By: Lara Palmer
In countries around the world, there are many different winter holidays. Some are more publicized than others.
The first documentation of this festive holiday was in 336 A.D. in Rome. The 25th day of December was chosen as Jesus’ birthday though it does not have a date specified in the bible. The day is thought to be chosen based on the fact that many other cultures had festivals around the 25th of December. Despite this holiday originating because of Christianity, the modern people of the world have truly taken over, turning it into a day of feasting and gift-giving. Many of the traditions were borrowed from other cultures’ holidays. The Christmas tree was German, and Santa Claus originated in Turkey from a monk named St. Nicholas of Myra. It has been a federal holiday in the United States since the 1870s and celebrated by people all over.
The current Hanukkah is celebrated with various foods such as latkes or challah bread and lighting candles each night. Each night the people light a candle on the menorah and let it burn all night. This is to honor the miracle of oil burning for eight days when the Jewish people thought it would only be for one night. Many families give their children small gifts for each night of Hanukkah as well. The original purpose of this 8-day celebration is to celebrate the rededication of the 2nd Temple in Jerusalem during the 2nd century BCE.
The name Kwanzaa is derived from “matunda ya kwanza.” In Swahili, this means first fruit. This festival was originally created in 1960 by Dr. Maulana Karenga. He founded it as a way to bring African Americans together. On each night, from December 26th to January 1st, families gather to light candles on a Kinara. Each day represents a different principle created by Karenga. The seven principles are Umoja, Kujichajulia, Ujima, Ujamma, Nia, Kuumba, and Imani. They stand for Unity, Self-determination, Responsibility, Cooperative Economics, Purpose, Creativity, and Faith respectively. On the last day of Kwanzaa, people typically have a feast known as Karamu. Many gather and tell stories on this night as well.
This festival was given the name of “The Inns.” The 9 nights that Las Posadas takes place during are there to represent the journey that Mary and Joseph made to Bethlehem. During this festival, the people of Mexico have a procession each night. Children dress up and carry candles to the host’s house, representing the inns that Mary and Joseph went to on their trip. The procession takes place each night, leading to a different party each time. The parties themselves are quite joyous. People will often sing songs and play games. On the 24th of December, the last day of Posadas, they will have what is known as “Misa de Gallo” or “Rooster’s Mass”. This midnight service is typically held in honor of the birth of Jesus.
In ancient times, the Norse and Celtic people celebrated the return of the sun. These festivals lasted for 12 days, from the 21st of December to January 1st. The name is suspected to come from “jol” having to do with the god Odin. The Druids also called it “Alban Arthan” meaning Light of Winter. So many common Christmas traditions used today came from the celebrations of these two groups. The concept of mistletoe originates from a Nordic myth about the gods Loki and Baldur, and Druids used mistletoe as a type of medicine. The celebrations mostly consisted of burning yule logs, feasting, storytelling, and more. Though festivities were different for both, they still both honored the gods and nature during this time. Current celebrations include feasting, spending time with family, reflecting on the previous year and upcoming one. The modern people of the world celebrate Yule in so many ways. When asking a junior, Clay Lorigan, how he celebrates Yule he said “With my cousin, we make each other cards and we make sigils for each other. We also just try to hang out together.” Many people bring nature into their homes with pinecones and greenery too. Lighting candles is a way many bring in the Solstice as well.
Feast of Saint Lucia/Lussinatta
In Sweden, just on December 13th, the people celebrate the Feast of St. Lucia, otherwise known as Lussinatta. This day is to bring hope and light to the darkest time of the year. The first legend which is thought to of began the festivities is one of St. Lucia, a woman thought to be from the 4th century who brought food and warmth to the people hiding from the Romans at the time. The other is the story of Lussi, a mythical witch who was on the lookout for bad children or women who did not keep up with the housework. Many thought that the 13th was a very magical night and stayed inside to ward their homes from Lussi. The modern day celebrations include a procession where young children dress in white, holding candles, and parade through the streets singing a song dedicated to St. Lucia. Many families have their eldest daughter dress up in white and serve coffee and pastries such as saffron bread known as lussekatter.
Learning and Growing as People
All winter holidays around the world have a special meaning to the people that celebrate them and learning about these traditions can bring people closer to an understanding of each other and history. “It is important to learn about different cultures because it aids you in becoming more open, accepting, and tolerant of people, especially people who are different than you,” says Ms. Schoen, the Comparative Cultures teacher at Lenape Tech. “When making an effort to understand others, we learn about ourselves and our culture,” she goes on to say. This holds true all the time, not just during the holidays. Learning and teaching about different cultures, even if it’s simply a holiday, can give an insider’s perspective to the way others live their lives.