12.21.2017 by Susan Dawson O'Brien

Merry…everything! Cultures Celebrating the Holiday Season

happy holidays, languages, magnifying glass

Mele Kalikimaka may be Hawaii’s (and Bing Crosby’s) way to say “Merry Christmas,” but across the globe, the Christian celebration on Dec. 25 is only one of many religious holidays and traditions that fall near the start of winter, and each has a greeting of its own. Here are just a few to mark the season:

Mawlid el-Nabi

This Islamic holiday commemorates the birth of the Prophet Muhammad, founder of Islam. Many Muslims observed this holiday from the evenings of Nov. 30 to Dec. 1, but in a variety of ways, from simple celebrations at home to “sharing food, attending lectures, participating in marches, and reading the Qur’an and devotional poetry,” according to Pluralism.org. However, the day is noted differently by some who feel it “places too much emphasis on the human Prophet and distracts from the true divine source of revelation.” The website diversityresources.com states, “It is inappropriate to offer greetings on (this) occasion.”

Rohatsu (Bodhi Day)

This Buddhist holiday, which falls on Dec. 8, “celebrates the historical Buddha’s decision and vow to sit under the Bodhi tree until he reached spiritual enlightenment. It’s celebrated through meditation and is embraced similar to how Christians celebrate Christmas to honor Jesus Christ,” DeseretNews.com reports.

 “Happy Hanukkah/Happy Chanukah”
The Jewish eight-day Festival of Lights is celebrated by lighting the menorah nightly from Dec. 12-20 this year. During this observance of the Maccabean revolt in Egypt, History.com reports, traditions include eating potato pancakes and jam-filled donuts, exchanging gifts, and playing with the dreidel, a four-sided top. In Hebrew, Chanukah means “dedication,” Chabad.org states.

 Posadas Navidenas: “Feliz Navidad”

During the nine nights leading up to Christmas, many Hispanic Christians participate in community celebrations that focus on Mary and Joseph’s journey before the birth of Jesus. According to TripSavvy.org, “The word posada means “inn” or “shelter” in Spanish, and in this tradition, the Bible story of Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem and their search for a place to stay is re-enacted.” From Dec. 16-24, processions pass through neighborhoods in Mexico, as well as some in the U.S., where participants holding candles stop at “a particular home (a different one each night), where a special song (La Cancion Para Pedir Posada) is sung,” asking for shelter, TripSavvy says. When the participants are welcomed into the home, they are treated to tamales, hot beverages, and candy scavenged after breaking a piñata.

“A Blessed Winter Solstice”

On Dec. 21 this year, “The earth is most inclined away from the sun. It is the most southern or northern point depending on the hemisphere,” Interfaith-Calendar.org states. This date, celebrated by Pagans, Druids, and Wiccans, also honors “the winter-born king, symbolized by the rebirth of the sun.” England’s Stonehenge ruins are the site of one of the most famous Solstice celebrations, with thousands of people gathering “to chant, dance and sing while waiting to see the spectacular sunrise,” HuffingtonPost.com reports.

“Happy Boxing Day”

The history of this celebration is twofold. On one hand, according to MyNorthwest.com, British servants had to work on Dec. 25; “the day after Christmas, cooks, footmen, valets, butlers, and others finally got a day off to visit their families, (and were) sent off (by their employers) with a box of gifts, bonuses and food.”

On the same day, “Church alms boxes, where people donated money and items for the less fortunate, were opened and distributed the day after Christmas creating a new December holiday,” Goabroad.com reports. Today, residents of Australia and Canada also celebrate this tradition, which has since “expanded to include service people, such as mail carriers and tradesmen,” as well as “(the) butcher and baker and other tradesmen would expect boxes from customers, with a gift or money to say thanks for excellent service the previous year,” MyNorthwest notes.

Kwanzaa: “Habari gani?”

According to GoAbroad.com, “This young holiday in December (created in 1966) is less religious and more ideological, and strives to reconnect individuals with their African culture. … Derived from the Swahili word meaning ‘first fruits of the harvest,’ each day of Kwanzaa is dedicated to (the) principles (of) unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith.” From Dec. 26-Jan. 1, when observers are asked, “Habari gani?” (“What is the news?” in Swahili), “the appropriate response is to say the name of the principle for that day,” according to LearningtoGive.org.

No matter what you celebrate, or what greeting you share, here’s one sentiment we can all embrace this winter, and all year ’round: Peace on Earth.