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It’s the Holiday Season…

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There are so many traditions and customs that we have adopted into our lives. Some we do because our parents and grandparents did it, and some we have started with our own families. But how did some of these traditions get started and what’s behind the actual custom? In this month’s contribution, we would like to share with you the celebrations and customs that are happening all over the world.

Hanukkah, which is Hebrew for “dedication,” is the Festival of Lights. It commemorates the victory of the Maccabees over the Syrian Greek army, and the subsequent miracle of rededicating the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and restoring its menorah, or lamp. The lamp had only one vial of oil and that oil illuminated the temple lamp for 8 full days…a miracle! And that is why this Jewish holiday lasts for 8 days. This year, the festival falls between November 28 and December 6.

One of the most recognized celebrations of Hanukkah is the menorah. At the heart of Hanukkah is the nightly menorah lighting. The menorah, which is usually placed in a doorway or window, holds nine flames, one of which is the shamash (“attendant”), which is used to kindle the other eight lights. A candle is lit each night and by the eighth night, all eight are kindled. Hanukkah blessings are recited before the menorah is lit, and traditional songs are sung afterward. Other popular Hannukah customs include eating oil-dried foods such as potato pancakes (also known as latkes) and jam-filled donuts (also known as sufganiyot). It is customary to play with a “dreidel” (a four-sided spinning top bearing the Hebrew letters, nun, gimmel, hei and shin, an acronym for nes gadol hayah sham, “a great miracle happened there”). The game is usually played for a pot of coins, nuts, gelt (chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil) or other stuff, which is won or lost based on which letter the dreidel lands when it is spun. It is also customary that children receive and exchange small gifts for each night of the 8-day celebration.

December 8th is a time where we celebrate Bodhi Day. Bodhi Day is the day more than 2500 years

ago where Buddha understood truly what we were called to do and who we are to be: we are connected to everything in the world…people, nature, animals…and we must rid ourselves of jealousy, greed, and anger and live our lives are to be filled with kindness and compassion. Buddha sat under a Bodhi tree, touched the ground and had this moment of enlightenment. The day is celebrated typically with meditation and quiet. There are no parades or gift exchanges. Tea and cookies are the food of choice, and some decorate a Bodhi tree. To all of our friends around the world celebrating Bodhi Day, we celebrate you!

This year Yule begins on Tuesday, December 21 and will end on Saturday, January 1 2022. Yule is celebrated in many European countries—particularly the pre-Christian Germanic people--on the winter solstice. The winter solstice is celebrated by many people around the world as the beginning of the return of the sun, and darkness turning into light. When the days grew colder and the nights grew longer, people of ancient times would light candles and gather round fires to lure back the sun. They would light Yule logs, bring out their stores of food and enjoy feasting and festivities. They danced and sang songs and families would get excited decorating their homes. The decorations included evergreen, which was thought to have power of death because of the vibrancy of the green color which never faded; holly, which was thought to ward off evil spirits because of its prickliness and also give hope, with the deep red berries; and mistletoe, which represented the fertility of the Mother Goddess and its white berries, the seed of the Oak King. They also had traditions of candles, wreathes, bells, elves, gingerbread and caroling. Pretty similar to a Christian tradition now, right?

Christmas is the holiday tradition that many Christians celebrate. It is commonly understood and celebrated as the day that Jesus Christ was born (December 25th). While no one knows for sure the exact date that Jesus was born, the end of December was a perfect time for celebration in most areas of Europe. At that time of year, most cattle were slaughtered so they would not have to be fed during the winter. For many, it was the only time of year when they had a supply of fresh meat. In addition, most wine and beer made during the year was finally fermented and ready for drinking. By holding Christmas at the same time as traditional winter solstice festivals, church leaders increased the chances that Christmas would be popularly embraced but gave up the ability to dictate how it was celebrated. By the Middle Ages, Christianity had, for the most part, replaced pagan religion. On Christmas, believers attended church, then celebrated raucously in a drunken, carnival-like atmosphere similar to today’s Mardi Gras. The centuries that following began with the cancelling of Christmas and then the reinvention of a specific type of Christmas and by the 19th century, Christmas became the celebration and acknowledgement of the birth of Jesus and where families would get together to bring peace and gifts to each other. There are so many current traditions of Christmas such as decorating Christmas trees, which usually have a life of 15 years before they are able to be sold, caroling, making eggnog, gift exchanges, hanging stockings by the fireplace mantle and waiting for our dear old friend, Santa Clause.

Kwanzaa is a relatively new celebration in relation to those mentioned above. It was first created and recognized in 1966 to provide the opportunity for African Americans to celebrate their African culture and historical legacy. Kwanzaa has now become a celebration of culture, community and family and begins December 26 – January 1st. Kwanzaa honors the seven principles of African heritage that are considered to be “the greatest African thoughts and practices with the constant change in the world.” --Maulana Karenga, creator of Kwanzaa. The principles are:

  • Umoja: Unity - To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.
  • Kujichagulia: Self-Determination - To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.
  • Ujima: Collective Work and Responsibility - To build and maintain our community together and make our brothers' and sisters' problems our problems and solve them together.
  • Ujamaa: Cooperative Economics - To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.
  • Nia: Purpose - To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.
  • Kuumba: Creativity - To always do as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.
  • Imani: Faith - To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.

Homes are usually decorated in the colors of Kwanzaa—red, black, and green-- and a straw or woven mat is placed centrally on a table. On the last day of Kwanzaa, gifts are given to the children which is usually a book or a symbol of one of the principles of Kwanzaa. There are also artistic performances throughout communities where reflections and discussions of African history or red, sung and or artistically celebrated.

Omisoka is a very popular Japanese tradition to close out the end of the year. Misoka day refers to the last day of the month and so people came to call the last day of the year "Omisoka" for "big misoka day". The last night of the year, December 31st, on omisoka day is called jo-ya night. Jo-ya night means "the night to remove last year's evil". At midnight, people will ring bells 108 times to cleanse themselves of the 108 human desires that is thought to be carried by all of humanity. Once the bells cease (the morning of the new year) all souls are washed clean and they can start the new year off with a fresh start. Many people have already rid their homes of old things and they will await the New Year, by filling their homes with new pine and bamboo.

When Omisoka finally arrives, the family gathers in their sparkling clean house for a traditional dinner of toshikoshi soba (buckwheat noodles) and otoso, spiced sweet sake, the Japanese answer to Champagne. Toshikoshi literally means to “cross over from one year to another”, and eating the long noodles are said to help in the crossing from the past year to the new year. The long, thin soba noodles symbolize the wish for a long life. With that in mind, people aren't supposed to bite down or cut the noodles. Instead, when the Japanese eat toshikoshi soba, they slurp the noodles without breaking them up. This is meant to ensure a long, healthy life. It is considered to be bad luck to leave any toshikoshi soba uneaten, so make sure you eat every last bite!

December 26th is the day where everyone takes a break—Santa, the elves, parents, children and even industry. Well, not exactly. December 26th, known as Boxing Day, is celebrated in the United Kingdom and other British Commonwealth countries. One might think that it’s the day that all gifts are returned to the store in their original boxes, but it’s actually a day that was started as early as 1833 in the British upper wealth as a day to give small gifts or money or even Christmas leftovers in small boxes to their “servants,” those that made the actual day of the celebration possible. One may think about these small boxes as a bonus. It also known in the Christian churches as a day to celebrate the poor of the community. The almsgiving that was collected from parishioners during the advent season would be taken into the communities to give to the needy. Now, the actual reasons that it was created have been done away with, Boxing Day has been redirected to watching cricket, European football (soccer) shopping for sales and visiting friends.

To all of you…

our family and friends of the Opelousas General Health System,

we wish you and yours a wonderful holiday season.

--The Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee