Merry Diwali: Holiday Celebrations around the World 

By Amanda Bertsch

The month of December evokes images of trees and mistletoe, snowmen and Midnight Mass. However, many cultures and religions around the world celebrate holidays during this wintery month. From Hanukkah to Wiccan rites, there are many different holidays to discover far beyond Santa Claus.

Hanukkah, an eight-day Jewish celebration, commemorates the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, which was rededicated in the 2nd century BC. This year, the observance begins at sunset on Tuesday, December 16th, and ends at nightfall Wednesday, December 24th. Hanukkah is also known as the Festival of Lights or the Feast of Dedication. Jewish families light one candle of a menorah, a nine-branched candelabrum, every night. The ninth candle is typically used for lighting. Playing dreidel, a top-spinning game is a traditional Hanukkah activity, and oil-based foods (e.g. donuts or latkes, pancakes made with potatoes and onions) are often served. Small gifts are generally given every day with one large gift on the last day.

Diwali is a five-day celebration in India where observers decorate their houses and gardens with oil-based lamps or candles. It is meant to welcome the goddess of prosperity, Lakshmi, as well as celebrate the hero Rama and his wife Sita. Both can be found in the classic Ramayana. Some Tri-City students may remember these characters from English 1-2.

Kwanzaa is an African American tradition meant to honor African and African American culture. It is primarily observed in the United States, but recently other nations in the Americas have adopted the custom. Kwanzaa takes place from December 26th to January 1st. 

St. Lucia’s Day is a Swedish celebration of Saint Lucia, a girl who was martyred for her faith. The celebration is December 13th and has its origin in the monks who brought Christianity to Sweden. It is considered one of the largest celebrations in Sweden.

Omisoka is a celebration of the New Year observed through parts of Japan. Buddhist temples strike a bell one hundred and eight times to ward off earthly desires. Many people also prepare a drink of fermented rice, sometimes passing this out among crowds.

Many pagans celebrate the winter solstice (December 21st this year) as the beginning of the sun’s return. These people gather in places around the world with druids to chant and sing. An especially popular locale is Stonehenge, an ancient ruin where the sun can be seen rising between two stones. In addition, pre-Christian Scandinavia’s pagan Yule celebration is the origin of the Yule log tradition.

Finally, of course, there is Christmas. Many Tri-City students and teachers, religious and non-religious alike, celebrate this popular holiday meant to commemorate the birth of Christ. Observers may attend Midnight Mass at a church or simply open presents on Christmas Day, December 25th. Many also purchase an evergreen tree, decorating it with silvery tinsel, garlands, ornaments, and/or candy canes.

No matter what holiday or holidays you observe, December is a busy month, full of merriment and goodwill. As you commence your celebration this year, think of the many other holidays across the United States and the world. There is truly something out there for every group.

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