It truly is the most wonderful time of the year. This phrase, originating with the 1963 Andy Williams hit, has entered every Christmas celebrator's vernacular, but we believe it encompasses so much more than traditions only associated with Christmas. There's something different about December altogether, and the "melting pot" of cultures that is the U.S. has us wondering about how others celebrate this time of year around the globe.
St Nicholas Day
Sinterklaas comes sailing along on the 5th of December to deliver presents to the children of The Netherlands. Having been based on the historical figure of St. Nicholas, a bishop in the first century from present-day Turkey, Sinterklaas wears a red cape over a bishop’s traditional cloth. According to the Dutch version of the story, the white-bearded man arrives from Spain docking at a different port each year. He then delivers presents to the children of The Netherlands with the assistance of Zwarte Piet, returning the following day to Spain. Our Santa Claus stories evolved from this previous legend, brought to the Americas by both German and Dutch settlers.
From the latkes to the menorah lighting, many Hanukkah traditions are familiar to us here in the U.S. We’ve heard the story of the Jewish people rising up against their Greek oppressors and the rebuilding of the altar at their Second Temple in Jerusalem. However, the eight-day “Festival of Lights” celebration across the seas takes the meaning to unimaginable heights. Every corner of Jerusalem glistens as part of a spectacular light display, transforming the city into a real-life fairytale. Hanukkah has also become one of the most sought-after dates to have a wedding, giving couples their perfect happily ever afters.
One of the most meaningful festivals honored in Hinduism is Diwali, also known as the Hindu festival of lights. The typically five-day long observance takes place during Kartika, a month recognized in the Hindu calendar commonly overlapping October and November in the Gregorian calendar. This annual holiday symbolizes the defeat of light over darkness and is also widely associated with their goddess of prosperity, Lakshmi. Most practiced traditions include the lighting of candles and oil lamps interior and exterior of each home, dressing in the finest of cloth, and making offerings through worship to Lakshmi. Celebrants will also gather to feast and light fireworks each day of the festival!
Many of us have looked down and seen this mysterious holiday printed on our calendars the day after Christmas and wondered, what on earth it could be. The misleading name compelled us to believe we should slap on a pair of gloves and jump into a ring, but that could not be further from the case! Observed in countries historically tied to the United Kingdom, this public holiday came about to ensure all workers would have a day off in case it was required of them to work on the day of Christmas. Some of their most important traditions consist of gathering in family for a feast and performing charitable acts around the community.
One common theme recurs throughout all holidays. It’s a time when we can all gather with our loved ones, no matter where we are, and reflect on what we’re grateful for. Happy Holidays!