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Holiday, international celebrations fill the air

By: Bill Charles

Date Posted: 2005-12-15

Tis’ the season.

Hanukkah, St Lucia Day, Christmas and Kwanzaa top the December calendar, with new year celebrations nipping right on their heels. From Okinawa and Japan, to Korea and China, to the United States to Europe and Africa, this is the season for celebration.

Customs and traditions vary, but gifts giving, dressing up and paying homage to ancestors are a part of most celebrations. Hanukkah, St. Lucia Day, Christmas and Kwanzaa all use candles as a part of their holiday commemorations. St. Lucia Day, December 13th, is a Swedish tradition where young girls dress up in long white gowns with red sashes, adorn their heads with burning candles, and sing to their families.

Christmas is a Christian holiday celebrated around the world, even by those with differing religious beliefs. The Christmas traditions honor the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem. The adoration encompasses church services and time with family, and includes gift giving on December 25th. It’s a time for music and celebrations that vary around the world. Santa Claus, originally St. Nick, originated in Scandinavia, where he paid home visits via the chimney to deliver gifts and fill childrens’ stockings. The tradition grew with addition of the sleigh and reindeer in Switzerland, expanding the holiday gifts deliveries around the world.

In Hawaii, menehunes, the legendary little people believed to be the original inhabitants of Hawaii before the Polynesians invaded, are Santa’s helpers in a land filled with palm trees strung with Christmas lights.

American Indians celebrated the winter solstice with religious dances, while Franciscan monks linked the Indian traditions with the religious fervor of Christmas.

The European festivities begin December 6th, St. Nicholas Day in Germany, when children place a shoe or boot by the fireplace in hopes of being recognized as having been good, and thus worthy of holiday treats. If they weren’t good, the shoe or boot is filled with twigs instead of holiday treats. December 21st, the shortest day of the year, is St. Thomas Day, a time when Germans engage in jovial banter and share delicious Thomasplitzchen, a yummy iced current bun.

And of course, the holiday season is steeped in the tannenbaum, the Christmas tree. By European standards, children could not see the tree until the Christmas Eve ‘moment’ so papa kept the kids occupied while mom decorated the tree with candles and bright ornaments. At the appropriate moment, carols ring out, laughter fills the house, the Christmas story is read, and plates of marzipan, chocolates, bisquits, nuts and fruits are shared.

Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, begins at sundown December 25th and runs through sundown January 2nd. Hanukkah is celebrated for eight days and nights to mark the survival of Judaism 23 centuries ago. Hanukkah is Hebrew for ‘dedication’. This year’s Hanukkah celebration, the 25th of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar, is year 5766 of Jewish history. Jews light the menorah, a special candleholder, to pay homage to a miracle when one day’s oil burned for eight days in the temple.

Kwanzaa is an American-created secular holiday which began in 1966. The African American holiday runs seven days, December 26~January 1. It was created by a California State University professor, Dr. Maulana Karenga, in the aftermath of the Watts Riots, to bring the community together. Kwanzaa, ‘first fruits’ in Swahili, is a flexible holiday celebration, with individual families doing things their own way with songs, poetry, African drums and dances, and storytelling. Candles are lighted to recognize the seven principles of values to the African culture. Karamu, an African feast, highlights the weeklong celebration December 31st.

New Year’s is a big day in Asia. Actually, there are two commemorations. The traditional western New Year’s Eve is celebrated in Asia as a festival time, but also one of going to the temple and paying tribute to family and seeking good fortunes for the coming year. The temple bells ring 108 sounds to comply with legends which indicate desires of feeling, sense and time in individuals. To erase those desires, the 108 sounds are tolled with the bells.

And of course, New Year’s Day is a time of drinking. On the Asian horizon, January 29th is the big day when the Year of the Dog begins. The Lunar New Year is celebrated in many nations, from Korea south to China and beyond. The Lunar New Year is a time to dress up in bright new clothes and participate in parades. Look for the dragon, the Chinese idol of strength, to lead the parades.

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