Holiday spirit: a look at traditions, celebrations across religions, cultures

December 5, 2017

Quinita Thomas

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December comes to represent endings and new beginnings. Students rejoice (or not) as finals close out the semester and a well-deserved break comes their way. After class is out, however, many students celebrate various holidays in their culture and religion.

Recognizing a multitude of holidays is important this time of year, according to Jeff Scholes, associate professor of philosophy and director of the Center for Religious Diversity and Public Life.

“While Hanukkah and Christmas are the best known religious holidays in the winter season, we should all be aware that these are not the only ones celebrated,” said Scholes in an email.



During Hanukkah, an eight-day celebration that commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple, those who practice Judaism light one candle nightly on a menorah. The holiday, which is also known as the “festival of lights,” is celebrated worldwide.

While many traditions are followed during Hanukkah, there are different ways to celebrate the holiday, according to Anthony Cordova, director of MOSAIC.

“There are some traditions that are followed and there are different days that you celebrate leaning up to the actual date,” said Cordova. “You have different gifts, and different ways that you celebrate.”

Traditional foods include latkes, or fried potato pancakes, donuts, also called “sufganiot,” brisket and cheeses, among others.

This year, Hanukkah takes place Dec. 12-20.



Muslims celebrate one holiday in December: Mawlid an-Nabi, which took place on Dec. 5. The holiday commemorates the birthday of Islamic prophet Muhammad.

Mawlid an-Nabi is part of the month of Muharram, one of the four sacred months that begins the new Islamic year.

This month, Muslims will put colored lights on the roads and their homes, along with green flags. Sweets and drinks are often given from home to home, and in some areas, Muslims exchange gifts, since this is also the month of blessings.

Muslims will also celebrate by focusing on Muhammad’s teachings, say prayers and give to charity.



Kwanza will begin on Dec. 26 and end Jan. 1. The week-long holiday derives its name from from the Swahili phrase “matunda ya kwanzaa,” which means “first fruits of the harvest.”

Inspired by sub-Saharan African festivals, this holiday began in the 60’s, according to Scholes.

“Kwanzaa, which begins the day after Christmas, honors the African heritage of African Americans and is revered by many in our country,” he said.

Traditional foods include yams, squash, bananas and sweet potatoes. Other meals may include jambalaya, pepper stew and buttermilk biscuits.

Similar to the Menorah for Jewish holidays, a Kinara is lit. In this case, however, the candles celebrate a moral value, including Umoja, which means “unity.”



Those who practice Hinduism may celebrate Diwali, or the “festival of lights.”

Diwali is an 11-day celebration that recognizes the “triumph of light over darkness,” according to Cordova. In India, Diwali took place on Oct. 19. At UCCS, the Indian Student Alliance hosted Diwali on Nov. 4.

“It goes according to a lunar calendar. Diwali is a lot about family and food. It also is one of the events that the Indian students share with the campus,” he said.

Foods include sweets such as mithai, or Indian sweetmeats, snacks made from chickpeas, rice and lentils, chirotes, made from flour and powdered sugar, along with others.

Colorful lights, dancing, firework displays and prayers are included among the celebration.



     Pagans may celebrate winter solstice on Dec. 21. In the northern hemisphere, it will occur at 9:28 a.m.

“Many pagans celebrate the winter solstice in late December as a way of connecting to nature and planning for the future,” said Scholes.

A Pagan is a follower of either a polytheistic or pantheistic religion, according to Pagan Federation International. Paganism is an ancestral religion based on the whole of humanity. It is still common in countries such as Japan and India.

Burning a Yule log and meditation rituals are some ways to celebrate the solstice.