By: Kayti Baur, MSc Candidate in Community Health and Epidemiology
Heading into December, we’ve all got one thing on our mind – the holidays! Be it religious or just a break from work or studies, the holiday season is one to get excited for. Here at the Dalhousie Global Health Office we want to encourage everyone to acknowledge and understand some of the major holidays happening this December so you can help your community, friends and family celebrate – even if it’s not a holiday you celebrate. Here are some upcoming major holidays to look out for:
December 8 – Bodhi Day (Buddhist)
Bodhi Day is the Buddhist celebration of the Buddha’s enlightenment. For Buddhists all over the world Bodhi Day is a day to remember Siddhartha and meditate following his example. Some decorate their houses with pictures or statues of the Buddha under a fig tree to remember the day of his awakening. Often, colourful decorations are also put up to represent that enlightenment has many ways to be obtained. Buddhists also light candles (or light substitutes) and keep them lit for the next 30 days to symbolize enlightenment. They may also have a ficus tree decorated with lights and stringed beads to represent that everything is united and connected. There are also usually three hanging ornaments to represent the Three Jewels of Buddhism: Buddha, Dharma and Shanga. It is traditional to eat one meal of rice and milk – the meal that Buddha ate after his awakening. The most common activity for Buddhists is to gather and stay in prayer during the night and reflect on the cycle of rebirth, the Eightfold path and the four Noble Truths.
Dec 21/22 – Winter Solstice (non-denominational)
Winter Solstice occurs when the sun is farthest south in the sky, meaning it is the day with the least light. In the Northern Hemisphere, this happens on Dec 21.
Dec 22 – Yule (Pagan)
Various Pagan religions have very different origins and thus how they celebrate Yule can be quite diverse despite the shared name. Yule is often celebrated with gatherings involving a meal and gift giving. Some forms of Paganism recognize Yule as lasting 12 days, beginning on Winter Solstice and ending on Jan 2nd. In most forms of Wicca, this holiday is celebrated at the beginning of the winter solstice as the rebirth of the great Horned Hunter God, who is viewed as the newborn solstice sun. The method of gathering for this sabbat will vary greatly by practitioner with some celebrating privately, with covens, or with family and friends. If you wish to celebrate this holiday with a Pagan friend or family member, ask them about their traditions and if there are ways to be involved!
Dec 22- Dec 30 – Hanukkah (Chanukkah)
Hanukkah is the Jewish festival of dedication, often referred to as the festival of lights. It is 8 days long, starting on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev. Although it is one of the most famous Jewish religious festivals, it is often misunderstood to be “Jewish Christmas”. In reality, Hanukkah is a holiday celebrating the victory of the revolution over the suppression of the Jewish religion. The celebration of the festival involves lighting candles in a menorah. The menorah contains 8 candles plus one used to light the others. The lighting of the candles is done to celebrate a miracle which occurred during the first Hanukkah after rededication. A candle is lit one per day, right to left, as Hebrew is read. People recite the holy music and play games to celebrate the day of rededication of the temple. Modern day celebrations often include gift giving, but this is not traditional.
Dec 25 – Christmas (Christian)
Christmas is one of the most widely celebrated holidays in Canada. Although it is based in Christianity, it is often celebrated by those with no religious affiliation and without much of the cultural and religious aspects. Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus. The day marks the beginning of the Christmastide, which lasts up to 12 days, ending on January 5. Christmas is predominately celebrated by decorating of trees, both inside and out, with festive lights and ornaments. Other Christmas decorations include mistletoe and holly. Those who celebrate Christmas often give gifts, sometimes include gifts said to brought by Santa Claus, who lives in the North Pole. Christmas celebrations often include church services on Christmas eve and Christmas day, as well as on the 12th night. The holiday is meant to be one of joy, happiness, kindness and giving.
Dec 26 – Jan 1 – Kwanzaa (non-denominational)
Kwanzaa is an African-Canadian and African-American holiday that aims to celebrate peoples’ African roots. Kwanzaa is celebrated from the day after Christmas until the new year, primarily in North America. The celebrations center on various traditions unique to this festival but the most important is the lighting of candles on a traditional candle holder called the Kinara. Other activities include pouring a drink to honor God (known as “libations”), having a large feast and exchanging gifts. It was first started with the purpose of bringing the African-American community together and giving them an opportunity to celebrate their lineage. Children are generally included in the festivities as it teaches them about their lineage and gives respect to the ancestry. Houses may be decorated with African cloth and art, and women generally wear kaftans. There is frequently drumming, singing, and reading a pledge to Africa and the principles of Africa.
Whatever the holidays mean to you we wish you all a safe and peaceful time and look forward to the new year!