Holidays to Savor

Your guide to winter holidays and traditions

by Jackie Boeheim and Carol Wills

To truly celebrate a holiday is to understand and engage in the rituals and practices that belong to your particular heritage. Many of the major religious groups have Christmas traditions, which may include feasts and pageants, with little kids dressed as shepherds, angels, wise men and sheep. But do you realize that other religious groups besides Christians also celebrate December holidays? The Triangle is home to many different kinds of churches and temples, and each denomination has its own reasons for celebration.
    Therefore, while you are busy decorating the Christmas tree with antique ornaments, one of your neighbors may be lighting the first candle of the menorah, and another neighbor may be quietly meditating. Following is a very brief summary of the celebrations that will be taking place this December.

Buddhism

While Buddhists do not celebrate Christmas, they do celebrate Bodhi Day, which falls on December 8th. The wealthy Prince Siddhartha Gautama, confronted with the reality of life and the suffering of mankind, left home to seek a way out of this universal misery. For six years he sought comfort and contentment by trying out various religious practices, but to no avail. So abandoning all traditional religions, he sat down under a Bodhi tree and meditated until, upon seeing the morning star at dawn, he achieved enlightenment. He became known as the Buddha, The Enlightened One, and Bodhi Day celebrates this occasion. Buddhists honor this day through meditation. Often they decorate their homes with strings of colored lights or enjoy a simple meal of rice and milk, remembering the Buddha’s first meal after his enlightenment.

Catholic and Protestant Christians

The four Sundays leading up to Christmas are celebrated by many Christians as Advent. In the Roman Catholic Church, as well as in many Protestant denominations, this is a time of preparation for the birth of the Christ Child. During this time, many homes and churches display an Advent wreath, which features four candles – three purple and one white. Once Christmas arrives, Catholics and many other Protestant denominations observe the January holiday known as Epiphany, the manifestation of Christ to the gentiles in the persons of the Magi. Eastern Orthodox Christians celebrate Epiphany as commemorating the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River, also seen as his introduction to the world as the Son of God.

Judaism

Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, will be celebrated in 2016 from Saturday, December 24th, through Sunday, January 1st. This eight-day Jewish holiday commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt of the 2nd century BCE. Central to the celebration of Hanukkah is the lighting of candles on the menorah, a candleholder which has eight branches and a central socket for the shamash, or helper candle, which is used to light all the others. According to the Talmud, after the desecration of the Temple, there was only enough sealed (and therefore not desecrated) consecrated olive oil left to fuel the eternal flame in the Temple for one day. Miraculously, the oil burned for eight days, which was enough time to make the new pure oil. In remembrance of this miracle, the menorahhas been a symbol for Judaism since ancient times and is the emblem on the coat of arms for the modern state of Israel.

The Mormon Church

The Church of the Latter Day Saints (called Mormons) do not have a special service on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, although some individual groups of ward members may hold a Christmas party to celebrate. However, the Mormon church has a worldwide Christmas celebration early in December called the Christmas Devotional. The program is broadcast from the headquarters of the church in Utah and is carried via satellite and internet throughout the world. The Devotional features Christmas music and talks from Mormon leaders about Christ, charity and hope. Mormon parties and family gatherings typically feature alcohol-free eggnog and delicious casseroles and desserts.

Many of our neighbors and friends do not celebrate Christmas as a part of their religious observances, but we can all join in welcoming in the new year and celebrating our unity as human beings on this fragile little blue planet. Whatever the future holds for our world, every single one of us will be affected. We can celebrate by reaching out to each other with expressions of good will, thereby making the world a happier place for the generations coming after us.