Different Faiths, Same Holiday Season

Reese Chatman, Campus Carrier features editor

Giles and her family on Christmas Day. Courtesy of Jillian Giles

The holiday season is a joyful time for many. From thanksgiving to New Year’s, houses and businesses are covered in decorations in celebration. In America, Christmas is the most widely celebrated holiday. About 64% of Americans identify as Christian, and in turn, recognize Christian holidays like Christmas. However, there are still an incredibly large number of Americans who are affiliated to other faiths and celebrate the holidays differently.

Sophomore Jillian Giles said grew up in a devout catholic household.

“We would always go to the Holy Days of Obligation.” She said. “Those are the days that aren’t Sunday, but we still recognize. Days like All Saints Day and All Souls Day. I would describe them as recognizing very vital points in the history of our faith. Even though that day is not observed on a Sunday, you are still supposed to go to that mass.”

Giles celebrates the holidays very similarly to most Americans but there are a few differences.

“We do this thing called advent, which I know some people have probably heard of,“ she said. “Those are the four weeks leading up to Christmas. There’s an advent wreath with a while candle that you light on Christmas. The point of advent is really prayer and preparation for Jesus’s birth.”

Giles said that for her family, Christmas season really starts after Christmas Day.

“Christmas is like 12 days,” she said. “Then on January 6, that is when we observe when the wisemen actually got to Jesus and that is really when Christmas ends.”

A purple wreath celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. Courtesy of Jillian Giles

While Giles was raised in the church, she says there was a specific point where she began to take her faith as her own.

“In Catholicism, we have something called confirmation, which is when you make the decision to choose this faith, and that you weren’t just born into it,” she said. “You do it when you are about 15 or 16 years old. I always knew that confirmation was something I wanted to do. Church has always been a huge part of my life and provided me with a sense of belonging. I see my faith as a journey that I want to be on with these people.”

As the years have gone on, Giles says that the holiday season has started to look a little different than when she was younger.

“It feels like every year, my mom wants to decorate for Christmas closer and closer to the actualdate of Christmas,” she said. “I think it’s just mostly out of reverence and recognizing the truesymbolism of the holiday. All Catholics are not the same, so I know not all of them do this, but that’s the way it’s been for us.”

Giles says that the holiday season always ties back to the same theme for her family.

“Every single year, my mom makes me open the last present,” she said. “It’s always Jesus.” Freshman Ananya — was raised in a Hindu household and says that there are a number of common misconceptions people associate with it.

“It is often mistaken to be a polytheistic religion,” she said. “it is a monotheistic polymorphic religion, which means one god in many forms. Hinduism’s main ideologies are karma and darma, which the latter most don’t know about. I would describe it as your own path and being very in tune with your spirituality and nature.”

Ananya’s upbringing caused her to go beyond being casually religious, and instead being very devout towards it.

Achari celebrating Diwali. Courtesy of Ananya Achari

“My parents were born in India, and were raised Hindu,” she said. “I was also born there but I was very young and was mostly raised here. Religion has also been non-discussable as far as whether I believe it or not, so at times it did feel like it was being forced on me. Then, when I got to high school, I became less afraid to embrace it because my school was very diverse. I then started to get into meditation because I had never really tried it before. There was one time Iwas doing it and I actually saw one of our lords. That was very much a bigger picture moment for me, and it was that experience that made my faith my own.”

The holidays look a little different for Ananya and her family, but she still appreciates how others choose to celebrate.

“It’s not necessarily a rule in Hinduism that you can’t experience different things,” Ananya said. “I think that’s great because I love Christmas season. It’s such a happy time, and I love experiencing that even if I don’t fully celebrate all of it. Like, I didn’t know who Santa was when Iwas little, but I’ll always tell someone Merry Christmas.”

One of the many Hindu celebrations coincides with the holiday season. Diwali, the celebration of lights usually takes place during mid-October to mid-November.

“My family and I would put the lights up for Diwali,” Achari said. “After it was over, we would just keep them up because it was Christmas time, so that’s one thing we do during Christmas time that I see lots of people also do.”

Gift giving has always been a major aspect of Christmas. However, for Achari, it has been a component of the season that is different from most.

“I see people go all out with presents,” Achari said. “My parents would only do gifts for us when we were kids, and even then, it would only be one. That’s a big difference.”

There are several other holidays and celebrations that Achari and her family recognize.

Achari and her friend celebrating Navaratri. Courtesy of Ananya Achari

“I would say I celebrate all of them,” she said. “Just this past October, we celebrated Navaratri, which is a celebration of our goddesses, celebrating a different goddess on each of the three days. We dance a lot. It will start at about 10 and go on into the morning.”

Even groups at Berry join in on celebrating Hindu traditions. AAPI recently put on a lantern painting event in recognition of Diwali.

“I love that,” she said. “I love that Berry is making an effort to incorporate my culture.”

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