The holidays are a memorable time for many. It’s the season for decorating, singing, and enjoying each other’s company. During this season, people have their own special traditions. From Christmas to Hanukkah to St. Lucia’s Day, let’s take a look at some of the various holiday traditions throughout the world.
Christmas: This Christian holiday celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ and is a religious and cultural holiday. During Christmas, people will exchange gifts, decorate trees, attend special services at church, mail holiday cards, and eat hearty meals with family and friends. Another favorite tradition is Santa Claus. Within the Greek and Russian Orthodox churches, the holiday is held 13 days after the 25th, on the Epiphany, or Three Kings Day, when it is believed that the Three Wise Men finally arrived at Jesus in the manger. Some fun facts about well-known Christmas traditions are: in 1931, construction workers put the first Christmas tree in Rockefeller Plaza; poinsettias were brought from Mexico to America in 1828; and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was created in 1939 in a poem used to bring customers to the Montgomery Ward department store.
Hanukkah: For eight days in November or December, the Jewish holiday Hanukkah or Chanukah occurs. Also known as the Festival of Lights, the holiday commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem during the second century B.C. At this temple, one day’s worth of oil burned for eight days in it. Lighting of the menorah, food, games, and gifts are just a few traditions of Hanukkah. The menorah is a nine-branched candelabra holding nine candles. Each night during the eight days, another candle is added after sundown and the ninth candle, the shamash, is used to light the others. Blessings are recited during the lighting and the menorah is kept on a windowsill. Potato pancakes, latkes, and jam-filled donuts, sufganiyot, are served in Jewish families. As for games and gifts, dreidels are spun and presents that are thoughtful and meaningful are given. According to historians, gift-giving took off in the 1950s when child psychologists and rabbis started using gifts to make post-Holocaust Jewish children happy about their heritage and not sad about missing Christmas.
Kwanzaa: Based on ancient African harvest festivals, the word “Kwanzaa” means “first fruits of the harvest” in Swahili. Held from December 26th to January 1st, the holiday is a time when many African-Americans celebrate their African culture and heritage. Created in 1966 by Maulana Karenga, Kwanzaa traditions include meditations, decorating houses, wearing culturally significant clothing, and ceremonies with drumming and music. In addition, there are seven core principals related to African heritage. Karenga once described this as “a communitarian African philosophy.” The principles are umoja (unity), kujichagulia (self-determination), ujima (collective work and responsibility), ujamaa (cooperative economics), nia (purpose), kuumba (creativity), and imani (faith). Kwanzaa symbols are a mat, a candle holder with seven candles, corn, and unity cups, as well as, the black, red, and green flag, African books and artwork.
St. Lucia’s Day: Known to honor the saint of the third and fourth century, St. Lucia’s Day is celebrated on December 13th. The holiday was started by stories told by monks who brought Christianity to Sweden. In 304, St. Lucia was a young Christian girl who was killed for her faith and martyred. It is said that she secretly brought food to the Christians being persecuted in Rome. St. Lucia would wear candles on her head, leaving her hands free to carry food. Today, holiday traditions are celebrated by girls in white dresses with red sashes around their waists, and a crown of candles on their heads. In addition, national Lucias are chosen to visit hospitals and nursing homes. While there, they sing a song about St. Lucia and hand out ginger snap biscuits, known as pepparkakor. Families will gather and eat lussenkatts for breakfast, which are buns flavored with saffron and raisins. St. Lucia’s Day is celebrated in Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Bosnia, and Croatia.
The beauty of all the holidays is that they all hold a special meaning for people across the world. In addition, they all offer everyone a feeling of peace on earth at the end of the year.