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Celebrate traditional holidays at PSU

Hustle and bustle, hot drinks and cookies, jingles and carols are upon us once again. The holiday season has arrived and people are preparing for the festivities across the world. It is only appropriate to reflect here on the world’s holidays before commencing the season.

Just a few of the holidays being celebrated within the next month are Hanukkah, Ramadan, Kwanzaa, Yule and Christmas.

Hanukkah, a Jewish holiday, is celebrated for eight days and nights, starting on Dec. 9 at sundown. As popular decorations depict, the focal point of the holiday is a menorah, or candle holder, holding nine candles.

The celebration symbolizes a miraculous event that occurred in 165 B.C.E. While the Jews were rebuilding the Temple of Jerusalem they found a small amount of oil to light the temple lamp.

It was believed that the oil would only last one or two days, but it lasted for eight days and nights.

Hanukkah, meaning “dedication” in Hebrew, was thus created to celebrate this event. Olive oil was originally used in the menorah, but has long since been replaced by candles.

Unlike Hanukkah, Kwanzaa is not a religious holiday, but an African-American one that celebrates family, community and culture. It is celebrated for seven days beginning Dec. 26 and ending Jan. 1.

This holiday was created by a professor in 1966, after the Watts riots in Los Angeles, as a way to bring African Americans together as a community.

It consists of combined aspects of several different African harvest celebrations. In fact, the word Kwanzaa is derived from the Swahili phrase, “matunda ya kwanza,” which means “first fruits.”

Celebrations often include songs and dances, African drums, storytelling, poetry reading and a large traditional meal. Seven principles and symbols are the focus of attention. They represent values of African culture which contribute to building and reinforcing community among African Americans.

Ramadan, a Muslim holiday, is observed for the entire ninth month of the Hijra calendar. This year it started on Nov. 17 and will end on Dec. 16.

This holiday is commonly known as the “day of fasting,” which involves total abstinence of food, drink, smoking and sex during daylight hours.

Fasting is the third pillar, or religious obligation, of Islam. Muslims believe that fasting is a means of learning self-control while heightening spiritual awareness.

Ramadan is also a time of intensive worship and reading of the Qur’an. A particularly spiritual time during Ramadan is the 27th night, known as the night of power. This is when the first verses of the Qur’an were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. Therefore, many people spend the entire night in prayer.

Yule, a pagan holiday celebrating the winter solstice, is the source of many traditions that Christians have adopted to celebrate Christmas.

Yule is usually celebrated on the actual winter solstice, which occurs when the sun reaches the southernmost point in its yearly cycle. This year it will be celebrated on Dec. 21. This day is recognized as the birthday of the Sun God or one of the many other names used to refer to the sun.

Pagans traditionally observe the season by bringing in the Yule log, wishing on it and lighting it from the remains of last year’s log.

The purifying and revitalizing power of the fire are thought to destroy the evils of the old year.

Celebrations include food, songs, merry-making and other events similar to the Christmas holiday. Fertility rites are performed, through the use of mistletoe, and divinations for spring are cast.

Christmas, a Christian holiday, is celebrated in various ways around the world. The purpose of the holiday is to recognize the birth of Jesus Christ.

The Christian church adopted Dec. 25 as the birthday of Jesus in the third century current era. This decision came shortly after Rome officially designated that date as the birthday of the “Invincible Sun,” as part of the winter solstice celebrations.

The modern celebration of Christmas in America is a culmination of traditions from around the world.

The custom of trimming and lighting a Christmas tree had its origin in pre-Christian Germany. Gradually, the custom of decorating the tree with cookies, fruit and eventually candles evolved.

England contributed Christmas Cards to tradition, the first one being posted in the 1840s. Mistletoe has long been used by pagans for its powers, and the Romans used it as a symbol of peace. England was the first to use it during the Christmas season.

The tradition of a man arriving through the chimney to leave gifts for children is a combination of Scandinavian and Netherland sources, while the idea of a sleigh drawn by reindeer began in Switzerland.

In Mexico a march called “La Posadas,” led by two children, begins on Dec.16 and commemorates the events in the journey of Mary and Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem.

At midnight on Christmas Eve, the birth of Christ is announced with fireworks, ringing bells and whistles. A popular holiday activity for children is the Pinata event.

In Spain a tradition called Hogueras, meaning “bonfires,” has been celebrated since long before Christmas itself. It is the observance of the winter solstice, characterized by people jumping over fires as a symbolic protection against illness.

Christmas continues in Spain for a few weeks after Dec. 25. On the Eve of Epiphany, Jan. 5., children place their shoes on their doorsteps for the Three Wise Men to leave gifts in.

In Italy Christmas fairs, merry-making and torch processions honor not only the birth of Christ, but also the birth of the “Unconquered Sun” of the winter solistice.

They also celebrate the burning of the Yule log, which must stay burning until New Year’s Day.

On Christmas Eve, children set out their shoes for the female Santa Claus, La Befana, to fill with gifts of all kinds, including toys, candies and fruit.

In Sweden feasting and celebrating begins on Dec. 13 with Lucia Day. A Lucia, or Queen of Light, is chosen from each home, club, school, et cetera. She is dressed in a white gown with a crown of candles in her hair.

The Swedish equivalent of Santa clause is “Tompte.” He is the Christmas elf who lives under floorboards of the house or barn and looks after the family and livestock throughout the year. Tomte often brings presents and children leave a dish of porridge for him during the night.

Poland begins Christmas Eve by waiting for the first star of the night to appear, called “Little Star,” in remembrance of the star of Bethlehem. The moment the star appears everyone exchanges greetings and good wishes.

At Christmas dinner, tradition states that an even number of people must be seated around the table or one of the guests might die in the coming year. Further, the number of dishes in the meal must be odd; an even number would eliminate any hope of an increase in wealth, children or anything desirable.

After dinner, family and guests stay at the table until, at a signal from the host, they all rise in unison and leave.

This is the result of an old belief that the first to rise will die before the next Christmas Eve.

In Austria presents are brought by the “Kristkindl,” a golden-haired baby with wings, who symbolizes the newborn Christ. The story is that the Christ child comes down from heaven on Christmas Eve and, with his band of angels, decorates and distributes trees.

In Germany and Austria children are not allowed to see the Christmas tree until Christmas Eve.

Other Holidays
Other holidays celebrated during the winter season are: Diwali, a Hindu holiday from Nov. 14 to 18; Bodhi Day, a Buddhist observance of the first Buddha celebrated on Dec. 8; St. Nicholas day, on Dec. 6, marks the begining of the Christmas Season in many European nations; Dongii, one of four great Korean holidays, is celebrated on Dec. 21; and the Feast of St.Gabriel, honored throughout Ethiopia, is celebrated on Dec. 28.

Back in Portland
Here at Portland State a holiday party is being held next Thursday, Dec. 6, from 4 to 5 p.m. in the Smith Memorial Center lounge. Refreshments will be available and a community choir will be there.

In addition, a prize drawing will be held to support the PSU Gifts-For-Kids drive. Just drop off an unwrapped gift with Shelly Bird in 351 Cramer Hall. People will receive one ticket for the drawing for each unwrapped gift they donate.

Call 503-725-8137 for more information.