In 2017 I celebrated Christmas in India, and it opened my eyes to the fact that over half of the world’s population doesn’t celebrate Christmas. That includes the countries of Nepal, India, Morocco, Thailand, China, and Saudi Arabia, and many other countries that are predominately Buddhist, Muslim, or Hindu. It felt strange to not see Christmas trees up everywhere, although some of the larger shopping malls in India do decorate for Christmas. I was invited to a “Christmas party” that year while in India, and it ended up being one of the weirdest but most memorable Christmas experiences of my life. Here is a multi-cultural look at “The Holidays” around the World.
In India and Nepal, they celebrate Diwali. Diwali is the Hindu festival of lights, and the biggest holiday of the year, much like our Christmas. It typically lasts five days and is celebrated during the Hindu Lunisolar month Kartika, which is between mid-October and mid-November. Diwali symbolizes the spiritual victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance. People exchange gifts with their loved ones, hang colorful lights over public buildings, and handout “sweets” (Indian cookies and handmade candies). Indians take their sweets very seriously!
Rangoli decorations are a type of art that comes from ancient Nepal and used to observe Diwali. The artist draws on the floor using materials such as colored chalk, rice, dry flour, colored sand or tiny flower petals. They are drawn free hand and can take many hours to complete. In my distracted ignorance, I stepped in the middle of one and ruined it! Boy did I feel horrible! They also let off tons of fireworks (they call them “crackers”), which creates awful air pollution in India for many weeks following the celebration.
Kwanzaa is a week-long annual celebration held in the United States and other nations to honor African heritage in the African-American culture. It’s observed from December 26 to January 1 and includes gift-giving and a feast. Kwanzaa has seven core principles, or values, that are big part of the celebration. The American Black Power activist, Maulana Karenga, created Kwanzaa in 1966 as a specifically African-American holiday. Its popularity continues to grow around the world, but particularly in the United States.
Hanukkah is a Jewish festival, also known as the festival of lights. Hanukkah is observed for eight nights and days, beginning on the 25th day of Kislev according to the Hebrew calendar. Typically it falls between late November to late December. The celebration is observed by lighting the candles of a candelabrum with nine branches, called a menorah (or hanukkiah). One branch of the menorah is placed above or below the others, and its candle is used to light the other eight candles. Each night, one additional candle is lit by the special candle (called the shamash) until all eight candles are lit together on the final night of the Hanukkah. Other Hanukkah traditions include playing the game of dreidel, exchanging gifts, and eating oil-based foods, such as latkes and dairy foods.
Chinese New Year, often referred to as Lunar New Year around the world, is the Chinese festival that celebrates the beginning of a new year on the traditional Chinese calendar. The festival is sometimes called the Spring Festival in mainland China. It is one of several Lunar New Year’s observed around Asia. Typically the most significant part of the celebration happens on the evening preceding the first day of the Lantern Festival, which is held on the 15th day of the year. The first official day of Chinese New Year begins on the new moon that appears between January 21 and February 20. In 2020, the first day of the Chinese New Year will be on Saturday, January 25, initiating the Year of the Rat.
It’s interesting to see the similarities to the many celebrations and festivals around the world. Diwali, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa all include the giving of gifts. Both Hanukkah and Diwali are called the “Festival of Lights,” and stringing decorative lights is also a big part of Christmas. Chinese New Year and Christmas often include elaborate parades, and all of the holidays involve feasting and parties. Perhaps there are a lot more similarities than there are differences after all. So, as you tear into those Christmas presents this year and deck your halls, remember that your Christmas celebration is unique, and not everyone celebrates it. From all of us at Clatsop News, Merry Christmas, and Happy Holidays!