Dis­cov­er­ing win­ter hol­i­days near and far

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Most of us com­plain a great deal about win­ter — how cold and how dark it is.

This is far from the truth, as many cul­tures cel­e­brate dur­ing the win­ter months. Best known are Christ­mas and Hanukkah, but there are also Kwan­zaa, St. Ni­cholas Day, St. Lu­cia Day and Three King’s Day, as well as the Win­ter Sol­stice. The core of all of these hol­i­days men­tioned is “light,” es­pe­cially light­ing and burn­ing of can­dles.

Christ­mas is a Chris­tian cel­e­bra­tion of the birth of Je­sus Christ. This is a ma­jor hol­i­day through­out the world. Also cel­e­brated through­out the world is Hanukkah, where the Jewish com­mu­nity reded­i­cates their be­lieves and val­ues.

Let’s take a look at our neigh­bors to the north in Canada.Dec. 26th (Day af­ter Christ­mas) is Box­ing Day, which is cel­e­brated in Bri­tain, New Zealand and Aus­tralia as well. Ac­tu­ally, it is a day off with pay. I sort of think as it is a rest­ing day af­ter the hus­tle and bus­tle of Christ­mas Day. It all started when Queen Vic­to­ria would hand out “Christ­mas Boxes” the day af­ter Christ­mas to her ser­vants. Most ser­vants went home, as they were given the day off.

Our neigh­bors to the south in Mex­ico cel­e­brate el Dia de los Reyes, bet­ter known as Three Kings Day. Cel­e­brated on Jan. 6, the house­hold cen­ters around the Na­tiv­ity and the baby Je­sus. Co­gnac is set out for the trav­el­ing kings, as well as vis­it­ing guest.

If we travel to far off Ja­pan, Dec. 25 is not a na­tional hol­i­day; schools and busi­nesses are not closed. KFC is the most pop­u­lar place for take­out for Christ­mas din­ner. “Hoteiosho,” a Ja­panese god of good for­tune, brings the gifts for the sea­son.

In Europe, there are as many dif­fer­ent cel­e­bra­tions as there are coun­tries. In Italy, the story of St. Fran­cis of As­sisi and his visit to the area where Je­sus was born guides the Christ­mas cel­e­bra­tion. The Christ­mas Na­tiv­ity is placed in the hon­ored spot of each home. The fig­ure of Je­sus is not placed un­til Christ­mas Eve. Fam­i­lies eat a light fish meal be­fore go­ing to mid­night Mass. Upon re­turn­ing from Mass, they may have a slice of panet­tone, a dry fruity sponge cake along with hot choco­late to drink. It is in Amer­ica that Ital­ian fam­i­lies in­tro­duced the Feast of Seven Fishes with sev­eral dif­fer­ent tales as to why seven.

In Ger­many, cal­en­dars and wreaths are fea­tured. The Christ­mas tree is very im­por­tant to the fam­ily. The tree is brought into the house on Christ­mas Eve, along with Bi­ble read­ings and the singing of carols. One tale of the Christ­mas tree re­lates to Martin Luther, founder of the Lutheran min­istry. He brought into the house an ev­er­green tree to cel­e­brate Christ­mas Eve.

Christ­mas Day in Ger­many is called the “first cel­e­bra­tion” and the day af­ter, “Zweite Feiertag,” is the “sec­ond day” of cel­e­bra­tion. Christ­mas mar­kets where all sorts of food, gifts and dec­o­ra­tion can be bough tare very pop­u­lar in Ger­many. This type of mar­ket has spread around the world.

In the Ukraine, Christ­mas is cel­e­brated un­der the “Ju­lian” cal­en­dar on Jan. 7. Christ­mas Eve is high­lighted by the Holy Sup­per, where 12 dishes are served to honor Je­sus’ 12 dis­ci­ples. It is tra­di­tion to fast on that day un­til the first star ap­pears in the sky. This star rep­re­sents the ar­rival of the Three Wise Men and in­di­cates Je­sus is born. There must be a prob­lem of when to start din­ner if it isn’t a clear night. The Christ­mas Eve meal con­tains no meat, dairy or an­i­mal fat. Fish is the main­stay, along with grains. Each ta­ble has a place set­ting in mem­ory of some­one who has passed on. Hay is of­ten spread through­out the ta­ble top, as well as un­der the ta­ble, rep­re­sent­ing the stable. Af­ter din­ner, fam­i­lies sing carols around the ta­ble.

A rel­a­tively new hol­i­day, Kwan­zaa means “first fruit.” It is not con­sid­ered a re­li­gious hol­i­day. It was in 1966 that Dr. Maulana Karen­gais cre­ated the cel­e­bra­tion of the bounty of the earth. It is an Amer­i­can fes­ti­val to honor African Amer­i­cans and their her­itage. To­day, it is cel­e­brated in Amer­ica and Africa, as well as through­out the world, for seven days from Dec. 26 through Jan. 1. Kwan­zaa is based on the seven prin­ci­ples (seven days, seven can­dles), which are en­cour­age not only at Kwan­zaa but through­out the year.

If you no­tice, love, fam­ily and food are the com­mon bond cel­e­brated dur­ing all the hol­i­days.

A good, safe and healthy New Year!


Christ­mas is just one of the many hol­i­day tra­di­tions cel­e­brated this time of year around the world.

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