while families share in the festivities by eating jelly donuts called sufganiyot and potato latkes.
Spinning the dreidel is a traditional Hanukkah game
Saint Lucy’s Day
Another holiday known to bring light into the dark winter season is Saint Lucy or Lucia’s Day. Celebrated in mid-December, this mostly Scandinavian holiday commemorates the martyrdom of a young Roman girl who later became a saint. During celebrations, boys carry stars on poles while girls are dressed in white robes with red sashes. Some girls don a wreath lined with candles as it’s said the young martyr would have done to free up her hands while she fed the poor. As the children join in song at holiday events, the eldest daughters are generally chosen to serve saffron buns and coffee to guests on this happy feast day.
Annual festival remembering the birth of Jesus Christ. It is celebrated on December 25th as a religious and cultural celebration among billions of people around the world. The celebratory customs in various countries range from recognizing Advent, adorning a Christmas tree, Christmas music and caroling, and gift giving. Several related and interchangeable figures include Santa Claus, Saint Nicholas, and Father Christmas. Like many who observe Christmas reverently and with a buoyant dose of goodwill, people throughout the world have their own distinctive seasonal festivities.
Nativity scenes can be displayed in different items
Diwali is recognized by Hindus around the globe and is one of the largest of winter celebrations particularly in India. During this 5-day event, celebrating the return of Lord Rama, people delight in decorating entire communities by stringing lights and colored lanterns. Families will gather together to sing and remember ancestors by lighting small clay pots (diyas), feasting, and making kolam, elaborate patterns with colored rice or grains on the floor. Engaging together to bring light into the world shows respect during Diwali.
Traditionally a Mexican Christmas festival, Las Posadas (“The Inns”) is celebrated by many with Latino heritage throughout Central and Latin America. It commemorates the 9-month journey by Mary and Joseph during her pregnancy. Children dress up as the wandering couple accompanied by a small group of worshipers. As they stop at one house per evening asking for shelter they are turned away until the final night when they welcomed into an Inn. Feasting, dancing and breaking a pinata are traditional events at the culmination of the holiday.