When it comes to the holiday season, no matter where a holiday is celebrated – or which kind of holiday – one of the defining features of holidays around the world is that they are spent with family and friends. Ultimately, that is the most important part of any holiday, sharing memories and following the traditions that you have celebrated for generations (and sometimes much longer!) Therefore, for this week’s blog, we’re going to take a brief break from translation, interpretation, and localization, and talk about some of these important holidays.
Regardless of what religious tradition or culture one belongs to, the December holidays are supposed to be about peace, love, togetherness, and goodwill among mankind. Whether you are celebrating Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa, or any other holidays this year, you will hopefully be spending time with those most important to you and doing something for someone less fortunate than you.
However, why is it that so many of the “big” holidays happen around this time of year? Well, the simple answer is that because many moons ago, these types of holidays and celebrations were timed to the Winter Solstice. The Winter Solstice is the day of the year when one of the Earth’s poles is tilted farthest away from the sun. Many cultures and traditions placed great importance on both the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox.
So, what are some of these important December holidays this year and how do people celebrate these holidays around the world? We will start with a few examples for Christmas in this week’s blog, and in part two, we will take a look at some of the other important December holidays being celebrated this year!
Bodhi (Enlightenment) Day – December 8th (2020)
The first major holiday of the month of December 2020 is the celebration of “Bodhi (Enlightenment) Day”. According to Buddhist tradition, this is the day on which Siddhartha Gautama attained perfect enlightenment (nirvana). His enlightenment happened while seated in meditation under a sacred peepal tree (later called the “Bodhi tree”). He later described his attainment of Nirvana in three stages: 1) discovered all of his past lives in the cycle of rebirth; 2) discovered the Law of Karma and the importance of following the eightfold path; and 3) discovered the Four Noble Truths, which will lead one out of suffering.
Like many other religious traditions, Buddhism (and Buddhist “holidays”) are celebrated very differently around the world. For example, certain groups do not consume rice or milk on this day, as it is the same meal that the Buddha ate after he reached enlightenment. Other shared and common features include the recitation of Buddhist scriptures, visiting a temple to burn incense and spend time in meditation. In this way, they hope to obtain the same release from the cycle of suffering that Buddha purportedly found more than 2,000 years ago.
Christmas – December 25th
Undoubtedly, Christmas is very big deal in the United States where it is celebrated by a majority of the population. For some, it is an important religious holiday, but even many people who are not “religious” still celebrate Christmas as a “cultural event.” It is a time for Christmas trees, houses decorated with colored lights, and sometimes even lawn ornament statues of snowmen, reindeer, and Santa Claus. Kids around the country go to the mall with their parents throughout December to have their picture taken with the famous “Mall Santa” and tell that fat, jolly old elf what they want for Christmas (hopefully, with a mask on this year!)
Of course, no Christmas in the United States would be complete without such accouterments as large stockings stuffed with goodies, candy canes, eggnog, and mistletoe.
In Japan, even though Christmas is not a “religious” holiday, it is still “celebrated” by many Japanese families. There are decorations, lights, and, of course, lots of food. In the United States, holiday dinners often consist of turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, and all the trimmings. For the Japanese, however, their “Christmas Feast” comes from none other than Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC). Yes, you read that right … the biggest Christmas tradition in Japan is to eat KFC fried chicken!
In the South American country of Colombia, they celebrate a somewhat more traditional Christmas, although with a few unique twists. For starters, the Christmas season unofficially begins at midnight on December 1st, with massive fireworks displays in the city of Medellin. It is rumored that this tradition began as a sort of birthday celebration for Pablo Escobar when he was running the Medellin Cartel during the 1980s and 1990s. However, it is now strictly a celebration of Christmas, Colombia, and the love of Colombian parties!
Colombia is also famous worldwide for its amazing displays of Christmas lights which go up all over the country. They cover homes, businesses, public parks, and almost anywhere you can imagine. People travel from all over the world to see them, and some of the best are to also be found in Medellin. From more traditional designs, like sleighs and Santa Claus made entirely out of lights, to large, themed areas such as in 2018 when a massive light display to celebrate Colombia’s biodiversity was erected in Parque Norte, with massive animals, flowers, and trees all made out of Christmas lights. It is truly something to behold!
Last, but certainly not least, in the Netherlands, Sinterklaas (St. Nicholas, from which the name “Santa Claus” was derived) brings presents to all the good little girls and boys on December 5th, the night before St. Nicholas Day on December 6th. On the evening of December 5th, Dutch children leave out their shoes in which Sinterklaas will put presents and sing Christmas songs.
Also, according to Dutch tradition, Sinterklaas lives in Spain (not the North Pole!) and arrives in the Netherlands by steamboat. After giving out all of the presents, with a little help from his assistants, he gets back on his steamboat and heads back to Spain. However, that’s not all! On December 25th, Dutch children receive even more presents, this time from “Santa Claus” (also called “Kerstman” so as not to confuse him with Sinterklaas), who lives in Lapland in Finland. That sure is an awful lot of presents to receive!
Be sure to check in with us next week to learn about more December holidays this year!
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