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Christmas is not the only religious celebration this month

December is here and with it we welcome carols and lights, decorative trees and festive parties. Mainly driven by the celebration of Christmas, there is no doubt that this time of year is joyful.

But Christmas is not the only religious celebration that makes this season wonderful. There are several other spiritual holidays being observed during this time. Here are a few less popular, but equally significant religious observances taking place during this holiday season:

Rohatsu or Bodhi Day, was just celebrated on December 8 by Buddhist believers. This holiday remembers Buddha’s vow to sit under the Bodhi tree until he reached a state of spiritual enlightenment. It is observed with a period of intentional meditation and reflection. Traditional Buddhists will also celebrate with a special meal of rice and milk and baked cookies in the shape of a leaf or tree, to symbolise the Bodhi tree.

More well-known is the Jewish festival of lights, or Hannukah, which just ended. This takes place annually over an eight-day period. The date changes from year to year, as Jews follow the lunar calendar. This year Hannukah was observed between November 28 and December 6. It remembers the celebration of the victory of the Maccabees over the Syrian army in the second century BC and the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem. Observers light the eight-candle menorah and come together for special readings and singing during this time.

The celebration of the Winter Solstice is an ancient pagan tradition that honours nature and the change in seasons. It is observed on December 21, which is the day with the shortest period of daylight and longest period of darkness in the entire year. It also marks the first day of winter and the start of a new solar cycle. This tradition was historically celebrated with a twelve-day Yule festival, which includes activities such a wreath-making and decorating an evergreen tree.

Many believe that Christmas traditions have their origins in the celebration of the Winter Solstice and the Yuletide festivities, but we’ll save that conversation for another day.

In more recent years we have seen the African American and Pan-African celebration of Kwanzaa. While it is not a religious holiday, faith plays a major role in it and represents one of the seven principles of Kwanzaa, Imani. The intention is to reconnect Black Americans with their African roots through cultural rediscovery. It is a seven-day celebration observed from December 26 through January 1. Each day reflects on a different principle deemed important for the progression of the Pan-African community.

Rohatsu remembers Buddha’s vow to sit under the Bodhi tree until he reached a state of spiritual enlightenment

Kwanzaa is often celebrated in conjunction with other religious holidays of this season.

As the holiday season gets into full swing, it is important to be aware of and respectful of all the varying beliefs present in our community. As different as each one is from the other there is one central theme among them all – a message of hope.

The holidays offer us a time to come together to share with and celebrate each other, the things that connect us and the things that make us different. Perhaps this diversity is part of the beauty of this time of year.

I don’t know what this season means for you. Maybe you are remembering the birth of Christ or the miracle of Hannukah. Could it be the magic of the Winter Solstice and the festivities of Yuletide? Or perhaps for you this season is more about the enlightenment of Rohatsu or the culture of Kwanzaa. Maybe it’s none of the above, or all of them.

There is so much to celebrate. So much to reflect upon. Whatever your reason for this season, may it be all that you hope and need it to be. Happy holidays.

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Published December 11, 2021 at 8:01 am (Updated December 13, 2021 at 8:01 am)

Christmas is not the only religious celebration this month

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