By Pei-Jen Hickey, YMCA of Delaware Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Coordinator
As children, many of us were comforted by our own family’s holiday traditions. Our sense of home was influenced by the smells, tastes and rituals of the familiar.
As we grow up and interact with more people from various backgrounds and cultures, we learn that there are many different ways to celebrate diversity and the holidays.
Over the recent Thanksgiving holiday, for example, I found myself celebrating a “Friendsgiving” where a number of us—far away from home for various reasons—came together to feast and connect. We shared a bit about how our families celebrate the December holidays, no two stories alike.
In a diverse world such as ours, we are truly stronger when we are inclusive, welcoming and celebrating all. The strength of our diversity becomes beautifully apparent during the holiday season in so many wonderful ways.
I’ve been intrigued by the traditions that friends and co-workers have shared with me over the years—including some who have invited me to celebrate together. Understanding how distinctly different, yet equally special, the December holidays can be across the country and around the world has inspired me to share a bit of what I’ve learned.
SWEDISH ST. LUCI’S DAY
Lucia Day (St. Lucy’s Day) – a feast of candlelit processions, saffron buns, mulled wine and talking animals. Here’s how to make the most of it. Lucia is celebrated on 13 December. Sankta Lucia (St. Lucy’s Day) is celebrated most commonly in Scandinavia, where it is a major feast day. Here in Scandinavia, she is represented as a woman in a white dress and red sash with a crown or wreath of candles on her head. In Sweden, girls dressed as Lucia (Lucy) carry rolls and cookies in procession as songs are sung. Boys take part in the procession as well, playing different roles associated with Christmas.
DONGZHI FESTIVAL – Chinese Winter Solstice Festival
There is an old saying that Dongzhi (/dong-jrr/ ‘the Winter Solstice’) is more important than Chinese Lunar New Year. Dongzhi has an important place in the traditional festivals of China. It is usually celebrated on December 20th or 21st, when the night is the longest and the day is the shortest in the northern hemisphere. A traditional holiday celebrated by many Chinese people, Dongzhi has a long history and certain notable customs.
Dongzhi (冬至) literally means ‘Winter’s Arrival’. It is one of the 24 solar terms of China’s traditional solar calendar. It has long been celebrated on (China’s) Winter Solstice when the night is longest, and the day is shortest in the Northern Hemisphere. Dongzhi became an imperially recognized traditional festival during the Han Dynasty era (206 BC – 220 AD). Chinese people celebrate Dongzhi Festival in many ways. The most popular ones are worshipping heaven and ancestors, saying the Nines of Winter, making rice wine, and eating dumplings and ginger rice.
Las Posadas, celebrated yearly from December 16-24, is a religious festival traditionally held in Mexico and parts of Latin America. Translating to ‘The Inns’ in Spanish, Las Posadas is an important part of the Christmas festivities. Over the nine nights of celebrations, parties are held at different people’s homes. Before each gathering, all the guests form a procession to mark Mary and Joseph’s search for an inn on the night of Jesus’s birth. The march is usually led by an angel as a symbolic act of Mary and Joseph finding shelter in a stable when they were unable to find lodging in Bethlehem. The parties are joyous occasions, including prayers, food, music, fireworks, and piñatas!
Hanukkah can also be spelled Chanukah. Both spellings are generally accepted so long as the total number of letters equals eight. The number eight represents the number of nights that, according to Jewish tradition, a small amount of oil miraculously burned providing light for the Maccabees to revolt and rededicate the Second Temple in Jerusalem. You can read a more detailed account of the story here. Hanukkah is not a major Jewish festival, but because of its proximity to Christmas, gift-giving has become more common amongst American Jews. Other traditions include frying potato pancakes with sour cream and apple sauce, playing a game of dreidel (spinning top) to win chocolate or small prizes, and lighting candles for eight nights in a row while reciting prayers.
Kwanzaa, meaning “first,” derived from “first fruits of the harvest,” is a week-long (December 26 – January 1) secular holiday that celebrates African heritage. It was created in the 1960s at the height of the Civil Rights Movement. Each of the seven days is marked with a candle lighting representing seven principles: Umoja (Unity), Kujichagulia (Self-Determination), Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity) and Imani (Faith).
THREE KINGS DAY
Known in Spanish as El Día De Los Reyes, January 6 marks the 12th day of Christmas celebrated in Spain, Latin America and many Hispanic communities across the United States. According to the Gospel of Matthew, the Three Wise Men (or Kings) found the newborn Jesus on his 12th day of life. The holiday is marked with many traditions, including gift exchanges, parades, baking of bread and other festivities. In some families, small gifts are left inside children’s shoes, which are left outside the door.
FEAST OF THE SEVEN FISHES
Italian Americans often celebrate Christmas Eve with many plates of food, including what is known as “The Feast of the Seven Fishes” or Festa dei sette Pesci. This tradition was born out of the Catholic tradition to abstain from eating meat (poultry or beef) leading up to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Instead, many Italian Catholics consumed fish, which turned into a holiday tradition. As a copious amount of food is central to Italian culture, many Italian American households serve more than seven dishes, including squid, cod, blue crabs, scallops, octopus, shrimp, clams, oysters, lobsters and more.
Original Blog from Chad Nico Hiu, March, 16 2021 Celebrating Diverse Holidays in December | YMCA
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