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Understanding And Accepting The Diversity Of The Holidays

“Not all experience the same sentiment while doing the same exact activity.” ― Efrat Cybulkiewicz

It starts earlier and earlier each year. Christmas songs on the radio in October. The stores put out all their Christmas holiday decoration items in October. Even the outside of our malls are already decorated with Christmas items in October.

For some of us in a majority Christian nation, such as America, this is not only something we prepare for but look forward to celebrating.

But have you ever noticed that in a small corner of your shopping store, an area you may not have visited, are decorations for other holidays celebrated around this time?

This article is not to be controversial or create a feeling against Christianity (after all America was founded as a Protestant nation), but just to create an awareness of others around you and what they might be feeling.

I am Jewish. I was brought up from birth as a conservative Jew. Maybe something you didn’t know. There are many forms of Judaism. There are Orthodox Jews, they usually follow all the laws of Judaism, including keeping kosher, not doing any work on Saturdays and following the strict original teachings.

Then, there are Conservative Jews, who are a bit more flexible with the laws. They may or may not keep kosher, but keep most of their practice as the original rules apply. Finally, there are Reform Jews and unaffiliated Jews.

This group wanted to assimilate more into the Protestant nation concepts, so practice Judaism with a loose set of rules around the religion. I hope I didn’t offend any Jewish folks in these simple descriptions. Of course, the deeper descriptions are much bigger. But we also know we are only about 3% of the overall population in the United States.

So we have to turn a blind eye to all the Christmas decorations because we celebrate a holiday called Hanukah at the time Christians celebrate Christmas.
Truth be told, I have the best of both worlds, because I married a Christian, and so celebrate Hanukah with my family and Christmas with my wife’s family.

I enjoy both. There are many of us who are in mixed-faith marriages and enjoy the celebrations, but there are many who don’t. I do still shed a tear a bit when I go to the stores at this time and see the little area for Hanukah among all the other Christmas items and note that they are at least twice the cost of Christmas items. But I am one of 3% of the nation, so what can I say?

As the world becomes smaller, there are more people of other religions who also have a big holiday in and around Christmas.

For this article, I want to break down the barriers a bit, so that we are all educated about what these holidays are and what you can learn about them, because, for us non-Christians, it’s a bit overwhelming to see mostly Christmas decorations around.

We feel a bit lonely around this time. So here we go. Here are other people around you that may or may not have told you about their holiday and what it’s about this time of year.

1. Hanukah (Jewish)

3% of the U.S. is Jewish. Hanukah falls around Christmas time, but it can be early December as well, as the Jewish calendar does not match the Gregorian calendar. For Jewish people, Hanukah celebrates the Jewish eight-day, wintertime “festival of lights,” when a small band of faithful Jews, led by Judah the Maccabee, defeated one of the mightiest armies on earth, drove the Greeks from the land, reclaimed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and rededicated it to the service of G-d.

There’s more to the story, but we celebrate over eight days and give presents each day as well as play a game called Dreidel. It is a fun holiday.

If you know someone who is Jewish, the proper thing to say is “Happy Hanukah!”

2. Ashura (Islamic)

1% of the U.S. is Muslim. Ashura falls somewhere in December or the 10th day of the first month of the Islamic Calendar. It commemorates the death of Prophet Mohammed’s grandson marked with public outpourings of grief, blood donations. This is a bit less of a celebration and more of a remembrance holiday. There is no proper greeting for someone during this holiday.

3. Bodhi Day (Buddhist)

About 0.6% of the U.S. is Buddhist. Bodhi Day is a holiday that commemorates the day that the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama (Shakyamuni), experienced enlightenment. In Buddhist homes, you will sometimes see a ficus tree (sound familiar?) decorated with lights and beads.

There are three ornaments hung to represent the Three Jewels – The Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.

Children make cookies in the shape of a leaf or a tree to symbolize the Bodhi Tree.

You can share a greeting with your Buddhist friends by just saying “wishing you peace and joy”. It’s quite similar to Christmas, no?

4. Pancha Ganapati (Hindu)

1.6% of the U.S. is Hindu. The holiday is more recently created for the Hindu population modern five-day Hindu festival celebrated from December 21 through 25 in honor of Ganesha.

The festival was created in 1985 as a Hindu alternative to December holidays like Christmas by Sivaya Subramuniyaswami (born Robert Hansen), a Westerner who embraced Hinduism.

This holiday also uses a decorated tree or banana leaves, flashing lights and colorful ornaments. Each day of the holiday signifies a different color and meaning. A greeting for this holiday is to say “Happy Pancha Ganapati!”

5. Kwanzaa (African Heritage)

About 14% of the U.S. is African American. While not all African-Americans celebrate Kwanzaa, many do and it continues to grow in celebration. Kwanza is a holiday that honors African heritage in African-American culture and is observed from December 26 to January 1, culminating in a feast and gift-giving.

Kwanza celebrates seven core principles you can learn about here. Families celebrating Kwanzaa decorate their houses in colorful African art and cloth such as kente, especially the wearing of kaftans by women, and fresh fruits that represent African idealism. It is a celebratory holiday of remembrance and pride.

The greeting to someone celebrating Kwanzaa is to say “Joyous Kwanzaa”.

This is not an exhaustive list and you can learn even more about other holidays in this Huffington Post article. I feel like I should mention that the opposite of enlightenment is ignorance.

I hope this article enlightened you to some of the other celebrations that take place around Christmas time and that, for the non-Christians in America, it can be a bit of a challenge navigating through all the Christmas decorations to find your holiday section.

I hope that if you didn’t know about all the other holidays that your friends and neighbors might be celebrating, you can now share with them your knowledge from this article. Don’t be afraid to ask someone of a different religion or creed what they do.

We are always happy to share and explain and appreciate you wanting to know.

Our world continues to get smaller and we all suffer from some level of ignorance about these new and different folks near us. For example, everyone assumes that, as a Jewish person, I keep kosher. I don’t, but that’s my choice. I love my bacon, just like so many others.

Ask a Jewish person if they keep kosher. If they do, I bet you’ll be fascinated to learn how much work goes into having to keep a kosher house.

It’s quite interesting. So, I’ll end this article with a “Happy Holidays” to all, whichever you celebrate. That covers all the bases, don’t you think?

If I missed your holiday, please comment and help educate everyone, because we all, even me, can learn and be more accepting of who we all are.

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Katherine Hurst
By Alan Eisenberg
Alan Eisenberg is a Certified Life Coach, Author, and Bullying Recovery expert. He is also a survivor of youth bullying himself and has turned that challenging experience into being an anti-bullying activist and blogger. Alan's vision is for people to recover from bullying trauma and then go on to lead happy, productive lives whilst improving their self-esteem in order to find their authentic self.

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