Last month, The Language Learning Institute celebrated community while gathering for a feast of Spanish and French cuisines at the World Tour of Food and Wine. As always, this event brought together a group of language lovers in honor of the fall harvest and helped to raise money for the Language Learning Institute’s Financial Needs Fund, an excellent start to the season of giving. Though fall may be coming to a close, the time to celebrate community is only just beginning!
December is a month full of excitement and joy for many, not only in our society, but in cultures around the world. We hope you will join us in taking time this month to be with loved ones and spread holiday cheer!
Do you know how winter holidays are celebrated around the world?
December 2-10 (variable): Hanukkah
Hanukkah (alternatively Chanukah) is a Jewish festival of lights which remembers the ancient miracle of one day’s worth of oil burning for eight nights. To commemorate this, a menorah is used to hold eight candles, one of which is lit for each night of the celebration. Every year the dates are different, but the festivities, including dreidel games, cooking of latkes, and gift-giving, always last for eight nights in memory of the very first Hanukkah.
December 6: St. Nicholas Day
St. Nicholas Day (celebrated December 6 in Western Christian countries, December 5 in the Netherlands, and December 19 in Eastern Christian countries) is the feast day of Saint Nicholas, also known as Nicholas the Wonderworker, and in many ways a precursor to the modern Santa Claus. Saint Nicholas was known to always show compassion towards children and give to the needy. As such, children in many cultures celebrate this day in hopes that Saint Nicholas will come bearing gifts: in Ukraine, children who were “good” all year can expect a gift under their pillows; in the Netherlands, children put out a clog filled with hay and a carrot; and similarly, in the U.S., children put out shoes in hopes that Saint Nicholas will leave coins on their soles. The Dutch translation of Saint Nicholas, Sinterklaas, is in fact the origin of our name for Santa Claus.
December 13: St. Lucia Day
Honoring the martyred Saint Lucy or Saint Lucia of Syracuse, known as the bearer of light in times of darkness, St. Lucia Day is a feast day celebrated in many cultures prior to Christmas. In Scandinavian countries where the winter is particularly long, this day is celebrated by girls dressing up in white gowns, red sashes (the symbol of martyrdom), and wreaths of candles upon their heads and bringing treats to their loved ones. In other countries, the day is celebrated with feasts of pasta (Italy), planting of wheat (Hungary), and a nine-day-prayer or novena (Philippines).
December 25: Christmas
We all know Christmas as a time of pine trees covered in sparkly ornaments and surrounded by presents wrapped in shiny paper and tied with bows. For some, Christmas is synonymous with Santa Claus, while for others, Jesus remains the reason for the season. However, what are some other ways of celebrating Christmas around the world?
- In Finland, Christmas eve is for spending time in the sauna, while Christmas day is often a time to visit the graves of deceased family members.
- In Norway, a yule log (‘yule’ from the Norse word hweol for ‘wheel,’ based on the belief that the sun was a wheel rolling towards and away from the Earth) is a traditional symbol of the sun’s return on the winter solstice.
- In Mexico, piñatas are hung from the ceiling, which children strike repeatedly until candy and coins fall out.
- In England, plum pudding is a traditional Christmas treat consisting of flour, suet, sugar, raisins, nuts, and spices, tied up in a cloth and boiled until “plum” or enlarged.
- In Ukraine, a twelve-course meal is prepared, but it cannot be begun until the youngest child, peering out the window throughout the evening, sees the first evening star.
- In Greece, it is believed that goblins called kallikantzeri will come during the 12 days of Christmas to cause mischief. Beware!
December 26-January 1: Kwanzaa
In the United States and other African diaspora nations, Kwanzaa is celebrated to honor African-American culture and heritage, through gift-giving, feasts, and festive decorations of the home. The name Kwanzaa is derived from a Swahili phrase meaning ‘first fruits of the harvest.’ Celebrations of Kwanzaa include seven core principles: Unity, Self-Determination, Collective Work and Responsibility, Cooperative Economics, Purpose, Creativity, and Faith.
January 1: New Year
Many are familiar with the North American activities of New Year’s Eve, including staying up until midnight, making resolutions for the new year, and watching fireworks or other spectacles. In Ecuador, the holiday is celebrated by dressing up a straw figure in old clothes to represent the year coming to an end. The straw creature is burned along with a list of the family members’ faults from the past year, in an attempt to cleanse themselves of the old and bring in the spirit of the new.
January 6: Three Kings Day, or Epiphany
At the end of the 12 Days of Christmas, many cultures celebrate Three Kings Day, in honor of the three kings who saw Jesus for the first time on this day, bringing him the famous gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. In Spain, many children open presents on this day rather than on December 25, while in other countries, it is a stand-alone holiday. In Puerto Rico, children leave boxes of hay under their beds to receive gifts. In Mexico, a mile-long cake is baked for an entire community to enjoy, with a small baby Jesus figurine hidden somewhere inside. The sweet cake is known as a rosca del rey, and it draws people from all over to grab a slice.
February 5 (variable): Lunar New Year
The date of the Lunar New Year varies depending on the lunar calendar each year. Commonly known as Chinese New Year, this holiday is in fact celebrated in many countries and cultures which follow the lunar calendar, including Singapore, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, Japan, and Korea. Parades, games, and celebrations are common, though specific traditions vary from culture to culture. Each new year is represented by one of 12 animals, based on the belief that Buddha invited animals to visit from all over the world, but only twelve came. He honored them by naming the years after each of them, in the order in which they arrived. Each animal is said to bring different qualities. We are coming upon the end of the year of the dog, which will be followed in 2019 by the year of the pig – a symbol of wealth and fortune!
March 5 (variable): Mardi Gras & March 1-6: Brazilian Carnaval
One final holiday of the winter season is Mardi Gras, which always falls on the Tuesday before Lent. As Lent is a solemn time for Christians, honoring the forty days Jesus spent in the desert through penance, prayer, fasting, and sacrifices, Mardi Gras is a time to have one final merry feast beforehand. New Orleans is known for big parades and costumes to celebrate this holiday, as is Brazil’s Carnaval, celebrated the week before Lent as well. Because during Lent many Christians do not eat meat, Carnaval derives its name from carnelevare, ‘to remove meat.’ These festivals are recognized worldwide and attract many tourists each year for their huge manifestations of singing, dancing, and cultural vibrancy.
Remember, there is more to this time of year than Christmas trees! Winter is a time for all types of celebration around the world. As the weather outside gets colder and darker, don’t forget to keep close to your loved ones, prepare a feast, and show your appreciation, no matter what holidays you celebrate. It will warm your heart and your body!