BY BAY COLT
As the winter solstice draws nearer and the busy times of the holiday season loom ever closer, people around the world are preparing for several hectic weeks of preparations and overtime in order to cram for days off to spend with their family—but not everyone’s December looks the same as the average all-American Christmas. The winter season is varied and rich with unique traditions that span the globe, so let’s take a look at some of the many ways people will be celebrating winter this year.
For instance, one winter holiday that is easily misunderstood by the typical person is the Jewish festival of Hanukkah. This eight day holiday follows the Hebrew lunisolar calendar, meaning it lands on different dates every year, but its frequent coinciding with Christmas has led many to believe that it’s “Jewish Christmas”, when in fact, Hanukkah celebrates something very different—the triumph of a band of rebels called the Maccabees who revolted against the oppressive Seleucid Empire in the first century. The tradition goes that after the revolt, there was only enough pure oil to light the menorah for one day, but miraculously, it lasted for eight. Now, Jewish people across the world commemorate Hanukkah by lighting one candle on the menorah each night, accompanied by special prayers, gift-giving, and holiday foods like fried latkes and sufganiyot.
Another familiar holiday is Yule, historically celebrated by indigenous Germanic peoples but has undergone a revival among modern polytheists in recent decades. Many of Yule’s traditions and rituals were adopted into Christianity over time. Today, witches and pagans celebrate Yule in many diverse ways, drawing inspiration both from history and from the dominant Christian culture; some traditions include burning a yule log, decorating with herbs and greenery to honor nature, and dedicating oneself to personal transformation in the new year.
Though Hanukkah and Yule are very well-known, there are many winter holidays that are not so understood by the average person. One such holiday is Kwanzaa, which may sound familiar, but tends to be overlooked by white people, as the festival was not intended for them. Kwanzaa is a seven-day festival from December 26 to January 1 celebrating African-American culture, created by Civil Rights activists in 1966. Families celebrate by decorating their homes with colorful African fabric, works of art, and fresh fruits symbolizing African idealism. People tend to dress in traditional African clothing and study African history. Over time, Kwanzaa has come to be intermingled with Christmas and New Years and general adherence has waned, but some modern families still observe this holiday. There have been efforts to revive its traditions, such as by the Rochester Kwanzaa Coalition, which will be hosting community events and public Kwanzaa celebrations in New York this year to uphold these traditions.
Additional obscure winter holidays—that is, not in the mainstream—include: Soyal, a solstice celebration commemorated by the Zuni and Hopi native peoples to lure back the sun god; Las Posadas, a Latin American Catholic festival celebrating Joseph and Mary’s journey to Bethlehem; Krampusnacht, a German and central European holiday celebrating the devil Krampus; and other various minor religious holidays and fasts, mostly Christian ones, such as St. Lucy’s Day and St. Nicholas Day.
It is self-evident that with an increasingly global society, the world is vaster, richer, and more diverse than ever before—therefore, it is more important than ever to educate oneself and attain a global consciousness of others. Only celebrating the holidays of your own culture is perfectly acceptable, but being completely ignorant of how your neighbors may be marking their own winter season is not. Being insulated and sheltered within the comfort of the familiar or the dominant denies one the enriching experience of fully participating in a manifold community, understanding others and being understood in return. This winter season, remember that not everyone will be celebrating the same holidays—and that is a wonderful thing.