Winter holidays — there is much more than Christmas


“Happy holidays” rings in the air this month. But what holidays? Everyone knows about Christmas; a lot of people have heard of Hanukkah.

There are actually at least 17 holidays celebrated during this season, by groups ranging from Christian and Jewish to Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Hispanic, Scandinavian, German, African American, even Zoroastrian.

Kicking off the holiday season is the late fall Hindu celebration of Diwali, the festival of lights. It celebrates the triumph of light over darkness, good over evil. Diwali features millions of lights on rooftops, doorways and windows in buildings all over the countries where it is celebrated, primarily India, Myanmar, Nepal and Sri Lanka. This year Diwali occurred on Oct. 24. In 2023, it will be on November 12.

On December 5, Muslims celebrate Ashura. Sunnis, the largest group of Muslims, remember that the Prophet Mohammad fasted in solidarity with Jews who were observing Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Shiites recall the death of Mohammad’s grandson in battle, an event that led to their differences with the Sunnis. It is considered a day of mourning.

Also on December 5, people in Germany and Eastern Europe observe Krampusnacht or Krampus Night. Krampus, the Christmas Devil, is typically depicted as a hairy, horned, devil-like creature with a pointed tongue and fangs. Krampusnacht is the night before St. Nicholas Day, and the Krampus figure is meant to scare or punish bad children while St. Nicholas rewards good children the next day. In more recent times, the holiday has evolved to feature adult revelries such as dressing up as Krampus and parading or running through the streets.

St. Nicholas Day or the feast of St. Nicholas is on December 6. It recognizes the Christian bishop who sold off his possessions to give to those in need. In remembrance of St. Nicholas’s generosity, St. Nicholas Day is marked by giving gifts. It is observed primarily in the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg, where it began. St. Nicholas is known in the Netherlands as Sinterklaas, the word from which Santa Claus derives.

On December 8, Buddhists celebrate Bodhi Day. The holiday recalls when Siddhartha Gautama vowed to sit under a tree in what is now Bodhgaya, India, and not to rise until he was enlightened. The title Buddha means “awakened one.” Buddhists commemorate this day by meditating, studying the dharma (universal truth or law), chanting sutras (Buddhist texts) and performing kind acts.

Scandinavians honor St. Lucia on December 13. St. Lucia Day, also known as Lussinatta, the Lussi Night or Feast of Saint Lucy, is primarily celebrated in Sweden, Denmark and Finland but also in some parts of Italy, Croatia, Hungary and in households of Scandinavian heritage around the globe. St. Lucia was a Christian girl who was martyred for her religion. In her honor, young girls dress in white and wear a candle-lit wreath on their head. The festival marks the beginning of the Christmas season in Scandinavia.

Latin countries and Hispanic communities in the United States celebrate Las Posadas from December 16-24. Las Posadas is a religious holiday, recognizing the nine months of Mary’s pregnancy. The traditions associated with these days represent the hardships faced by Mary and Joseph while seeking shelter on their journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem.

Hanukkah is an eight-day Jewish festival celebrated by lighting a candle on the menorah (a candelabrum with eight lights) each night. This year Hanukkah is celebrated from December 18-26. The word “Hanukkah” means “dedication” in Hebrew. This festival commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple of Jerusalem. It is also spelled Chanukah.

Winter Solstice is celebrated on December 21, the longest day of the year. It is called Toji in Japan, where it is traditional to take a hot bath infused with citrus fruit. In China it is called the Dongzhi Festival, where people eat tang yuan, a dessert of glutinous rice balls filled with ground nuts, sugar and lard. Winter Solstice coincides with the pagan holiday, Yule, which begins on the winter solstice and continues for 11 days. Many ancient Yule traditions have been incorporated into modern Christmas celebrations, including the familiar yule log.

Then there is Christmas, a Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. Christians around the world celebrate the birth of their savior with decorations, lights, Christmas trees and gifts, as well as religious services.

The day after Christmas is Boxing Day, a holiday in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Originally, this day was one when gifts were given to the poor, servants or others of a lower social class. Some say that is the origin of the name–it was a day when gifts were placed in boxes for this purpose. Now Boxing Day has evolved into a holiday devoted to sports, shopping and spending time with friends.

Also on December 26, Zoroastrians celebrate Zartosht no-diso, or Zarthost no deeso. It is a day commemorating the anniversary of the death of the prophet Zoroaster, an Iranian prophet who founded a religious movement that challenged the existing traditions of ancient Iranian religion. His movement eventually became a recognized religion. Today there are an estimated 100,000 to 200,000 Zoroastrians worldwide.

Kwanzaa, a holiday honoring African American culture, is celebrated from December 26-January 1, mainly in the United States. Maulana Karenga, professor and chair of black studies at California State University, was the first to initiate this holiday and observe it in 1966. On the sixth day of Kwanzaa, people hold a Karamu feast, a celebration that may include music, drumming, reading of the African Pledge and the Principles of Blackness, discussion of one of the African principles or a chapter in African history, a candle-lighting ritual and finally, a feast.

Three Kings Day, also known as the Epiphany or Theophany, is celebrated on January 6. It is the day when the three kings–also known as the three wise men–are said to have first seen the baby Jesus, It is the end of the Twelve Days of Christmas. 

In Eastern Orthodox churches, Christmas is celebrated on January 7, which is Christmas Day on the Julian calendar used by Eastern Orthodox religions. In Ethiopia, the holiday is called Ganna or Genna. It is observed there with a 43-day fast before the holiday itself. On Ganna, men play a traditional hockey-like game also called ganna.

On January 11, Hindus in the Punjabi region of northern India celebrate Lohri, the passing of the winter solstice. The festival is a winter crop season celebration. Popular folklore links Lohri to the tale of Dulla Bhatti, whose father was a hero in Punjab for rescuing Punjabi girls from being forcibly taken to be sold in the slave market of the Middle East. The festival is celebrated by lighting bonfires, eating festive food, dancing, and collecting gifts.  People wear their brightest clothes and dance the bhangra and gidda to the beat of the dhol, a percussion instrument made of wood, brass, leather, cotton, parchment and metal. 

Another Hindu holiday, Thai Pongal, is celebrated January 15-18. Thai Pongal is a Tamil harvesting festival celebrated during Thai, the 10th month of the Tamil calendar. It welcomes the sun god after winter. Thai is the harvesting month for farmers who have planted sugarcane, rice, turmeric and many other crops.

Celebrations in the Copper Country

In the Keweenaw, Christian churches host Christmas Eve and Christmas morning services, open to all.

The Keweenaw Unitarian Universalist Fellowship will hold non-sectarian Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services at 4 p.m. December 24 and 10:30 a.m. December 25. The Christmas Eve service will be a gift exchange involving small items such as mugs or bowls that have meant something to the giver. The Christmas morning service is themed “Reflections on Wonder and Joy.”

Temple Jacob will hold a Hanukkah party for members only, due to security concerns.

WNMU-FM (90.1), an NPR radio station based in Marquette, will broadcast the following holiday programs:

Christmas on Sugarloaf Mountain, Tuesday, December 13 at 10 a.m. and Thursday, December 29 at 11 a.m. 

Handel & Haydn Society Christmas, Wednesday, December 14 at 10 a.m.  

A Chanukah Celebration with Chicago a cappella, Monday, December 19 at 11 a.m.

Saturday, December 10, Skate with Santa, Mrs. Claus and the Gremlins hockey team, 3-5 p.m., Dee Stadium, Houghton.

Saturday, December 10, a Calumet Christmas, featuring free horse-drawn wagon rides, photos with Santa, Santa’s workshop in the Calumet Theatre ballroom, Benji Brotherton and the Copper Country Clown Band, a children’s theatre workshop, a free concert of Christmas carols by the Noteworthy Singers and lighting of a Christmas tree.

Sunday, December 11, TubaChristmas, honoring the first great tuba virtuoso, William “Bill” Bell, who was born on Christmas Day; 7 p.m., Rozsa Center lobby, free.

Saturday, December 17, Houghton Winter Wonderland, 4-7 p.m. at the waterfront. Horse drawn carriage rides, hot chocolate, meet Santa, Elsa, Anna, Kristoff and Olaf.  Open skating at the Dee Stadium from 5-6 p.m.


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