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There's More to December Than Santa Claus

Our ethnically diverse country

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There's More to December Than Santa Claus

Christmas is not the only special December holiday in our ethnically diverse country, religious and otherwise.

Decorated evergreen trees, images of Santa Claus, and colourful lights are familiar symbols of the Christmas season.

The Christian celebration is not the only special December holiday in our ethnically diverse country. Your next-door neighbour may be lighting candles to honour each day of Hanukkah, while across the street festivities are under way for Los Posadas or Kwanzaa.

Don’t be shy when you receive an invitation to your neighbour’s Kwanzaa festivities or Japanese New Year’s party; show up with a smile and join in!

Hanukkah

When

Also known as Chanukah, the “Festival of Lights” is a holiday celebrated by people of the Jewish faith beginning on the 25th day of Kislev in the Jewish calendar and lasting for eight days and nights. This year celebrations start at sundown December 21 and end on December 29.

Meaning

Hanukkah is celebrated as a reminder of the rededication, in 168 BC, of Jerusalem’s holy temple following the Jewish victory over the ruling Hellenist Syrians, who had outlawed Jewish rituals and ordered the Jewish people to worship Greek gods.

Customs

When the ancient Jewish victors looked for oil to relight the sacred menorah during the rededication of the holy temple, they found only enough ritually pure oil to burn for one day.

Instead, the lights burned for eight days, which is why eight candles, plus a special candle (Shamash) in the middle for lighting the others, make up the design of the Hanukkah menorah. One candle is lit for each of the eight days of Hanukkah.

Games

Dreidel is a traditional game played during Hanukkah. A four-sided wooden top, each side inscribed with Hebrew letters that together form the acronym for “a great miracle occurred here,” is spun for a chance to win the pot, to which each player contributes a marker such as a coin, candy, or matchstick.

Food

Hanukkah has plenty of culinary delights, including potato latkes (or pancakes) and sufganiya, a type of jelly doughnut, each cooked in oil to symbolize the oil used to burn light in the Temple.

Kwanzaa

When

Kwanzaa is celebrated from December 26 to January 1 each year.

Meaning

Kwanzaa is not a holiday celebrating a religious occasion, but rather one commemorating heritage and togetherness. Created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, an African-American author and political activist, Kwanzaa is based on seven principles called Nguzo Saba. Unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, creativity, and faith are some of these principles.

Customs

Each of the seven days of Kwanzaa is devoted to one of the seven principles, also symbolized by black, red, or green candles. The biggest celebration takes place on the sixth day, or Kuumba, and is called Karamu, a daylong event that focuses on remembering ancestry, reassessing personal situations, recommitting to values, and calling for greater unity.

On the last day of Kwanzaa, participants exchange mostly homemade gifts as an expression of their creativity, or African art objects and books about the life and culture of African people.

Games

Though no games are specifically associated with the Kwanzaa celebration, the commemoration of African heritage may include games such as Mancala, a traditional game played with seeds or stones on a board with a series of holes arranged in rows.

Food

Feasting plays a large role in Kwanzaa celebrations. Served on December 31, it includes traditional African delights such as Koki, an appetizer made from black-eyed peas; peanut soup; and Jollof rice, made from rice, tomatoes, tomato paste, and onion.

You might also try some okra and greens before the dessert course of fresh fruit and coconut pie, washed down with some ginger beer.

Los Posadas

When

In addition to Christmas, an especially important holiday itself in Mexico, Latin American Christians celebrate Los Posadas, nine days of music, food, and beverages from December 16 to 24, wrapping up with a midnight mass.

Meaning

Posada, meaning “lodging,” commemorates Mary and Joseph’s long journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem in search of shelter. Over the years the holiday has evolved into a deeply religious observance paired with a social celebration.

Customs

Neighbours take turns hosting the Posada. At dusk guests congregate outside the host’s home, where a small child dressed as an angel leads a procession of children carrying statues of Mary and Joseph. Adults and musicians playing lively music follow, and everyone sings along while holding lit candles.

Outside a designated house the group divides in two, with one half of the group standing outside begging for shelter from the other half inside. Once the doors are opened, the party begins.

Games

The pinata, filled with peanuts in the shell, oranges, tangerines, candy canes, toys, and often money, makes an appearance at the Posada in the shape of a star to symbolize the one that guided Mary and Joseph.

Food

Anyone who loves traditional Mexican fare will love the feasts prepared during Los Posadas, featuring mouth-watering dishes such as tamales, empanadas, and chestnut cake served with hot chocolate.

Japanese New Year

When

Japanese people celebrate Shogatsu, or New Year’s Day, on January 1 just as North Americans do, though before 1873, the date was based on the Chinese lunisolar calendar and was recognized at the beginning of spring.

Meaning

The most important and auspicious holiday in Japan, Shogatsu is a celebration of renewal. The three-day celebration is marked by a number of rituals to mark such things as the first sunrise or the first meal.

Customs

Just as many of us send Christmas cards, many Japanese people send New Year’s Day postcards. Post offices hire extra staff to accommodate delivery of these postcards, called nengaj, on January 1. A typical nengaj message might read, kotoshi mo yoroshiku o-negai-shimasu, meaning, “I hope for your favour again in the coming year.”

Pocket money is handed out to children in envelopes called pochibukuro, similar to Chinese red money envelopes.

Traditional Japanese games such as kite flying and top spinning are played, and haikus (Japanese poems) are written to include the word “first” as in “first sun” or “first laughter.”

Food

Delicacies include miso, boiled seaweed, fish cakes, and simmered burdock root. You may also find sushi or sashimi or even nontraditional Japanese foods gracing the Shogatsu table.

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