Holidays around the world

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Illustration by Shannon Kidd

It’s that time. The holidays are upon us. And while some may say “Happy Holidays” to avoid a politically incorrect faux pas, given how many celebrations actually take place around the world each December, it’s probably the most accurate greeting you can offer. Here is a sampling of just a few of the festivities, in case you needed more reasons to party:

Bodhi Day, Dec. 8
Dec. 8 is Bodhi Day, the Buddhist holiday that commemorates the day that Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, reached enlightenment (or Bodhi in Sanskrit and Pali) after years of ascetic practice and meditation. To celebrate, string multi-colored lights around your home, acknowledging the multiple valid pathways, or light a candle each night, a symbol of enlightenment.

St. Lucia Day, Dec. 13
In Sweden on Dec. 13, girls dress up in white gowns with red sashes as Lucia brides for St. Lucia Day, in honor of this third-century saint who was killed for her faith in 304. With a wreath of Lingonberry branches and burning candles on their heads, they sing songs and bring their families coffee and twisted saffron pastries called lussekatter.

Hanukkah, Dec. 24–Jan. 1
Most of us are familiar with Hanukkah, the eight nights and days during which Jews light the nine-branched menorah to celebrate light over darkness. On Hanukkah, many Jews eat special potato pancakes called latkes, sing songs and spin a top called a dreidel.

Yalda Night, Dec. 21
Yalda Night is an Iranian festival celebrated on the longest and darkest night of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, winter solstice. This is a time for friends and family to gather and eat, drink and read poetry past midnight. Pomegranates and watermelons are especially significant because the red symbolizes dawn and life.

Pancha Ganapati, Dec. 21–25
Pancha Ganapati, the family festival of giving, is a five-day Hindu festival celebrated from December 21–25 in honor of Lord Ganesha, the elephant-headed god of culture and new beginnings. On each day, one of the five faces of Ganesha is honored with a different color, representing a different energy, or shakti. Sweets, fruits and incense are presented at his altar as gifts, and chants and songs praise him.

Christmas, Dec. 25
I suppose you can’t talk about the holidays without Christmas, but not everyone celebrates it the same way. Christians celebrate it by going to church and giving gifts; Americans celebrate it by going to the mall and giving gifts; and in parts of Europe, star singers go caroling as they walk behind a huge star on a pole.

While for many people Christmas is synonymous with Santa Claus, in the Netherlands, they celebrate Saint Nicholas. On the evening of his supposed arrival, children leave their shoes by the fireplace or window to be filled with treats by Sinterklaas.

Newtonmas, Dec. 25
Perhaps a lesser-known holiday is Newtonmas, the Dec. 25 holiday that some atheists and skeptics choose to observe instead of Christmas because it’s Isaac Newton’s birthday.

Festivus, Dec. 25
Originally a family tradition of scriptwriter Dan O’Keefe, a writer for the American sitcom Seinfeld, Festivus is a parody and secular holiday that serves as an alternative to the commercially driven Christmas season. The celebration, as shown on Seinfeld, includes a Festivus dinner, an unadorned aluminum Festivus pole and rituals such as the “Airing of Grievances” and “Feats of Strength.”

Kwanzaa, Dec. 26–Jan. 1
Kwanzaa, which means first fruits, is an African-American and Pan-African holiday that celebrates family life and unity and is based on ancient African harvest festivals. Celebrated from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1, millions of African Americans dress in special clothes, decorate their homes with art and fruits that represent African idealism and light a candle holder called a kinara, which represents African-American roots.

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