Celebrating the many winter holiday traditions
by Shiva Kashi
Nearing the end of the fall semester, cold and overcast days and the crowded malls, are all signs of the approach of Christmas time. It is a long awaited holiday for most of us, defined by the birth of Jesus. But what are some of the big celebrations in other cultures and religions outside of Christianity?
Tim Sampson, the coordinator at the MRU Multi-Faith Chaplaincy and the Buddhist Chaplain said, “The Chaplaincy at the moment represents 4 religions: Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism…In Zen Buddhism, which is my background, the holiday that is coming up is called Rohatsu and that translates to eighth day of 12th month.”
In the Japanese calendar it is Buddha’s enlightenment, which is celebrated. There is also a different Buddhist tradition called Vesak, when the birth, enlightenment and death of Buddha are all celebrated in one day in spring time, but on different days in different traditions.”
According to Rabbi Shaul Osadchey from the Beth Tzedec Conservative Congregation, “Hanukkah is a minor festival with a message in religious freedom.”
He explained that the holiday originated in 165 BC when a war broke out between the followers of the Jewish faith and the Greeks, who had undermined Judaism and had made the Jews worship Greek gods. Upon defeating the Greeks, with the help of the Jewish rebel army, the Maccabees, the Jewish people, recaptured the Temple of Jerusalem.
After the recapture, the Maccabees lit a menorah in the temple with what little oil they could find, which was meant to only be enough for one day. Miraculously the flame burned for 8 days.
“Hanukkah is celebrated at home with the family by singing songs and blessings, and lighting the menorah which has 8 candles — one for each day of Hanukkah, and one candle in the middle to light the other candles with,” Osadchey mentioned.
Jane Adams, a teacher living in the northeast quarter of Calgary discussed Ramadan, the month of fasting for Muslims, as the most important celebration in Islam. She has been given the alias of Jane Adams as she did not wish to disclose her name for personal reasons.
“Ramadan is the ninth month of the Muslim calendar. It is a lunar calendar, meaning that each month is equal to one complete rotation of the moon around the Earth, making each Islamic year about 10 days shorter than the calendar year used [in Canada],” she said.
Adams also explained that, “Muslim months keep rotating throughout the four seasons, so it is not easy to say when exactly it is.”
In 2009 Ramadan started in late August. Muslims fast every day of the celebration, starting from sundown until sunset, to strengthen their patience.
“[A] big festivity comes on the first day after the end of this month, which we call Eid ul-Fitr — the day of gift giving, visiting the family and the elderly, and having festive meals together,” Adams said.
Reverend Father Timothy Chropke, a priest from St. Vladimir’s Ukrainian Church in Calgary, shared the traditions of how Christmas is celebrated in his religion and culture.
“Christmas in Eastern Orthodox Christianity is on January 7, which is because of a shift in the calendar,” he began.
According to Chropke, prior to Gregory VI there was a lunar calendar called the Julian calendar, which was established by Julius Caesar. It marked the passage of the months based on the moon. However, it was found that there was a drift in that calendar and Gregory VI corrected the drift and made the Gregorian calendar, which is in use currently.
“Christmas is and has always been the 25th of December, but appears as Jan. 7 on the corrected calendar,” Chropke noted.
Eastern Orthodox’s holiday celebrations consist of having 12 meatless dishes that represent the 12 apostles on Jan. 6. Families gather for the meal as the first star appears in the sky. They pray, have their meal and go to church for the “divine energy” at midnight.
Chropke explains that within his religion, they celebrate for three days in January. “The first day is the seventh, which is the birth of Christ. On the eighth, we celebrate the mother of God and birth giver of Christ. On the ninth, we celebrate St. Steven, the first Martyr, and also remember the Holy Innocence, which commemorates the innocent souls of infants of two years of age and under, who were killed in the village of Bethlehem by King Herod, who feared losing his throne to Jesus, whose birth had been predicted,” he said.
There are several celebrations that differ from those we normally associate with this time of year. It is significant to understand the variety of celebrations among Canadians. Most importantly, the holidays are a time to come together with family and pay homage to rituals of the past.