As the holiday season rolls around, everyone is excited to take a break from it all. Whether it's three weeks off from school with no responsibilities (praise God!) or just the few days around Christmas and New Years, many people look forward to spending time with family and friends.
Here in America, we’re blessed to be an incredibly diverse nation in everything from ethnicity to religion. Americans from all around the world have their own celebrations and reasons behind them. The holidays are a perfect time to explore just how many different festivities are celebrated in this country.
Christmas is by far the most celebrated holiday in the United States. The practice of giving gifts comes from the story of the wise men visiting the baby Jesus and giving Him gifts fit for a king. While it may be a religious holiday, many non-believers still celebrate Christmas as a day of family, friends and gift-giving.
Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday commemorating one of the greatest miracles in the history of Judaism. The Jews were under the rule of the Syrian king Antiochus. He desecrated their temple and tried to force the Jews to worship the Greek gods. A small group of Jews called the Maccabees rebelled and, after three years, recaptured Jerusalem. The temple had been destroyed and so the Jews went about repairing it. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough oil unsoiled by the Syrians to last more than a day in the Menorah lamp, which is a symbol of God’s presence. But miraculously, the lamp burned for eight days while they prepared untainted oil. Hanukkah is celebrated today by lighting a candle every day for eight days.
Kwanzaa is a celebration of African culture and heritage throughout the world. It was founded in 1966 and is celebrated from December 26 to January 1. Each of the candles on the Kinara stand represents one of the Seven Principles by which African people are urged to live. Many of the decorations and colors have meanings, including family, unity, prosperity and kindness.
There are many other nationalities that celebrate different holidays before and during our traditional holiday season. The variety is so beautiful. All these holidays encourage camaraderie, celebrate history and are great avenues to understanding people who have different beliefs.
Growing up, many of us were only exposed to Christmas. When I was little, I really believed that everyone celebrates Christmas! But now that I’ve met people from different backgrounds, I see just how diverse the holiday season is. It’s wonderful to be able to say “Happy Holidays” and understand all the happiness this season brings to so many people.
If you get the chance to meet someone of a different belief system who celebrates a different holiday than you, I encourage you to strike up a conversation. It will give you a new way of looking at the holiday season while also showing that similar values are celebrated by different nationalities and religions. At a time when everyone is celebrating love, family, and kindness, exploring other holidays is a great way to make friendships and learn about your neighbor. Happy Holidays, Union!
Wesley Rodriguez-Diep is a sophomore studying international relations.