While Christmas is the most universally recognized holiday in the world, with approximately 2.1 billion Christians in a total world population of 6.6 billion (making it the largest religion worldwide), there are many other cultures and religions holding sacred celebrations during December today. Here are some of the most celebrated festivals today!
While Christmas is the most universally recognized holiday in the world. It has become a celebrated affair of magic, myth and religion. Most of the Christmas festivities that we know today actually sprang from pre-Christian festivals that had been celebrated for centuries. The birth of the sun celebrated on the 25th December was replaced with the celebration of the birth of Christ on this day; for he was the new “Sun” the “Son of God” the new “light of the world”.
While there are approximately 2.1 billion Christians in a total world population of 6.6 billion, making it the largest religion worldwide, there are many other cultures and religions holding sacred celebrations during December today. Here are some of the most celebrated festivals:
Jewish people commemorate Hanukkah (the Hebrew word for “dedication”). This feast is also referred to as “Feast of Dedication” or “Feast of Lights”. It is an eight day festival which commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. The Jews reclaimed and rededicated their temple in 165 B.C. after a victory which drove the Syrian army out of Jerusalem. A primary ritual during this time is to light a single light each night for eight nights and the number of lights lit is increased by one each night. The extra light lit each night is called a “shamash” meaning “guard” or “servant” and is given a distinct location, usually higher or lower than the others. Special blessings are recited over the lights each night. There are approximately 14 million Jews worldwide.
Muslims are observing Ramadan when it falls during the Christmas season. It is noted that Ramadan moves all over in relation to our calendar. Considered the most venerated, blessed and spiritually beneficial month of the Islamic year. Believed to be the month in which the first verses of the Koran (the divine scripture) were revealed by Allah (God) to the prophet Muhammad. It is a month where fasting, inner reflection, devotion to God and self control is observed. In Saudi Arabia it is 100% Muslim and Islam is the only accepted religion and non-Muslim religious activities are banned in public thus no Christmas celebrations. Saudi Arabia, as the birthplace of Islam is responsible for protecting the faith’s holiest shrines at Mecca and Medina. There are approximately 1.3 billion Muslims worldwide.
African Americans are celebrating Kwanzaa which means “first fruits” and is based on African festivals. It started in 1966 by Dr Maulana Karenga, an American academic. Celebrations over seven days from 26 December to January 1st that reflect on and reaffirm traditional African values, ancestors and culture. There are seven guiding principles reflected upon. One for each day of the festival: unity, self determination, collective work and responsibility, collective economics, purpose, creativity and faith. Kwanzaa is observed by more than 18 million people. Kwanzaa is not celebrated in Africa, as it’s an African-American holiday.
In Hong Kong the festival of a Ta Chiu is held (a Taoist festival of peace and renewal) held on 27 December each year. Participants summon all their gods and ghosts of their ancestors so that the collective power will renew their lives and fulfill wishes for the coming year. At the end of the festival, priests read aloud the names of every person living in their area. Then they attach the list of names to a paper horse and set it aflame, letting the smoke carry the names up into the heavens to reach the Gods so they will remember them.
New Year’s Day: Japan
In Japan no official celebrations of Christmas as less than 1% of the population is Christian. The major religion in Japan is Buddhism and Shinto. December in Japan is a time for preparing for their most celebrated day of the year “New Year’s Day”. People prepare by thoroughly cleaning their houses on new year’s eve then adding special decorations. People dress in their finest clothes often being traditional Japanese kimonos. A tradition is for the father of the house to be followed by all the family as he marches throughout the house driving away evil spirits. Custom is for the father to throw dried beans into the corners of each room as he bids evil spirits to withdraw and good luck to enter. The family then attends the Shinto Shrine where they clap hands to get the attention of the “Gods” and request good fortune. People send new year’s day cards like people send Christmas cards in west. There are 376 million Buddhist world-wide and 4 million Shinto world-wide.
The indigenous people of Australia, the Aborigines, being one the oldest cultures and people on earth, do not celebrate Christmas (even though Australia is largely a Christian country widely celebrating Christmas). The Aborigines have their own rich and honored culture in particular the “Dreamtime” storytelling which is an integral part of their life. It plays a vital role in educating children with stories of history, culture, the land and their people. Stories which have been handed down from one generation to the next over thousands of years. December celebrations include in Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, Yolngu Aboriginal people who observe the last season of their six-season cycle. Gudjewg, the wet season which begins in late December.