Christmas isn’t universal: world religions celebrate tradition in December


In the United States, being surrounded by decorated trees, festive radio stations and constant shopping catalogs, it’s easy to forget that not everyone celebrates the Christian holiday of Christmas: including Marian girls. 

In Hinduism, the most important holiday is called Diwali. Mr. Mark Koesters said, “Diwali is a festival of lights. They light up all the cities.” This year, the 5-day celebration began on Nov. 14, around the time when the summer heat fades and cooler fall temperatures take its place. 

During this week, practicing Hindus begin to line their household doorways with clay lights and adorn their homes with fragrant jasmine garments made from flowers. Near the middle of the celebration, people spend a full day making sand mandalas outside of their houses in the shape of the lotus flower. These flowers serve to welcome guests and symbolize open-heartedness. In bigger cities, the streets are draped with lights for miles on end. On the final day of the festival, colorful firework shows are held in celebration of light over darkness. Individuals often host their own celebrations at home. 

Similarly to Diwali, Judaism has a holiday that is also known as a Festival of Lights. Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday that celebrates the triumph over the Hellenistic-Syrian tyrannical leader, Antiochus, which resulted in a re-dedication of the Second Temple. Every year, the feast is celebrated over eight days in either November or December. This timing is based on the original Hebrew calendar which follows the lunar cycle of the moon. This year, celebrations will take place from Dec. 10 to 18. 

The menorah, or “hanukiah” is a lamp that holds seven or nine candles, depending on the family’s tradition. The candles are lit in a left to right order, corresponding to the way that Hebrew is read. However, unlike Christmas, this is not a quintessential celebration in the faith. John Levy, (Mount Michael ’99 ) a “cafeteria Catholic” who was raised with a Jewish father, said, “its significance has grown partially to be an alternative to Christianity and so Jews can have their own celebrations during this time.” 

In the Islamic faith, the actual date of their faith-based celebrations is determined according to the lunar calendar, which is slightly shorter than the Gregorian calendar, the one followed by the United States. This means that some years, Eid-al Fitr can fall around the Christmas season, but it’s not limited to a scheduled date. Eid, the most important occasion in Islam, consists of a three-day celebration that rejoices the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting. 

Imam (the title for a leader of a mosque, comparable to a priest or rabbi) Daoudi, from the Tri Faith Initiative Muslim American Institute, said. “Eid-al Fitr is a time to socialize with the community, and for family to visit each other and friends.” In Islam, the holidays are more focused on celebrating the achievement of the community for doing God’s work, rather than celebrating individuals. 

“In the morning we have Eid prayers at the mosque and then afterwards we give Eidi (little money donations) to the kids and we usually go out for brunch afterwards and celebrate with parties the rest of the night. It’s just nice to accomplish something with your community and celebrate it,” senior Amal Imran said.

Lastly, though the Greek Orthodox Christmas is similar to the Catholic Christmas, there are some differences.  

“On Christmas Eve, we go to a service at night, and then we have family over for a formal long dress, suit and tie party at our house,” senior Sylvia Poulos said. The Christmas Eve service usually lasts a few hours and is fully recited in Greek. Poulos said, “In Greece, Christmas is celebrated by sailors decorating their boats in lights and floating around the island visiting families and friends.” But similarly to Hanukkah, Christmas is not the most important holiday in the Greek Orthodox faith. The most meaningful holiday is Easter, which includes a multiple day celebration. 

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