So, as the Andy Williams song goes, Whoop de do. The Holiday Season means different things to everyone reading this. Each of us has a solid idea of what this means to us. We are probably sure in your belief and your faith in our holiday season. And I, respect your beliefs. Your faith is correct, and right.
What I propose, is that we examine what this means to others in our lives. You should learn about another person’s faith and rituals. They are as important to them, as yours are to you. Ignorance of other’s belies and traditions, along with religious doctrine fuel intolerance. To combat this ignorance, I will spend a little time describing several popular December holiday celebrations.
Our current calendar lists December as the month that holds the Winter Solstice, December 21st. For those in the Northern Hemisphere, it is the longest night of the year. For those in the Southern Hemisphere, it is the longest day of the year. Northern Hemisphere Pagan culture and religions continue to celebrate the Winter Solstice. Many of the ancient Pagan rituals were adopted by the Christian celebrations for Christmas. These include the Yule log, evergreen wreaths, and exchanging of gifts. Many scholars link the modern Santa Claus to the Pagan god Odin.
The Japanese celebrate Ōmisoka, or New Year’s Eve. This is the second most important day in the year. Families will gather to eat a bowl of toshikoshi-soba or udon noodles. These long noodles are symbolic of crossing from one year to the next. Families will cook enough food to last for three days into the New Year, as it is considered bad luck to cook in the first three days of the year.
Those of Jewish faith celebrate Hanukkah, or the Festival of Lights. This is an eight-day celebration that commemorates the re-dedication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. The celebration centers around the lighting of the eight candles on the Menorah while reciting traditional blessings. Children will play with a dreidel, a four-sided top bearing four Hebrew letters.
For Christians, Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Christ. Traditions for Christmas vary around the world. Americans decorate a tree and give gifts. Australians, often go camping and may decorate a Christmas Bush. My favorite set of traditions comes from Iceland. The Icelandic people celebrate 26 days of Christmas and have 13 Santa Clauses that deliver gifts to shoes on windowsills.
New holidays have been established. Bodhi Day is not a traditional Hindu holiday. It was created in 1985 by Sivaya Subramuniyaswami. Likewise, the secular Kwanzaa was developed in 1966 by Maulana Karenga. Both holidays were developed to provide an alternative to the mainstream holidays of Christmas and Hanukkah. Both holidays provide a way to celebrate Hindu or African American history and peoples.
Humanity in general is not good at accepting other’s faiths. Our history is full of examples of faith and religious intolerance. Every major religion has historic, and current examples. Some of the examples were deadly, like the Spanish Inquisition, Crusades, and the civil war in Syria, fueled in part by Islam’s Sunni vs Shia division. Other examples were less bloody but led to major shifts in religious thought. For Christians the Protestant Reformation split the Christian world into several branches with different doctrines. For Muslims the Islamic Schism was a difference in opinion about who should lead the Muslim faith after the death of Muhammed. The two sides initially fought over the successor, but eventually resulted in the two faiths, Sunni, and Shia. Despite differences in doctrine, the two groups have, until recently, lived together in harmony for centuries. Viewed from the outside, the differences between branches in the same religion, are minimal. Christians are as baffled at the Sunni vs Shia division as Muslims are at the difference between Baptists and Catholics.
As mentioned above, I believe that your faith is correct. I cannot tell you that your faith is incorrect. What I can suggest, is to respect and accept other’s faith as valid. You may not believe what your neighbor believes, but you should respect it. Likewise, your neighbor should respect your faith.
Can you imagine a world where everyone respected each other’s opinions? Wow. That is a dream worth pursuing.
Faculty – School of Information Systems & Technology, DEI Taskforce Co-Chair