Also referred to as Deepavali, or “the festival of lights” this Hindu holiday is celebrated in the Northern Hemisphere in October or November of each year. Although generally observed during the autumn season, the holiday is celebrated to mark the harvest before the coming winter. Diwali takes place over a five-day period in which participants “celebrate both the attainment of nirvana by Mahavira (an Indian Sage), as well as a Death Anniversary of Swami Dayanand (Hindu religious leader).” On each of the five days, different festivities take place such as on day three a prayer is offered to Goddess Lakshmi, also known as Lakshmi puja. The celebration of Diwali is marked with fireworks, gathering together of families, and lighting of clay lamps and bonfires. Although different geographical areas and faiths have their own interpretation of the history of the holiday, the overarching theme is to celebrate the “victory of good over evil.”
One of the most celebrated winter celebrations in the United States is recognized on the 25th of December in honor of the birth of Jesus Christ. As a Christian holiday, the central focus is on the nativity, though the legend of Santa Claus (or Saint Nicholas), a jolly old man who delivers gifts to children all around the world on one single night, is an important highlight for children. Traditional customs include decorating homes with lights, greenery, Christmas pine trees adorned with festive ornaments and a star on the top branch (symbolizing the star which shone on the night of Jesus’ birth), the singing of hymns reflecting on the Savior, attending religious services, and the giving and receiving of gifts.
One of the most well-known Jewish holidays celebrates the re-dedication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem in the second century B.C. Also known as The Festival of Lights, on each of the eight days of Hanukkah one additional candle is lit on the traditional menorah from right to left. The menorah is a nine-branch candlestick. The first night of Hanukkah begins on the 25th day of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar which may take place any time between late November and late December. In addition to the lighting of the menorah, other traditional activities include playing dreidel, singing of traditional Hanukkah songs and the recitation of blessings and prayers. Latke is a traditional fried, potato pancake which is often eaten during the festival.
A seven day celebration from December 26th to January 1st which honors African-American culture and community. Kwanzaa was created to honor harvest celebrations of the African culture. The word Kwanzaa comes from a Swahili phrase “matunda ya kwanza” which means “first fruits.” Much like the lighting of candles during Hanukkah, during each of the seven nights of Kwanzaa, a different candle is lit on the Kinara, or candleholder, starting with the black candle in the center. With each candle spot is a corresponding principle which is discussed on the day the candle is lit. The seven principles are unity (umoja), self-determination (kujichagulia), collective work and responsibility (ujima), cooperative economics (ujamaa), purpose (nia), creativity (kuumba), and faith (imani). Other traditional celebrations of the holiday include singing and dancing, storytelling, and African drumming.
This Taoist winter festival takes place each year on December 27th in Hong Kong as a time of renewal and peace. The central focus of this holiday is to honor and pray to the “ghosts of their ancestors and the gods for the granting of wishes in the coming year.” The tradition of observing their deceased ancestors is concluded at the end of the festival, by priests who read the names of all individuals in the area. After reading the names aloud, the list of names is attached to a paper horse which is then lit on fire. The rising smoke is said to represent the names being taken up to the gods and ancestors above. Other festivities include fireworks, gathering with friends and family, and traditional tea ceremonies.
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