Discovering winter holidays near and far

Christmas is just one of the many holiday traditions celebrated this time of year around the world. Submitted photo

Most of us complain a great deal about winter — how cold and how dark it is.

This is far from the truth, as many cultures celebrate during the winter months. Best known are Christmas and Hanukkah, but there are also Kwanzaa, St. Nicholas Day, St. Lucia Day and Three King’s Day, as well as the Winter Solstice. The core of all of these holidays mentioned is “light,” especially lighting and burning of candles.

Christmas is a Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. This is a major holiday throughout the world. Also celebrated throughout the world is Hanukkah, where the Jewish community rededicates their believes and values.

Let’s take a look at our neighbors to the north in Canada.Dec. 26th (Day after Christmas) is Boxing Day, which is celebrated in Britain, New Zealand and Australia as well. Actually, it is a day off with pay. I sort of think as it is a resting day after the hustle and bustle of Christmas Day. It all started when Queen Victoria would hand out “Christmas Boxes” the day after Christmas to her servants. Most servants went home, as they were given the day off.

Our neighbors to the south in Mexico celebrate el Dia de los Reyes, better known as Three Kings Day. Celebrated on Jan. 6, the household centers around the Nativity and the baby Jesus. Cognac is set out for the traveling kings, as well as visiting guest.

If we travel to far off Japan, Dec. 25 is not a national holiday; schools and businesses are not closed. KFC is the most popular place for takeout for Christmas dinner. “Hoteiosho,” a Japanese god of good fortune, brings the gifts for the season.

In Europe, there are as many different celebrations as there are countries. In Italy, the story of St. Francis of Assisi and his visit to the area where Jesus was born guides the Christmas celebration. The Christmas Nativity is placed in the honored spot of each home. The figure of Jesus is not placed until Christmas Eve. Families eat a light fish meal before going to midnight Mass. Upon returning from Mass, they may have a slice of panettone, a dry fruity sponge cake along with hot chocolate to drink. It is in America that Italian families introduced the Feast of Seven Fishes with several different tales as to why seven.

In Germany, calendars and wreaths are featured. The Christmas tree is very important to the family. The tree is brought into the house on Christmas Eve, along with Bible readings and the singing of carols. One tale of the Christmas tree relates to Martin Luther, founder of the Lutheran ministry. He brought into the house an evergreen tree to celebrate Christmas Eve.

Christmas Day in Germany is called the “first celebration” and the day after, “Zweite Feiertag,” is the “second day” of celebration. Christmas markets where all sorts of food, gifts and decoration can be bough tare very popular in Germany. This type of market has spread around the world.

In the Ukraine, Christmas is celebrated under the “Julian” calendar on Jan. 7. Christmas Eve is highlighted by the Holy Supper, where 12 dishes are served to honor Jesus’ 12 disciples. It is tradition to fast on that day until the first star appears in the sky. This star represents the arrival of the Three Wise Men and indicates Jesus is born. There must be a problem of when to start dinner if it isn’t a clear night. The Christmas Eve meal contains no meat, dairy or animal fat. Fish is the mainstay, along with grains. Each table has a place setting in memory of someone who has passed on. Hay is often spread throughout the table top, as well as under the table, representing the stable. After dinner, families sing carols around the table.

A relatively new holiday, Kwanzaa means “first fruit.” It is not considered a religious holiday. It was in 1966 that Dr. Maulana Karengais created the celebration of the bounty of the earth. It is an American festival to honor African Americans and their heritage. Today, it is celebrated in America and Africa, as well as throughout the world, for seven days from Dec. 26 through Jan. 1. Kwanzaa is based on the seven principles (seven days, seven candles), which are encourage not only at Kwanzaa but throughout the year.

If you notice, love, family and food are the common bond celebrated during all the holidays.

A good, safe and healthy New Year!

Let Bette hear from you: Search YouTube for “Look Who’s Cooking with Bette Banjack,” as well (search bar: Banjack) for this column. Find Bette on Facebook by searching “Bette Banjack’s Downtown Kitchen.” Her book, “2 Cups of Yesterday,” is available at Gateway Pharmacy or by contacting her.

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