Arielle Fischer, features editor
Hanukkah is a traditional Jewish celebration that represents faith and freedom. The eight days of Hanukkah are symbolic of the eight days of candlelight the temple was blessed with following the destruction of the temple. This year, Hanukkah began on Nov. 28 and will be celebrated until Dec. 6.
Dr. Anne Lewison, associate professor of anthropology and chair of the Interfaith Council, said “Hanukkah is a festival that commemorates the restoration of Jewish rule in Israel, it’s connected with freedom and self-rule. After the Greeks had been kicked out long ago, the Jewish people returned to the temple to find most of it destroyed. The conventional way to celebrate any event was to use oil and light lamps, but only a small bottle of oil was left, so the Jewish people lit the candles anyway, and it lasted eight days.”
Hanukkah also holds several traditions that are both globally observed and family-specific. Cassidy Fine, freshman, follows both traditional and unique customs to observe the festival every year.
“On the first night, we usually do a close family thing where we light the candles,” Fine said. “Every year we would get a new menorah and we would each get to pick out our own candles for each Hanukkah. The first few nights we would do small gifts and have a family dinner. Usually, when the weekend was, since some days of Hanukkah always fall on a weekend, our local Synagogue would have a party and everyone would light candles together and eat all the oily and fried foods. Hanukkah is a very oily holiday from its history, so to celebrate, people make foods like doughnuts, latkes or really anything you can deep-fry.”
Both Lewinson and Fine emphasized that Hanukkah and Christmas are quite different from one another. While gifts may be given, they are not a central or traditional part of the holiday, thus Hanukkah is meant to represent steadfastness, as well as to reflect on one’s blessing and connect to past generations through giving and goodwill.
In Hindu culture, Diwali is the Festival of Lights. This holiday spiritually symbolizes the victory of good over evil, knowledge’s power over ignorance and light vanquishing darkness. For some around the world, Diwali also coincides with the new year and the autumn harvest, bringing about new beginnings and good fortune. During Diwali, Hindu people will light their homes and businesses with Diyas, which are small oil-lamps made of baked clay, and scatter areas with Rangoli decorations of colored powder.
This festival falls during the Hindu month of Karthikamasam, usually in October or November. It marks the return of Lord Rama after 14 years in exile and his victory over the Demon Ravana. In some areas, the holiday is observed for five consecutive days, with each day having different significance and festivities. However, the third night, known as Lakshmi Puja, is the main celebratory day. Often, fireworks are lit in the evening, and families will gather to feast and exchange gifts.
The Hindu Goddess Lakshmi is worshipped on the main day of Diwali, and is thought to enter homes and bring blessings of health, prosperity and wealth. The lights and candles are left on in the belief that Lakshmi will have no trouble finding her way in. The main celebration of Diwali follows the Lunisolar calendar and occurred this year on Nov. 4, but will occur next year on Oct. 2, 2022.
According to the BBC, the Pagan celebration of Winter Solstice, or Yule, is one of the oldest and most widely celebrated winter holidays in the world, predating Christmas and many other popular observations. It reflects the shortest day of the year, encouraging people that longer daylight hours are on their way. Many other holidays, like Christmas and Hanukkah, have adopted customs from the Pagan celebration, which is typically seen denoting the holiday season.
Historically observed by the Germanic people, scholars have ended up connecting the festival to commemorate the Norse God Odin, the Wild Hunt and a Pagan or Anglo-Saxon holiday known as Modraniht. Each year, Yule begins on the winter solstice, or Dec. 21, and is observed for 12 days. Each day holds a devotion to pagan deities, the home and community. Some Yule festivities include decorating homes and businesses with holly and evergreen boughs, family feasts, community bonfires, mistletoe and giving gifts to loved ones and close friends. There was also thought to be a figure, very similar to what is modernly known as Santa Claus, except he adorns fresh holly and leaves, instead of a red coat.
During recent centuries, Yule endured a Christian reformulation, where it is now referred to as Yuletide or Christmastide. This involves certain events in Christian Christmas corresponding with that of the pagan festivities. Eventually, as Christianity spread across Europe, it was combined with Yule, forming the celebration of Christmas millions observe around the world.
Celebrated from Dec. 26 through Jan. 1, Kwanzaa is an African holiday signifying the first fruits of the harvest. With the literal translation of Kwanzaa being “first” in Swahili, Kwanzaa holds plenty of meanings in different cultures and ethnic groups around Africa. During these days, people in the community come together to celebrate good fortune and express their gratitude. Although the symbolic value of the holiday revolves around the harvest, the deeper significance lies in the efforts of building a stronger and more vibrant community that maintains an element of wholesomeness. The main reflections of Kwanzaa are to share in the fruits of labor, as well as recommit to an all-around achievement of a better life, community and people.
One tradition of Kwanzaa is fasting, wherein people will refrain from eating food during the day to cleanse the mind and spirit. However, the most central tradition of Kwanzaa is the candle lighting ceremony. First, the ceremony begins with Tambiko, where the family gathers to pay homage to ancestors. The elder pours wine or spirits into the Kikombe Cha Umoja, or Unity Cup, and makes a statement honoring late ancestors. The elder drinks from the cup, then passes it around to the rest of the family. Then, one of seven candles are lit each day, signifying certain values and symbols. The center candle is the black candle, representing African people everywhere on Earth. The three red candles signify the blood of past ancestors, and are placed to the left of the black candle. The three green candles are placed at the right of the black candle and symbolize life, ideas, the future, and the earth. Starting on Dec. 26, the black candle is lit, then a different candle is lit each day following, alternating from the left to right sides.
The sixth day of Kwanzaa, or Karamu, is a joyful celebration with food and dance, where family and friends come together to observe the values of the holiday and togetherness. Also on Karamu, children are typically given small gifts that can be either handmade or similarly meaningful.