The period from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day (and shortly after) is commonly known simply as “The Holidays” and for some of us, that only includes Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day – but for many others, “The Holidays” are an even busier time. In fact, the month of December and early January bring 16 religious holidays to worshippers around the globe and nearly all will be celebrated in some form in Greater Flint and the surrounding areas.
Some of these holidays will be familiar to our readers and some new; but all are important
to those who observe them and are welcomed in our community.
Let the celebrations begin!
November 28-December 6 (2021)
Also known as the Festival of Lights, this Jewish holiday begins each year on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev. The Hebrew calendar is based on the lunar cycle and therefore, the dates of its holidays change from year to year. Hanukkah celebrates the reclamation of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem by Judah the Maccabee from the Seleucids. After uprooting the Seleucids, it was found that only a one-day supply of oil was left to light the temple’s Menorah (the seven-branched candelabrum). When lit, the menorah miraculously burned for eight days. In honor, Hanukkah lasts for eight nights and each night, a candle is lit on the household’s Menorah and displayed in a doorway or window accompanied by special blessings and song.
St. Nicholas Day (Feast of St. Nicholas)
This Christian holiday celebrates the birth of Saint Nicholas, the saint who embodies gift-giving and serves as the role model for Santa Claus. Although not celebrated nationally in the United States, European countries and European immigrants to the U.S. partake in quiet reverence. Customarily, on St. Nicholas Eve, children will leave their shoes in the foyer or socks hanging from the mantle in hopes of finding coins in them the next morning. (St. Nicholas Eve is also known as Krampusnacht, when the wicked, hairy devil appears on the streets to punish the mischievous children with lumps of coal instead of coins.)
Feast of the Immaculate Conception
Catholics celebrate this religious holiday to honor Mary, the mother of Jesus, and the belief in her sinless lifespan. Also called “The Dawn of the Sun of Christmas,” with this holiday the Christmas season begins. Although not officially a part of Advent, a special Advent candle is lit in the Virgin Mary’s honor and then placed in front of a statue of her likeness. The candle burns while the family prays to the Mother of God.
Bodhi Day (Rohatsu)
According to the Buddhist Religion, on this day the historical Buddha, Siddhartha, achieved enlightenment. Disturbed by thoughts of sickness, old age and death, Siddhartha made a vow to sit underneath the Bodhi tree and meditate until he found the root of suffering, and how to liberate oneself from it. During this meditation, he realized enlightenment and became the Buddha. Those who believe in Buddhist principles honor Siddhartha’s achievement by extended meditation and chanting while enjoying simple teas or cookies.
Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe
Mexicans, Mexican-Americans and Latinx celebrate this Catholic holiday honoring the appearance of the Virgin Mary in Mexico City. According to legend, the Mother of God appeared to a peasant named Juan Diego on a hill outside of the city and asked for a shrine to be built in her honor. As proof of her visit on December 12, she asked Diego to gather flowers at the top of the hill and despite the season, he found an array of roses. The Virgin Mary helped to arrange them in his cloak and when he visited the local bishop, the roses tumbled out and revealed an image of Mary inside. The cloak is said to still exist at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe outside Mexico City. This holiday celebration includes a mass vigil and retelling of the story, followed by a fiesta with food and music.
This primarily Hispanic Christian holiday celebrates Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem to give birth to Jesus. In Mexico, Guatemala and cities in the U.S., participants of Posadas Navideñas hold small, candlelight processions through neighborhoods on each night leading up to Christmas Day. Those in the procession are generally dressed as shepherds, angels, Mary or Joseph. In a reenactment of the historical event, the travelers stop at designated houses and ask for permission to stay, at which time are rebuked until ultimately landing at the home of the chosen host family where they will enter and pray before a nativity scene. The day concludes with a meal of tamales and ponche navideño (a warm, fragrant fruit punch) while children attempt to break open a seven-pointed pinata filled with treats.
Often described as the Hindu Christmas, Pancha Ganapati is celebrated with family over five days of gift-giving in honor of Lord Ganesha, the God of culture and new beginnings. The goal of those who partake in the holiday is to mend past mistakes and bring Ganesha’s blessings to their family, friends, associates, culture and religion. It is customary to build a shrine around a visage of Ganesha to be decorated in the bright colors that depict his five rays of energy. Each day is characterized by a different color and devotion and gifts are given to children, with the adults also receiving gifts on the final day.
Yule (Winter Solstice)
December 21-January 1
Yule is one of the world’s oldest celebrations, dating back to ancient times. Beginning on the shortest day of the year, Yule is believed to be a celebration of the sun and the changing of seasons. The Norsemen of Northern Europe saw the sun as a wheel that changed the seasons and it is believed that the word “Yule” comes from “Houl,” the Norse word for “wheel.” Also during this time, the Celts and Druids of Great Britain believed the sun stood still for 12 days in the beginning of winter. For those 12 days, a log was lit to conquer the darkness, thus beginning the tradition of the Yule log. Yule is celebrated by the burning of the Yule log, an exchange of nature-based gifts and decorating a Yule tree.
Christmas is the Christian and Catholic celebration of the birth of Jesus. His birth is honored by attending mass and giving thanks for the coming of the Christian Lord and Savior. It is celebrated in the home by creation of a nativity scene, decoration of a Christmas Tree and giving of gifts, followed by a day of feast and family. In Western culture, it is believed that Santa Claus, or St. Nicholas, will visit all of the good children in the world on Christmas Eve and deliver presents and goodies. Houses are often adorned in beautiful lights to mark the occasion of Christ’s birth.
One of the most obscure religious holidays, this Zoroastrian holiday honors the death of the prophet Zarathustra, founder of Zoroastrianism. The prophet was a priest of an early Iranian religion who received a vision from the deity Ahura Mazda, who told of the one true God, the Lord of Wisdom. He would continue to receive lessons from Ahura Mazda that he would repeat to his followers. Scriptures of these teachings were recorded by scribes of the Sassanian Empire (224-651 CE). Zoroastrianism follows the idea that goodness is apparent in good thoughts, words and deeds and that each of us has free will to follow good or evil. Believers aspire to be truthful, show love to all others, practice charity and moderation. The holiday is celebrated by charity work and showing compassion to fellow men.
December 26-January 1
Celebrated by Africans across all faiths, this cultural holiday speaks to the best of what it means to be African and human. During the festival, activities are organized around Nguzo Saba (The Seven Principles). They are: Umoja (Unity), Kujichagulia (Self-Determination), Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity) and Imani (Faith). The festival includes feasts, poetry, narratives, music and dance, concluding with a day dedicated to reflection and a recommitment to The Seven Principles.
Feast of the Holy Family
This Catholic holiday honors Jesus and his parents, Mary and Joseph. The feast was created by Pope Benedict XV in 1921 with the purpose of presenting the Holy Family as a model for Christian families. On the day of December 27, Catholics attend service and write notes to Jesus, Mary and Joseph with the hope of receiving a family blessing. Some Christians do charity work on this day to help a family in need.
Holy Innocents Day
On this day, Christians honor the needless deaths of the children massacred by King Herod in his attempt to kill baby Jesus. According to the Gospel of Matthew, after the birth of Jesus, King Herod ordered the execution of all male children two-years-old or younger in the vicinity of Bethlehem. The custom on this day is to put the youngest child in the household in charge of the daily duties: what to eat, where to go and what to do. In Mexico, it is customary for children to play practical jokes on adults. Many families bless their children on this day.
Watch Night celebrants give thanks for the safety they received throughout the year. Also known as “Freedom’s Eve,” this holiday is important in the life of African-American Christians as they celebrate and remember the Emancipation Proclamation (January 1, 1863) which freed slaves in the Confederate states. This occasion is marked by a special church service, celebrations of fellowship and a cultural feast.
Gantan-sai is the New Year festival of the Shinto religion. On the day of the New Year, practitioners pray for renewal of hearth, health and prosperity for the coming year. They also visit shrines, friends and family. The Shinto religion is a traditional religion of Japan and it is focused around belief in the kami (Shinto Gods), sacred spirits that can be found in all things. The religion is polytheistic in that it believes in many gods and deities and is more of a way of life than a religion in any organized sense. It is believed that once a human dies, they become kami themselves and are worshipped and memorialized by living descendants. One main goal is to ward off evil kami by living a righteous and good life.
Epiphany (Twelfth Night)
This Christian holiday commemorates the revelation of God through Jesus Christ and marks the arrival of the Three Wise Men to Bethlehem. The time between December 25 and January 6 is known as the Twelve Days of Christmas, with the night proceeding Epiphany known as Twelfth Night. Rituals on this day include small gifts for children and the blessing of houses with holy water. Epiphany day is one of the three oldest festival days of the Christian church.
Happy Holidays, Everyone!