Learn how people all over the world celebrate their special holidays and solve our christmas riddle.
We have talked a lot about Christmas and we will talk even more about it. Of course we do, this is an Advent treasure hunt, Christmas elf-approved! Today I want to take a look at countries where Christmas is not as popular. Did you know for example, that Christmas is celebrated in China too? Christians there have a tradition of giving apples as Christmas gifts to loved ones. In some countries, Christmas is not an official holiday but thanks to globalisation (and the internet) it’s still a popular festivity, a bit like Valentine’s Day (though it is often used as a chance to raise revenue). But back to the more atmospheric side of celebration. Our THE FIZZ community is super international so of course many different beliefs come together here. Let’s use the festive mood to shine some light on the celebrations other religions cherish!
Chanukah is a Jewish festivity which is often named alongside Christmas but that is not entirely justified. Chanukah is mostly celebrated in December and the exact dates change from year to year. For eight days Jewish people celebrate the rededication of the holy temple in Jerusalem. Let me play storyteller for a moment: In the second BCE, the temple in Jerusalem was occupied by the Seleucids (Syrian-Greeks) and a small group of Jewish people fought to get it back. Even though they were few, they were successful. As the people wanted to light the Menorah, the seven-branched candelabra of the temple, there only was left a one-day ration of oil. It is said that despite the lack of fuel the Menorah was alight for eight days miraculously.
So, this wonder is, what makes Chanukah the Festival of Lights. The celebrations come with many traditions, special foods and decorations. In every household, a Menorah is lit day by day. You can often see them in windows and shine a warm light into the night. Giving gifts, especially to children, has also gotten to be an important part of the celebration. It was once customary to give money as a present. This was not only to reward the study of the Tora (the Jewish holy scripture) but also to enable children to participate in charity. Though it is a very different celebration, things such as love for the neighbour and lighting candles can be found both in Christmas and Chanuka celebrations. Maybe that makes it understandable why people often think of both festivities alongside.
Another festival of lights is celebrated in Hinduism, and it takes place in November and/or October, which is not far away from the Christmas season and Chanukah. But who would have thought? It is based on an entirely different history and culture.
So, let me tell you about Diwali. Diwali is the most important celebration of Hinduism but can be found in other religions, too. I think if you experience it for the first time it really is a wonder of lights. With the little difference that this miracle is actually explainable. Because during the five days of Diwali, so many lights are lit in the whole city.
Sometimes even the skies are bright with fireworks! The candles are supposed to draw the attention of the gods and light their ways. Overall Diwali marks the triumph of light over darkness and celebrates justice, liberation and Lakshmi the goddess of luck. Gifts and candies are just as important as in other cultures, but it is also custom to celebrate this special time by wearing newly sewn clothes. Every one of the five days is celebrated differently but often family and friends gather and enjoy the celebration together.
Objectively, Jesus Christ and his birth should be of very little interest to a Buddhist person, right? Well, in Buddhism, Jesus is not seen as the Messiah but since his messages and teachings are closely related to the Buddhist beliefs, he is still seen as a good teacher. But apart from the Values of the Christmas celebration and the overall Buddhist values, an important holiday takes place at a similar time. On the 8th of December, the Bohdi Day, Buddhists celebrate the day Buddha reached enlightenment. And since that happened under a fig tree, these trees are often decorated with lights for the occasion.
(In colder regions evergreen trees are used instead of the fig or bohdi tree.) It is common to eat specific foods and sweets and give small gifts to loved ones. And did you know that biscuits are also part of the festivity? Preferably they are heart-shaped, so they resemble the leaves of the fig or bodhi tree. So, all in all, getting into the Christmas mood of a mostly Christian country could be nice for Buddhists, even if it’s not about Christmas itself but rather the shared values. And the cookies of course!
Ramadan and Feast of Sacrifice
Even though Jesus is part of the Islamic beliefs as a prophet, he is not seen as the son of God and his day of birth isn’t celebrated. But of course, there are celebrations just as important to Muslims as Christmas is to Christians. And these are for sure the fasting month of Ramadan, the tree days long celebrations called Sugar Festival (Eid al-Fitr) at the end of it, and the highest Islamic holiday the Feast of Sacrifice (Eid Mubarak). Since these festivities are based on a different calendar, the dates vary throughout the years.
If we have learned one thing over the last few paragraphs, it’s that such celebrations often value family. This is especially true for these Islamic celebrations, where everyone takes time to visit their family members. First, you go and see the older people, then the younger members. Since you often want to visit quite a lot of people and have to be at home to welcome guests yourself, these days of visiting can be a bit stressful. But seeing your family and exchanging news, congratulations, candies and gifts for the children is definitely worth the hustle. Another value, that takes an important role in Islamic (and other religions’ festivities) is love of the neighbour. For Muslims, it is common to donate money or food to people in need, especially as a part of the festival of sacrifice.
Looking back at all the things I found out while researching traditions and celebrations in other religions I find one thing very clear: It is always about community, about family and hope and about helping each other. People take the time to cherish the values, that bond us together (and good food, it’s always about food too, that’s great!).
It is no wonder, that in Western countries many non-Christian people (especially atheists) celebrate Christmas, too! Even if our celebrations are based on events which are told to have happened hundreds, even thousands of years ago they still have a huge impact on society. And they transform as the times change. New traditions are born out of the combination of different religions or personal ideas. In the end, it is a little different for everyone anyway. So, no matter if we celebrate for a special reason with a special name – ultimately, it’s about being together. I’m sorry, sometimes I’m a little too romantic… but I like it that way.
Anyways, now the cheesiness has to stop, for it is time for our third Advent riddle. Here, we are again looking for two words that result from the correct solutions:
1. There are some Christians in China who are celebrating Christmas. A common tradition for them is to…
T – give apples to loved ones.
S – decorate Christmas trees with spiders.
Y – wear green jackets.
2. Why do people, who celebrate Chanukah, light Candles in their windows?
AN – They light many candles to brighten the way for god.
HE – They light a seven-branched candelabra to remember the wonder of reclaiming the holy temple.
OU – They do not light candles, since Chanukha values the dark of night.
3. For the Hinduistic festival Diwali people light many candles and…
R – eat a sugary sweet named Maoam.
T – decorate the rooftops with palm leaves.
F – wear newly sewn clothes.
4. Buddhistic people like to celebrate Bohdi Day with heart-shaped cookies because…
ER – it’s common to gift them to people you love.
IZ – they resemble the leaves of the fig tree.
OW – a heart-shaped face is seen as especially beautiful.
5. The festival to celebrate the end of Ramadan is…
N – eight days long.
S – five days long.
Z – three days long.
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