Foreign festivities: Different holiday celebrations

design: Makenna Shrager
permission to print photos: Ava Hall and Bri Tigner

With winter break right around the corner, many people are putting up last minute Christmas decorations and buying last minute presents. The holiday rush always occurs throughout December, and even as early as November as people are getting ready for Christmas.

However, Christmas isn’t the only holiday that occurs towards the end of the year. Hindus and Jews also celebrate Diwali and Hanukkah, respectively, during that time and they are mostly looked over in the holiday rush.

Hanukkah is always over the course of eight days and this year it was from Nov. 28 to Dec. 6.

“Hanukkah is an eight day celebration where Jews celebrate the rededication of their temple in Jerusalem where they had become free of their Greek and Syrian oppressors,” junior Ava Hall said.

Although most people know of Hanukkah, they don’t know the details on why it is celebrated. Hanukkah is celebrated by Jews to commemorate the rededication of the Second Temple of Jerusalem in the Maccabean Revolt led by Jewish priest Judas Maccabeus.

“The Syrian King ordered the Jews to leave behind the Torah and instead worship Greek gods which caused a huge rebellion,” Hall said. “Judas Maccabeus retook the temple in Jerusalem which had been taken over by the Syrians, but the army of Jews won it back.”

Hanukkah is eight days long because as the Jews were fighting for their temple, their candles stayed lit for eight days even when there was not enough oil. This is also why Jews light a candle each day in the menorah for eight days.

“While taking back their temple there was only enough oil to burn the candles for one day but they stayed lit for eight days, which then led to an eight-day celebration of Hanukkah,” Hall said. “Menorah means lamp stand in Hebrew and it has nine lights in total: there are eight in a row and the ninth light, a shamash, is usually on the top and is typically used to light the other eight candles.”

Although the lighting of the menorah is a well-known tradition, Jews partake in a variety of other activities throughout Hanukkah to celebrate the miracle that happened with the candle.

“Most people will celebrate Hanukkah with food, games, handing out gifts all eight days of the holiday and as well as passing out chocolate gelt coins and lighting the menorah.” Hall said. “Typically, a game of dreidel is played and the letters printed on the sides of a dreidel are an acronym that stands for “nes gadol hayah sham” which translates to “a great miracle happened there” and refers to the miracle of the oil that had given the people light on the menorah for the eight days after taking back their temple.

Diwali is another popular holiday and is celebrated by Hindus. Diwali usually falls between late October and early November, depending on the moon cycle, and this year it was on Nov. 4.

Diwali is known as the festival of lights and represents the victory of good over evil. However, there is also ancient history contributing to the holiday as the celebration first started when Lord Rama, his wife Sita and his brother Lakshmana returned after fourteen years of exile and the villagers warmly welcomed them for their accomplishments by lighting their path home.

“Diwali first started when Rama, Sita and Lakshmana returned home after being exiled and defeating the demon Ravana,” junior Sraavya Paul said. “Rama battled Ravana because he had kidnapped his wife, Sita.”

As Diwali is focused on lights, people set up a lot of clay lamps around their houses to light up their surroundings and they also get together with family and friends on the terraces to light fireworks in the evening and even through the night. Although fireworks are a defining characteristic of Diwali, Hindus also partake in many other traditions for the holiday.

“People celebrate by buying new clothes and gifts, making rangoli, which are designs made with colorful powder, cooking traditional food and of course lighting as many candles and lights as they can,” Paul said. “Many people also let off different kinds of fireworks and sparklers.”

However, Diwali celebrations in India are different from what people do here in America.

“We don’t get to celebrate as full out as we used to when we lived in India, but we still typically have a Diwali party with our friends where we dress up, eat good food, light sparklers and have fun,” Paul said.