As we're overloaded with images of a North American Christmas, it is easy to forget that many different cultures and religions have their own celebrations this time of year. Take this opportunity to learn about their traditions. You may even discover new activities and customs for your own family!
Ramadan is an Islamic holiday that takes place in the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. It is a special month for more than one billon Muslims worldwide where inner reflection, devotion to God and self-control are demonstrated through fasting.
Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam, and as such, is focused on during Ramadan when Muslims abstain from food between dawn and sunset. The other tenets of Islam are also emphasized during this period. The holiday ends with Muslims celebrating their strengthened bond with Allah.
Saint Nicholas Day
Europeans recognize and honour Saint Nicholas, the patron saint of children.
A version of the contemporary North American Santa Claus, St. Nicholas is considered to be the primary gift-giver for many people in Europe, particularly Bulgarians. St. Nicholas is said to have instigated many of the traditions still associated with Christmas, including candy canes (fashioned after staves carried by Catholic bishops), stockings (which imitate the socks that would be drying by the fire when St. Nicholas was said to have thrown money down the chimney to aid young poor single women), and giving gifts in the night (St. Nicholas was said to have done this to encourage gift recipients to thank God for the gifts instead of him). St. Nicholas is not only credited to be the founder of these traditions, but he is also noted to have celebrated with a special feast on this day.
Bodhi Day, also know as Rohatsu, celebrates the enlightenment of Buddha by Zen Buddhists, under a fig tree known as the Bodhi Tree, or Tree of Awakening.
This Japanese festival is celebrated in the Mahayana tradition on the anniversary of the day when Siddhartha Gautama (also known as Buddha) discovered the Four Noble Truths. The Four Noble Truths include the following: 1. All beings are subject to suffering. Suffering is universal. 2. The cause of suffering is ignorance. Ignorance of one's self is the greatest ignorance. 3. Ignorance can be overcome. 4. The way to overcome ignorance is by way of the Eightfold Path.
The Eightfold Path is a guide to wisdom, ethics and mental discipline.
Monks will normally stand and meditate throughout the entire evening the night before Rohatsu or practice a special form of meditation called a sesshin.
Hanukkah / Chanukah
Hanukkah (or Chanukah) is a Jewish celebration of the victory and rededication of the Jerusalem Temple.
Hanukkah begins after sunset on the 24th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev and continues for eight days. It is characterized by the lighting of candles and is often referred to as the “festival of lights”.
The holiday commemorates a moment in Jewish history when, during a celebration surrounding the dedication of a temple, a menorah that was expected to stay lit for only a day continued burning for eight days instead. Jews light one candle on the menorah every night for eight nights, and often exchange gifts each night as well. This holiday is historically not as vital as others in the Jewish faith, but in modern times has become more of a focus due to its proximity to Christmas.
Dong zhi is a Korean holiday that normally begins on or around December 22nd.
Dong zhi is a celebration of Winter Solstice, wherein rites are performed to battle evil spirits. Dong zhi, also called “A-Se,” is the longest night of the year, and is considered the beginning of the New Year. To commemorate this, Koreans exchange calendars. Another custom involved in Dong zhi is eating a red bean cereal soup, intended to help in driving away the evil spirits.
Kwanzaa is a pan-African celebration of family, community and culture, stemming from traditional harvest rituals.Kwanzaa was created by Dr. Maulana Karenga as an occasion to celebrate family, culture and community. The holiday takes its name from early African harvest celebrations. Kwanzaa was created to affirm and celebrate the vision and values of African culture, and to serve as a regular, bonding celebration between people of African descent living on the African continent and throughout the world. Kwanzaa is based around seven principles: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, co-operative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.
Kullubi, Feast of St. Gabriel
This pilgrimage marks the victory of Ethiopian leader Ras Makonnen.
The 19th day of each Ethiopian month commemorates St. Gabriel, the patron saint of homes and churches. The festivities are particularly important in December, when St. Gabriel is celebrated with a huge pilgrimage to his church at Kullubi.
Birth of Guru Gobind Singh Ji
This day celebrates the birth of the Sikhs' tenth great master and teacher.
Guru Gobind Singh was instrumental in creating the Sikhs’ identity by focusing on their purity. It was Gobind Singh who created the "Five Ks", which require Sikhs to have Kesh (hair), Kripan (daggers), Kada (bracelets), Kangha (combs) and Kachcha (underwear).
Three Kings Day/ Día de los Reyes
Three Kings Day marks the final day of Christmas (the 12th day) and is widely celebrated in Latin America.
This traditional holiday corresponds with the Christian Feast of the Epiphany commemorating the arrival of the Three Kings in Bethlehem. Although the figure of Santa Claus still exists in this tradition, the Three Kings are more prominent. These three men, also called the "three wise men," followed a star to meet Christ. Upon meeting him, they proffered upon him gold, frankincense and myrrh. Thus, the Three Kings are seen as gift-givers and are said to travel by camel to deliver gifts to the children. The evening before Three Kings Day, children place shoes in their doorways so that the Kings will know how many children to leave gifts for.
Chinese New Year
This is the beginning of the New Year based on the Chinese calendar, signifying peace and happiness for family and friends. This New Year marks the Year of the Pig. Chinese New Year celebrations are noted for their color and spectacle. Expect to see plenty of red (a lucky color), colourful costumes, live entertainment, including traditional music, dance, and more.
According to Chinese folklore, many centuries ago the Great Buddha invited all the animals of the world to join him in his celebration of the New Year. As the legend goes, only 12 animals made an appearance, including the Rat, the Ox (or Buffalo), the Tiger, the Rabbit (Hare, or Cat), the Dragon, the Snake, the Horse, the Sheep (or Goat), the Monkey, the Rooster, the Dog and the Pig (or Boar). These 12 animals came to represent the 12 signs of Chinese zodiac and as a symbol of their loyalty to the Buddha.
Otherwise known as the Spring Festival, the Chinese New Year is the most important holiday in China and is a celebration of rebirth and new life. New beginnings bring the opportunity to usher in the New Year with good luck. Everything begins fresh during this time, so before the start of the Spring Festival, houses are cleaned, debts are paid, hair is cut, and new clothes are purchased. Also in preparation for the New Year, vertical scrolls of red paper with characters intended to bring good luck and ward away evil are hung on house doors. Incense is burned both in houses and in temples as a sign of respect to ancestors and people begin to greet each other with tidings of "Gung Hey Fat Choy," translated as "wishing you health and prosperity."