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Holidays for Dummies

Lifestyles | December 4th, 2006

Although Scientologists don't necessarily celebrate anything on December 25h, they do celebrate Freedom Day on December 30th. Freedom Day celebrates the official recognition in 1974 of the Church of Scientology in the United States. Famous actor and scientologist Tom Cruise reportedly sent a type of Scientology-Christmas card to English soccer-star David Beckham last year in hopes of converting Beckham and his wife, former Spice Girl Victoria Beckham into scientologists.

Some aboriginal groups
Many Tribes, including the Laguna Indians, who accepted Christianity some 400 years ago, have the custom of a dance on Christmas Eve, where gifts are offered at the Manger. There are many examples of representations of the Christmas Crib where the glad tidings are brought to braves in the fields by the great Thunderbird; or scenes with the wise men being replaced by the chiefs representing the great Nations.

Kwanzaa is a non-religious African American holiday focusing on traditional African values of family, community responsibility, commerce, and self-improvement. It is celebrated for seven days from December 26 - January 1 with each day representing a different principle; Unity; Self-determination; Collective Work and Responsibility; Cooperative Economics; Purpose; Creativity; and Faith.

Kwanzaa is neither political nor religious and despite some misconceptions, is not a substitute for Christmas. The name Kwanzaa is derived from the phrase “matunda ya kwanza” which means “first fruits” in Swahili. The kinara is the centre of the Kwanzaa setting and represents the original stalk from which we all came from.

A popular year-end celebration in Japan celebrated on December 31st. On that day the Japanese, gathered in family, get ready to welcome the New Year. They clean their house from top to bottom (susu harai), put their things in order then install the New Year's day's decorations. kadomatsu is placed on each side of the front door. This decoration made of pine's branches (pine is a symbol of longevity, prosperity and purity), of bamboo and of straw is said to have the power to attract good fortune inside the house.

Zoroastrians commemorate the death of their prophet, Zarathustra on this day, December 26. Religious services are devoted to his memory and to the spirits of the dead, known as the fravashis. The Zoroastrian religion was founded in ancient Persia (modern Iran) by the prophet Zarathustra, who taught that there was one god, Ahura Mazda (meaning ‘wise lord'), symbolized by a living flame.

Judaism: Hanukkah
Hanukkah is a Jewish festival celebrated on eight successive days beginning on the 25th day of Kislev, the third month of the Jewish calendar. This year, that corresponds to December 15 - December 22, beginning at sunset on the 15th. Hanukkah is also known as the Festival of Lights, Feast of Dedication, and Feast of the Maccabees.

Hanukkah commemorates the re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem after its desecration under Antiochus IV. Spiritually, Hanukkah commemorates the Miracle of the Oil, when one days worth of consecrated oil burned for eight consecutive days, enough time to prepare more oil for burning.

The most important Hanukkah ritual is the candle lighting. Jews light candles in a special candleholder called a “menorah” or a “hanukkiah”. Each night, one more candle is added. The middle candle, called the “shamash”, is used to light each of the other candles and it is lit every night. Therefore, on the first night of Hanukkah, two candles are lit (the shamash and the candle for the first night) and on the last night, there are nine lit candles. During Hanukkah it is tradition to eat foods fried in oil. Some common foods are potato latkes and “sufganiot” (jelly doughnuts).

Jahovah's Witness
Jehovah's Witnesses are best known for their non-celebration of holidays, and the seasonal celebrations during December are no exception for the faith. All holidays, including birthdays, are considered "pagan holidays" and are traditionally not observed by Witnesses. They claim that Jesus never told followers to rejoice in his birth, but rather His death. The only holiday Witnesses celebrate is the “Memorial of Christ's Death," which usually occurs around the same time as Christian Easter and the Jewish Passover.

The history of Christmas dates back over 4000 years. Many of our Christmas traditions were celebrated centuries before the Christ child was born. The 12 days of Christmas, the bright fires, the Yule log, the giving of gifts, carnivals (parades) with floats, carolers who sing while going from house to house, the holiday feasts, and the church processions can all be traced back to the early Mesopotamians. The exact day of the Christ child's birth has never been pinpointed, although traditions say that it has been celebrated since the year 98 AD. In 137 AD the Bishop of Rome ordered the birthday of the Christ Child celebrated as a solemn feast. In 350 AD another Bishop of Rome, Julius I, choose December 25th as the observance of Christmas.

Atheism: Winter Solstice
Although Atheists don't subscribe to faith or that of a higher power, they do celebrate the Winter Solstice, which is the shortest day of the year. This year atheists, among various other traditional religions, will recognize the solstice on December 22 just after midnight. Seen as a celebration connected to ancient times, Romans, Babylonians and ancient Greeks originally celebrated this day as a "rebirth" of the sun, sun god or saviour man-god and the beginning of a new year.

Today atheists use this time to gather with friends and family, share a meal and exchange gifts. They see this as a time to set aside the religious divide of the season and portray the Winter Solstice as a universal, secular holiday with ties to nature.

Wicca: Yule
Wiccans celebrate Yule in late December (usually between December 20 and 23), in the name of Winter Solstice, the rebirth of the Sun God, while also honouring the Horned God. They celebrate by decorating a tree, exchanging presents, hanging mistletoe and caroling, much like Chirstmas, which are both rooted in the Nordic, Celtic and Roman traditions. Many Wiccans burn a Yule log for 12 hours for good luck.

Islamic: Id al-Fitr and Id ul-Adha
Within the Muslim faith there are two celebrations in and around the Winter holiday season.

The first is Id al-Fitr, or Eid ul-Fitr, which is celebrated at the end of Ramadan, also known as the first day of the Muslim 10th month, and literally means “festival of breaking the fast.” It is celebrated by going to mosque to say Id prayers and connecting with friends and family members. Celebrations are normally followed by a feast.

The second festival is called Id ul-Adha, or Eid ul-Adha, and occurs on the 10th day of the last month in the calendar and follows Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca). Due to the difference in calender, Id ul-Adha was celebrated on January 10, as well as December 31 this year.

Although Festivus started in 1966 with former Reader's Digest editor Dan O'Keefe, it was not popularized until 1997 when O'Keefe's son Daniel, a writer on the television sitcom Sein-feld, wrote the tradition into the script.

Just like the show, which features Ge-orge's father Frank Costanza, Festivus is celebrated on December 23 (although the original was celebrated in February) with a Festivus (aluminum) pole, instead of a Christmas tree, and those in attendance generally participate in “Airing of Grievances,” The celebration does not come to an end until the host of the party is wrestled to the floor and pinned, also known as “The Feats of Strength”. Festivus has caught on throughout Canada and the United States for those wanting to celebrate “A Festivus for the rest of us,” without religious denominations or materialism attached to the holiday.

Buddhism: Bodhi Day
Celebrated on December 8 every year by Pure Land Buddhists, who are mainly found in Japan and the United States, the original Bodhi Day was in 596 BC when Siddhartha Gautama, the historical founder of Buddhism, reached the founding principlas of the faith, also known as the Four Noble Truths. Those principals include: All beings are subject to suffering. No one escapes... suffering is universal: The cause of suffering is Ignorance. And Ignorance of oneself is the greatest Ignorance: Ignorance, the cause of suffering, can be overcome; and the way to overcome Ignorance is the Eightfold Path.

If we have missed your specific holiday celebration let us know in a letter to the editor,, and we can include your festivities in an upcoming issue.
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