By Sami Leder

As December comes upon us and winter break is approaching, the first thing that springs to most students’ minds is one word: Christmas!

Most students and staff at Pin Oak celebrate Christmas on December 25th, as do most Americans and most people in the western world. Christmas is no longer simply a religious holiday, but has turned into a full-blown, festive phenomenon and also a business strategy for companies to sell, sell, sell in November and December.

Since Christmas is so prevalent in our society and you may relish it highly, you may be unaware of the many other religious holidays around the same time.

You might have already heard of this first holiday from some of your Jewish friends; Hanukkah (or Chanukah). Hanukkah is celebrated on the 25th day of the month of Kislev on the Jewish lunar calendar and lasts seven days and eight nights, and this year will span from December 24th to January 1st on the solar secular calendar (this is later than usual). The holiday commemorates the Jewish victory against the Greek/Assyrian army and their reclaiming of the Second Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Each night of the celebration, Jews light a candle on a special, nine-branched candelabra called a Menorah or a Chanukiah. Observants also eat oily, fried foods on Chanukah such as latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (jelly-filled doughnuts topped with powdered sugar). This symbolizes the miracle of the oil in the Holy Temple. Additionally, Jews also celebrate by playing a spinning-top game called Dreidel. Players spin the dreidel, or top, and the winner receives gelt, or chocolate coins.

Another holiday you may be unaware of is Diwali. Diwali is observed by Hindus in late autumn. It commemorates the Hindu new year and is either a three or five-day festivity, varying from Hindu to Hindu. One way the holiday is observed is by household cleaning. Hindus clean their entire home and open all their windows to welcome the Hindu goddess of wealth, Lakshmi, inside. According to Hindu belief, Lakshmi cannot enter a dark dwelling, so every family lights a traditional Diwali clay lamp, or a diya, to invite the goddess, thus making Diwali regarded as the Festival of Lights (just as Chanukah is). Other ways observants rejoice is by wearing new clothes and accessories, throwing parties, playing games, and launching fireworks and firecrackers to ward off evil spirits.

Although this holiday is little more on the cultural side than the religious side, you might find it very interesting. Kwanzaa is a pan-African holiday that usually falls around Christmas/New Years’ time, and this year will span from December 26th to January 1st. Any black person or person of African descent can observe the holiday. Kwanzaa honors African heritage in the United States and was founded in 1966 by Maulana Karenga. The name Kwanzaa originates from the Swahili term “matunda ya kwanzaa,” which translates to “first fruits of the harvest,” or “first fruits”. Each day of Kwanzaa pays tribute to a different moral. Celebrants believe these morals are crucial to building strong, loving families and are prevalent in African villages. During Kwanzaa, observants greet each other with, “Habari gani?” (“What’s the news?”) and the morals of Kwanzaa form the answers. On the last day of the year, Africans share a feast called karamu and dine on traditional African meals. There are also special colors and symbols for the festivity, and celebrants light a traditional seven-branched candelabra called a kinora.

Hopefully now you have a little more of an understanding of other winter holidays. Regardless of whether you celebrate Christmas, Chanukah, Diwali, Kwanzaa, just New Years’, any other holiday, multiple holidays, or none at all, Pin Oak Press wishes all Pin Oak students and staff  happy holidays!