North America is as you know an ethnically diverse smorgasbord of different customs and traditions which just doesn’t begin and end under the mistletoe. Although there will forever be the decorated evergreen trees, images of Saint Nick, and the colorful candles and lights which most of us are accustomed to, when it comes to the Christmas season.
The Christian celebration in December isn’t however the only holiday that’s celebrated when it comes to this diverse nation. Your very next-door neighbor for instance may be lighting their candles so they can honor the days of Hanukkah, or somewhere across town, there are street festivals for Kwanzaa or Los Posadas.
So don’t be surprised if you happen to receive an invitation from one of your neighbors festive celebrations such as for a Japanese New Year’s festival. All you need to do is just join in the fun!
Which is also referred to as Chanukah, is known as the “Festival of Lights,” a holiday that’s celebrated by the Jewish faith. The celebration begins on the 25th day of Kislev based on the Jewish calendar and then lasts for 8 days and nights.
The Meaning Of Hanukkah
Hanukkah is a celebration based as a reminder of re-dedication. Beginning in 168 BC, at Jerusalem’s holy temple, which was followed by the Jewish victory over the once ruling Hellenist Syrians. They at that time had outlawed all Jewish rituals while ordering the Jewish to worship Greek gods instead.
The victorious Jewish then looked for oil so they can relight the sacred menorah during the re-dedication process of the holy temple. They had however only found enough oil to burn for just one day.
But instead, the lights burned on for 8 days and nights, which is the reason for the 8 candles on display, along with the special candle, which is known as Shamash. This candle is placed in the middle for the lighting of the others, making up the distinct design of the Hanukkah menorah. There’s one candle that’s lit for each of the 8 days of Hanukkah.
The Kwanzaa Celebration
Kwanzaa is a celebration which begins on December 26 and extends to January 1 every year. Kwanzaa isn’t a holiday however which celebrates a religious occasion. It’s a celebration which commemorates heritage as well as togetherness.
This was created by Dr. Maulana Karenga in 1966, who is a well known African-American political activist and author. Kwanzaa is based on the 7 principles which are called Nguzo Saba. Unity, determination, responsibility and faith being a few of these principles.
The Kwanzaa Custom
Each of the 7 days of the Kwanzaa celebration is dedicated to one of the 7 principles which is symbolized by either a green, black, or red candle. The largest celebration is on the 6th day, which is known as Kuumba and called Karamu, It’s an one day event which focuses on remembering the ancestry and personal situation reassurances, while recommitting oneself to values and the hope for greater unity.
On the 7th day of Kwanzaa, the participants will then exchange primarily homemade gifts, which expresses their creativity, or art objects and books of African descent based on the life as well as the culture of the African people.
The Food That’s Served During Kwanzaa
The feasting plays a big role in the Kwanzaa celebrations. The food which is served on December 31, will usually include traditional African delicacies such as Koki, which is an appetizer that’s made from black-eyed peas. Other specialties include Jollof rice and peanut soup, tomatoes, and onion.
Japanese New Year Celebration Shogatsu
The Japanese celebrate what’s known as Shogatsu, or New Year’s Day. This is the same day as when North Americans celebrate New Year’s Day, which is on January 1. Up until the year 1873, the celebration was based on the same Chinese lunar calendar, which is the recognition of the beginning of spring.
The Meaning Of Shogatsu
Shogatsu is the most important as well as the most auspicious holiday in Japan. Shogatsu is the celebration of renewal. It’s traditionally a 3 day celebration that’s marked by several rituals to signify events such as the first meal or the first sunrise.
The Customs Of Shogatsu
Just as most will send Christmas cards, many of the Japanese will send out New Year Day postcards. Post offices in Japan will actually hire additional staff to accommodate for the prompt delivery of these postcards, which are called nengaj, this on January 1.
A typical nengaj message may read something like the following, kotoshi mo yoroshiku o-negai-shimasu, which means, “I sincerely hope for your favor once again in the new coming year.”
Traditionally, pocket money is usually handed out to children in envelopes which are called pochibukuro, this similar to the Chinese red money envelopes.
There are also traditional Japanese games such as top spinning and kite flying which are played, along with Japanese poems known as haikus which are written and always includes “first,” which refers to the “first sun” or the “first laughter.”
The Food Of Shogatsu
Perhaps the best part for most is the food that’s served. There are traditional delicacies which include miso, mochi, kamaboko or fish cakes, boiled seaweed, “good luck” black beans, and simmered burdock root. You’ll also most likely find a variety of sashimi, sushi, as well as nontraditional Japanese food which graces the Shogatsu table.
The Celebration Of Los Posadas
Along with Christmas, Los Posadas is an important holiday celebration in most Latin American countries who are christian, including Mexico. Los Posadas is 9 days of food, beverages and music beginning on December 16 to the 24th, which wraps up with midnight mass.
The Origins Of Los Posades
Posada, which means “lodging,” commemorates Mary and Joseph’s rather long journey which originated from Nazareth to Bethlehem, looking for shelter. Over time, this celebration has evolved into more of a deeply religious observance which is also paired with a social based celebration.
The Customs Of Los Posades
The neighbors will usually take turns on hosting the Posada. At dusk, the guests will congregate outside of the host’s home, where a child that’s dressed up as an angel will lead a procession of other children who are carrying small statues of Mary and Joseph. The adults along with musicians usually playing lively festive music will follow, while everyone else holds candles and sings along.
Outside of the designated house, the celebration will then divide in two groups, one half of the group asking for shelter from the other half who are inside the habitat. Once the doors open, the celebration then begins.
The Food Of Los Posades
Anyone who enjoys the traditional food of Mexico will love the feasts which are prepared during Los Posadas. Featured are favorite dishes such as empanadas, tamales, and chestnut cake which is served with hot chocolate.