Do you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or Three Kings Day? Maybe you celebrate St. Lucia Day. No matter what you celebrate this time of year, December offers great opportunities for learning about our multicultural world.
There are many celebrations that we will cover in this article. We’ll be looking at; Saint Nicholas Day, Fiesta of Our Lady of Guadalupe, St. Lucia Day, Three Kings Day, Boxing Day, Saturnalia, Yule, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and Christmas. We’ll be looking at what each of these holiday’s mean to their cultures and the traditions that come with them.
Let’s begin with Saint Nicholas Day. Firstly, we should mention what day Saint Nicholas Day is celebrated on which is December 6th, though some cultures do celebrate on the 5th of the month. Saint Nicholas was a 4th-century bishop of Myra and is a patron saint in Russia and Greece.
After reformation Saint Nicholas was forgotten by the majority of Protestant Europe, though Holland was able to keep his memory alive as Sinterklaas. He was said to arrive on horseback, dressed in a bishop’s red robe and mitre. He was said to have a Black Peter (freed slave or moor) would help him pass out sweets & presents to good children, while the bad would get coal, potatoes, and switches. It was the Dutch that carried this story to New Amsterdam (New York City) and he would become known as Santa Claus to much of America.
The traditions have remained largely the same over the years. Children will leave letters to Saint Nicholas along with carrots or grass for his horse, while the children still receive sweets and presents.
Our next holiday we’re going to look at is Fiesta of Our Lady of Guadalupe, also called The Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe or Día de la Virgen de Guadalupe, is a Catholic feast that celebrates the belief that a man, Juan Diego, encountered the Virgin Mary in Mexico City on December 9th and 12th, 1531. Though the fiestas are generally held on the 12th of the month.
According to the legend, Mary told Juan to ask the bishop to build a church on Tepeyac Hill. The bishop asked for proof of Juan about the encounter before he would build the church and so he asked for a miracle. Juan returned to Tepeyac Hill to find roses where once was cacti. He took the bishop up who saw the roses and accepted this as a miracle and thus the church was built.
During the celebration Catholics from across Mexico and other countries make a pilgrimage to see the image of Mary in the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City. During this time children are often dressed in traditional costumes and are blessed in churches. This is also the time that thousands come to the church to pray.
The next Holiday we’re going to look at will be St. Lucia Day, which is held on December 13th. It has also been referred to as the festival of lights, which is celebrated in Sweden, Norway, and Swedish-speaking areas in Finland as well, and is celebrated in honour of Saint Lucia (St. Lucy). This is the start of their Christmas season.
The traditions of St. Lucia Day generally begin mid-afternoon on the day. Kids get out of school early and girls and boys are dressed in all white with wreathes of lights worn on their head. They are lead through their towns by a designated “Lucia” (someone that is voted to be in the Saint’s place on the day of the festival) as they sing traditional songs. After the march families continue their celebrations in their homes. The oldest daughter is dressed in all white with a wreath on her head and serves her family coffee and baked goods.
Next we’ll be looking at Three Kings Day also known as Epiphany or El Dia de los Reyes which is celebrated on January 6th. It’s celebrated in Latin American and Spanish cultures. This also marks the 12th day of Christmas, to them it’s known as Feasts of the Epiphany or you guessed it, Three Kings Day.
This Holiday is in honour of the Three Kings or Wise-men that journeyed to see Christ in the manger. There are many ways to celebrate this particular holiday, from celebrating in your home with traditional foods to a community feast with the same foods. The other tradition for this day is to hide a baby Jesus figurine in a loaf of bread and the person who gets that slice once it’s cut has to make tamales on February 2nd which is Day of the Candles.
Next we’ll be looking at Boxing Day which is celebrated on December 26th in the UK. Though the origins of Boxing Day are unknown there are two theories of what Boxing Day could be. My personal belief is that it was the day that Lords and Ladies would box up leftover dinner, spare money, and small gifts to their servants as a job well done. Though there is another belief which is that the 26th was the day Clergy members would distribute donations raised before Christmas to the poor.
The next holiday we’ll be looking at is Saturnalia which was an Ancient Roman holiday to honour the god Saturn. Originally it was celebrated on December 17th. It was first extended three days then to seven. During this time slaves would be allowed freedom to do and say as they liked and the streets would become a giant party. Towards the end of the celebration would involve making presents of candles, wax fruit molds, and even wax status.
As we continue into this holiday education our next Holiday is celebrated from December 22nd through January 2nd. It begins on the Winter Solstice and ends 11 days after. It’s also been called Yuletide or Yulefest and was originally celebrated by the Germanic people. Yule has been around for a very long time and has even had some traditions that have been adopted by other celebrations. One such tradition are the Evergreen trees. Evergreens were cut and brought indoors to symbolize life, rebirth and renewal. As the trees never faded in color it was believed they had power over death.
Other traditions that come with celebrating Yule are; the Yule Tree which represented the Tree of Life or World Tree, would be decorated with natural ornaments like pine-cones, berries, and other fruits; the Yule Log; which is the custom of burning the Yule Log began with the ancient Scandinavians who burned a huge log, felled from and Ash tree, to honor their god Thor. The tradition continued due to the belief that the longer the fire burned, the faster the sun would come back to warm the Earth. During Yule the Pagans would light candles as a way to keep evil spirits away and also represents the sun and encourage it to come back as well. As you’ve noticed, a lot of traditions found during Yule are also things that are done during other Holiday’s as well.
Our next outfit is Hanukkah, which is celebrated from December 22nd to December 30th. Did you catch that? Yule and Hanukkah both start on the Winter Solstice. Though unlike Yule, Hanukkah is celebrated for 8 days instead of 11. It is also referred to as the Festival of Lights, which is celebrated with the lighting of a candle on the Menorah, special prayer, and fried foods.
At the heart of the festival is the nightly menorah lighting. The menorah holds nine flames, one of which is the shamash or attendant, which is used to kindle the other eight lights. On the first night, we light just one flame. On the second night, an additional flame is lit. By the eighth night of Hanakkah, all eight lights are kindled. Along with the lighting of the Menorah kid’s also play with Dreidels which are four sided tops that have the Hebrew letters nun, gimmel, hei, and shin usually painted on it, though sometimes the letters can be carved as well. When the letters are read together it will read: Nes gadol hayah sham or a great miracle happened here.
As we continue this education into other Holidays we’ll be looking at Kwanzaa. This Holiday is celebrated from December 26th to January 1st. Kwanzaa got its name from the phrase “matunda ya kwanza” which translates to “first fruits” in Swahili. Each family has their own traditions for the holiday but they all generally include; songs and dances, African drums, storytelling, poetry reading, and a large traditional meal.
During the celebration, each of the seven nights a child lights one of the candles of the Kinara, their candle holder, which is then followed by one of the seven principles being discussed.
Nguzo Saba (seven principles in Swahili) are values of African culture which contribute to building and reinforcing community among Africans. Kwanzaa also has seven basic symbols which represent values and concepts reflective of African culture. An African feast, called a Karamu, is held on December 31. The seven principles are; Unity, Self-determination, Collective work and Responsibility, Cooperative Economics, Purpose, Creativity, and last but not least, Faith.
As we’ve gone through the various Holidays, though I know there are plenty more than I’ve covered here, I’ve left Christmas for last. I did this because it seems to this reporter than Christmas is generally known more about and I wanted to showcase the other holidays more. I also wanted to show that a lot of traditions we have for Christmas are found in other holidays as well. Though I’m not going to go without mentioning one thing about the Christmas Holiday. December 25th is the day set aside, not for presents or Santa Claus, though they are nice, it is the day we are celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. So when you see others who might look different or celebrate different holidays than you, don’t shame them for that, celebrate it. Because that is what Christ would do and that is what the day is all about, after all.