Special Ceremonies in Winter

Leila Harper, Beyond the Gates Editor

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The first thing people think of when they hear the word “winter” is usually Christmas. Christmas dominates every other winter holiday. Who could blame it? The decorations are beautifully festive, there’s an entire genre of music dedicated to the holiday, and the presents, of course. But there are so many more interesting celebrations during winter, and some aren’t even rooted in religion, like the equally valid holidays Hanukkah and Kwanzaa.

First, is the Winter Solstice. It is not exactly a holiday, but it is still very prominent. The Winter Solstice is the shortest day of the year. It commences the change of Earth’s tilt on its axis in relation to the sun. It takes place on December 21. In the past, people were afraid that this time of year meant that the sun would spin farther away and never come back, but they soon observed that it was the opposite: the sun would slowly get closer from that point on. Many Christmas traditions actually originate from the celebrations of the return of the sun. For example, people would hang food from trees to feed the animals when food became scarce. They would also hang orange pomanders (basically decorative fruit ornaments) and lanterns around the house during this time.

Speaking of Christmas-adapted traditions, there’s the European holiday of Saint Nicholas Day on December 6. Saint Nicholas was a man from Turkey known for his generosity towards children and the poor. Children in Europe, Russia, Ukraine, and Turkey place their shoes by the door and fill it with straw and carrots on the night of December 5. In the morning, it’s all replaced with candy and small toys. Our Santa Claus comes from Saint Nicholas, as do customs such as hanging stockings, candy canes, and giving to the needy.

Less prominent traditions, such as the Yule Log, come from Yuletide, which is actually a celebration of the Winter Solstice. The Feast of Yule is a festival celebrating the return of the light. The Yule Log cake comes from a ritual where an actual Yule Log is burned, and a piece of it is kept for good luck. People would also go door to door, offering a sip of wassail or hot mulled cider. This is where we get caroling.

Drifting from still holidays that web towards Christmas is the Fiesta of our Lady Guadalupe, originating in Mexico. It honors the sighting of the mother of Jesus in Mexico City during the 16th century. She became the patron Saint of Mexico. Some people commemorate her with an excursion to Mexico City, at the spot where she was said to be spotted. Families celebrate by going to church and then having a feast of traditional Mexican cuisine.

Another holiday is Bodhi Day. Bodhi Day is celebrated in China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. It’s celebrated by Zen Buddhists on the twelfth day of the lunar calendar. In Japan, it’s celebrated on December 8 every year. Bodhi Day commemorates the time of year when Siddhartha Gautama achieved enlightenment and became Buddha while sitting under a fig tree. It is a time to celebrate Buddhism and Siddhartha Gautama’s awakening. Families sometimes decorate their homes with fig trees, the leaves heart-shaped and a picture of Buddha sitting beneath.

Winter, despite the cold, is a warm time of the year, even in the Northern Hemisphere. While there is snow (in other places of the world) and temperatures below freezing (also not here), For us, winter is time for bundling up in warm clothes, sitting by the fire after a long day, enjoying a hot cup of hot chocolate, and spending time with family. However you choose to enjoy your winter, make it last.

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