December Has an Abundance of Holidays

December 24, 2008 by  


Courtesy Chuck Flagg, Gilroy Dispatch

Editor’s note:  This article is nice because it describes the religious events that coincide this December (even though it puts ‘Eid on the ninth rather than the eighth, when most people celebrated it, and even though it mischaracterizes some of the symbolism of the hijra.)

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In our northern hemisphere, December tends to be a gloomy month: rain or snow, barren trees, fields lying fallow. In centuries past it must have been a frightening time for peasants to realize that their survival depended upon food they had stored for the winter. Perhaps it is no coincidence that December seems to have more than its fair share of holidays. Here is a list of some of those special dates observed this month, omitting the most prominent holiday about which everyone knows already, Christmas.

Dec. 8 is Bodhi Day. This Buddhist holiday commemorates when Siddhartha Guatauma experienced “enlightenment” (realization of the truth about reality). Traditions disagree on the details, but they do agree that when the sun rose that morning, he found the answers he had sought through meditation, became enlightened and experienced “nirvana” (a state of ultimate peace). Although national celebrations differ, Bodhi is seen as a reminder that any person can become enlightened.

The ninth is Eid al Adha, a day known to Muslims as the Feast of the Sacrifice. It concludes the annual Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca each Muslim is expected to make during a lifetime. It is celebrated with community prayers and feasting even by those not on Hajj. Because Muslims use a lunar calendar, its date changes each year.

The 12th is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, known as the “Patroness of the Americas.” In 1531 a “Lady from Heaven” appeared to a humble Native American at Tepeyac, near Mexico City. She identified herself as Mary, Mother of Jesus, and requested that a church be built on that site. When the local bishop wanted a sign of her authenticity, she sent that man, now known as St. Juan Diego, to gather roses from a nearby hill. Besides the roses, she left behind a miraculous image of herself imprinted on the peasant’s cloak. So many miracles have been attributed to her that the basilica built on that spot is one of the most visited pilgrimage spots in the world.

Dec. 22 through 29 is Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights. This eight-day holiday celebrates a victory of Jewish fighters over Syrian soldiers in the second century B.C. and has represented through the centuries the triumph of religious liberty. Legend tells of a lamp being lit in the liberated temple which burned for eight days despite containing enough oil for only a single day. Contemporary celebrations include burning a special menorah each night and, sometimes, gift-giving. The traditional Jewish lunar calendar causes the date to change each year.

The 28th is Holy Innocents Day; it commemorates a mass-murder ordered by King Herod. When the wisemen told him of the purpose of their trip, to visit the Baby Jesus, Herod sent soldiers to Bethlehem to kill all babies 2 years old and under in an attempt to destroy the infant, whom he considered as a rival “King of the Jews.”

The 29th is Al-Hijra. This is the Islamic New Year. It marks the “hijra” (journey) in 622 A.D. when the Prophet Muhammad (s) traveled from Mecca to Medina to establish the first Islamic nation. It is a low-key event in the Muslim world. The Qur’an uses the word “Hijra” to mean moving from a bad place to a good one, so on this day it is traditional to think about how Islam helps leave bad ways of living behind in order to live a better life.

Dec. 31 is Watch Night. This celebration is associated with the African American Christian community. Members gather at their churches on the last night of the year to participate in services that typically continue after midnight into the New Year. This is a time to reflect upon and give thanks for the departing year and to pray for the future. Many consider this a spiritual way to celebrate what is often a rowdy time. Although some people claim this practice started in 1862 when blacks came together on Dec. 31 to await news of the Emancipation Proclamation freeing slaves the next day, scholars generally have discredited this view.

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