Hanukkah is an eight-day celebration that begins on the 25th day of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar and falls anywhere from late November to December. Each night during Hanukkah, one candle on the menorah is lit by the Shamash candle—the ninth candle used to light the other candles. In addition to lighting the menorah, families eat traditional food, sing Hanukkah songs, retell the origin story and exchange gifts, just to name a few traditions.
Each night, a small child dressed as an angel leads a procession of followers through towns and cities. The procession goes door to door asking for lodging and, true to the origin story, they are refused. While they are refused lodging, they sing Christmas carols together and read passages from the Bible. The procession usually ends each night by attending Mass and breaking a piñata.
Yule is one of the earliest recorded celebrations during the winter holiday seasons. Germany and Scandinavia are the birthplaces of Yule. Yule, now commonly referred to as Christmastide, is a celebration of rebirth and the longer days of sunshine ahead. It is traditionally celebrated by chopping down a tree on the winter solstice and feeding the whole log into the fire. That same log is then burned for 12 continuous days.
Yule decorations have traditionally included ivy, holly, berries and mistletoe. Yule celebrations today usually include placing a much smaller Yule log on the mantle and decorating it with berries, candles and holly and then exchanging gifts, and meditation.
Every year, during the winter solstice, the Hopi and Zuni native tribes celebrate the new life and new beginnings that will come in the new year with a cherished ceremony known as Soyal. During the ceremony, rituals are performed to wake up the sun from its hibernation.
Soyal lasts 16 days and is filled with rituals, food, gifts and stories. Members of the Hopi and Zuni native tribes put on masks and costumes to represent the Kachina spirits. Kachina spirits are said to be the tribes’ guardian spirits. Children are usually given Kachina dolls and elders pass down stories during the celebration.
Christmas is a winter holiday that celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ on Dec. 25. The holiday is celebrated worldwide, including countries where Christianity isn’t widely practiced. While Christmas has religious origins, it has evolved throughout time to be a commercialized holiday.
Christmas decorations include nativity scenes, Christmas trees adorned with lights and ornaments, jingle bells and holly. Families usually gather on Christmas Day for a festive meal and to exchange gifts with one another.
Boxing Day is a winter holiday that is recognized in many commonwealth countries such as Australia, Britain and Canada. It is celebrated on Dec. 26 and is a day of giving back. There isn’t a clear origin story for Boxing Day, but it’s said to have started as a day off for household employees. These individuals couldn’t celebrate Christmas with their families until the following day as they had to serve their employers and families on Christmas Day. On Dec. 26 they were given boxes of leftover food and gifts to take home.
Over time, Boxing Day has evolved into a charitable holiday. Funds are collected and given to organizations in need. Like Christmas, the holiday has evolved into a commercialized one, too. Boxing Day is also a great day to go shopping and find a good deal.
Kwanzaa is a relatively new winter holiday. In 1966, Kwanzaa was created by California State University Professor and Chairman of Africana Studies Dr. Maulana Karenga. He created Kwanzaa to unify African Americans by honoring African heritage. Dr. Karenga did extensive research on African celebrations to establish Kwanzaa.
Kwanzaa is celebrated from Dec. 26 - Jan. 1. There are seven core principles: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith. In addition, Kwanzaa has seven core symbols: crops, placemats, ears of corn, the seven candles, the candleholder, the unity cup and gifts. The seven core symbols are honored by being arranged into a festive display. Families gather during Kwanzaa to reflect on the seven core principles, honor their ancestors and heritage and feast on traditional cuisine.
How can I learn more about unfamiliar cultures’ traditions?
Learning about the traditions and customs of unfamiliar cultures is essential to being culturally aware. Cultural awareness is about being aware of the impact all cultures have on society. It is about acknowledging the customs that differ from ours and being respectful of them. There are several ways to learn more about the traditions of other cultures.
If you know someone whose culture differs from yours, you can respectfully ask them about their traditions and how they celebrate holidays. You can learn more about the traditions of other cultures by doing your own research using credible resources online or in a library. Documentaries and podcasts are a great way to learn more information, as well.
In addition, you can also learn more about other cultures by attending local events such as an art show or festival.
How can I celebrate other cultures?
There are many ways to celebrate the traditions of other cultures, but the key is to do so respectfully. You want to make sure that you are celebrating in a way that honors the culture and the holiday. Don’t stereotype or engage in cultural appropriation.
An example of cultural appropriation is wearing traditional clothes from another culture. An example of culture appreciation is to attend a local festival and immerse yourself in the culture.
Share what you learned about the culture with others and encourage them to celebrate other cultures by asking others respectfully about their own culture, researching different cultures or by attending festivals or other events.
*The information in this article was compiled from a variety of sources and is intended to provide helpful tips only.