Christmas and Its Peculiar Traditions
Even if you do not celebrate it, you have probably heard about Christmas. Decorated trees, Santa Claus bringing gifts, and Christmas songs are part and parcel of this annual religious and cultural festival commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ. Christmas is observed by billions of people around the world, most commonly on December 25.
However, apart from the symbols common to all, different countries have developed distinctive traditions which are celebrated during the Christmas season.
In Caracas, the capital of Venezuela, Mass on Christmas morning is a very important part of the holiday, a Mass to which the citizens come . . . roller skating.
Another interesting example of local traditions is found in Norway, where Christmas Eve is thought to coincide with the arrival of evil spirits. Apparently, to protect themselves from these creatures, families hide all their brooms before going to sleep.
What else? Well, we have mentioned Christmas Trees. But what if in your country there are no spruce or pine trees? In India, banana and mango trees are decorated instead.
Krampus is a mythical beast known in the folklore of the Alpine region and a scary friend of Santa Claus who punishes naughty children | © Giulio / Flickr
A Non-Religious Alternative to Christmas
December 25 is the birthday not only of Jesus Christ, but also of one of the most influential scientists of all time – Isaac Newton. Not to be left out of the celebrating, some atheists and skeptics choose to celebrate “Newtonmas” instead of Christmas.
Newtonmas explained in The Big Bang Theory by Sheldon
A Pan-African Celebration of Togetherness – Kwanzaa
Kwanzaa is a pan-African, seven-day celebration of the African harvest that occurs between December 26 and January 1. This holiday was created 50 years ago by an African-American professor, Maulana Karenga, in order to support community-building and reaffirm the great value of cultural grounding. Every day of Kwanzaa, one candle is lit. Seven candles symbolize the seven principles of African culture: unity, self-determination, responsibility, economics, purpose, creativity, and faith.
The Seven Principles of Kwanzaa | © soulchristmas / Flickr
The Festival of Lights – Hanukkah
Light plays a role as an important symbol in most of the winter holidays. Hanukkah, a Jewish holiday commemorating the re-dedication of the second Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, is also known as “The Festival of Lights”. Hanukkah is celebrated for eight days and nights. At the center of the celebration is a special candle holder known as a Chanukah menorah. A menorah has eight candle holders representing the eight days and eight nights of the celebration and an additional holder set apart from the rest for the shamash – an “attendant” candle that is used to kindle the other lights. Hanukkah is a holiday mostly celebrated in homes where Jewish families get together for rituals, songs, and prayers.
Hanukkah menorah by Yair Aronshtam / Flickr
Recreating the Holy Pilgrimage during Las Posadas
Celebrated primarily by Mexicans and originating in Spain, Las Posadas comprises nine days of religious observance that takes place from 16 until 24 December. Every evening of Las Posadas, Mexican families participate in Christmas processions that aim to re-create the pilgrimage of Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus to Bethlehem. The holiday is rooted in Catholic tradition, but Christian Latinos who belong to other churches also follow the tradition. During the celebration, each participant in the procession carries a candle inside a paper lampshade, stopping at each house to sing and pray. The procession’s final destination is either one of the participating homes or the church, where it continues with caroling, feasting, and breaking a piñata.
Celebrating the Light – Winter Solstice Festivals
Not all December holidays relate to religious practices. Some celebrations focus on other aspects of this time of the year, such as the position of the Sun.
The Dōngzhì Festival is celebrated in the East of Asia during the winter solstice, on December 22. The festival originated from the philosophy of ying and yang – balance and harmony in the cosmos. The celebration ends the time of short nights since from that date the hours of daylight will be steadily longer, which means that the positive energy flowing from light will increase.
Another holiday related to the winter solstice is celebrated on the same day in Iran. Shab-e Yalda is a festival of the “longest and darkest night of the year”. During that night, friends and family come together to eat, drink, and read poetry until late after the midnight hour. Fruits and nuts are served, of which pomegranates and watermelons are particularly significant. The importance of these fruits relates to their color as the color red symbolizes the crimson hues of dawn and the glow of life.
And how are you going to spend this holiday season?