Underrepresented Winter Break – University News



A comprehensive guide to this season’s traditions across cultures

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! For various people and cultures around the world, the winter season is full of holidays. Being in a Catholic Jesuit institution, Christmas is naturally a holiday observed by many members of the SLU community, but it is important to consider the different identities and diverse traditions that others may observe throughout December and January at SLU .

From December 16 to 24, various communities of Spanish and Latin American origin will celebrate “Las Posadas”, a Spanish word meaning “The Inns”. This tradition honors the Christian story of Mary and Joseph’s journey before the birth of their son. Over the course of nine nights, representing the nine months of Mary’s pregnancy, groups create processions to symbolize Mary and Joseph’s search for shelter on the night of Jesus’ birth. As a rule, these processions end each evening in the house of a different family where a feast is held. Customary party traditions include prayers, food, music, fireworks, and star-shaped piñatas. The next morning, a mass is celebrated to recall the religious origins of this feast. As a combination of Catholic influence and Latin American cultures, Las Posadas represents a time of contemplation, celebration and community.

From December 18 to 26 of this year, Hanukkah is generally celebrated by people of the Jewish faith. This eight-day tradition commemorates the miracle that followed the victory of the Jews over the Syrians in 164 BC. While they were restoring the temple in Jerusalem, which had been destroyed during the war, they found only one jar of olive oil remaining. Although it should only have been enough to light the menorah – a seven-branched candelabra – for one day, the single pot miraculously powered the candles for eight nights. Today, this event is celebrated by adding a candle to the nine-branch menorah for eight nights. While the candle is lit, the Jews recite blessings. Traditional dishes on this holiday include latkes (potato pancakes), ‘sufganiyot’, a Hebrew word for ‘jelly-filled donuts’, and other foods fried in honor of the miracle of oil . Additional customs during Hanukkah include exchanging gifts and playing with a spinning top, also known as a dreidel. This holiday, observed by Jews in Israel, the United States and other parts of the world, honors Jewish history, religion and culture.

Celebrated from December 26 to January 1, Kwanzaa is another winter festival. Established in 1966, this seven-day celebration aims to promote Pan-Africanism, or the unity of indigenous Africans and African descendants. Each night, a candelabra candle, called Kinara, is lit to represent one of the seven principles around which the holiday revolves: umoja (unity), kujichagulia (self-determination), ujima (collective work and responsibility), ujamaa (economy cooperation), nia (goal), kuumba (creativity) and imani (faith). Traditions this week include African song, dance, drumming, storytelling, clothing and poetry. To wrap up the week, observers exchange gifts and enjoy a Karamu, a southern African community festival to celebrate the harvest. Although primarily seen in the United States, African descendants from the Caribbean and other countries also participate in this celebration of African history, values, and communities.

On January 22, 2023, many East and Southeast Asian cultures, including Chinese, Vietnamese, and Korean communities, will begin celebrating the Lunar New Year. Following the lunar calendar, this festival is observed from the first new moon in late January until the full moon arrives 15 days later. Each new year is associated with a zodiac animal. 2023 will be the year of the rabbit. New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are filled with religious and family gatherings to honor ancestors. Later in the holidays, celebrations include lantern festivals, parades, dances and games. Rice dishes are usually prepared but vary slightly between the different Asian communities that observe the festival. Being aware of events celebrating various holidays on the SLU campus, from Christmas on the Quad to the Tet (Lunar New Year celebration) of the Vietnamese Student Association, helps students observe and recognize the traditions and identities of members of their community. It is important to recognize and respect cultural differences while remembering that regardless of culture, winter is synonymous with celebrating community and a new beginning.

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