The More the Merrier: Celebrations Around the World – Voices of Diversity

The More the Merrier: Celebrations Around the World

By Amaris Holguin

Around this time of year about 92% of Americans are preparing for a Christmas celebration (Pew Research Center). But what about the rest of the world? Many celebrations observed during this season involve gathering with family and loved ones to honor religious, spiritual, and/or cultural teachings. In the holiday spirit of sharing, we would like to share a brief description of some international holidays and celebrations with you!


Also known as Chanukah, meaning “dedication” in Hebrew, Hanukkah honors the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem after the Maccabean Revolt in 2nd century BCE. Hanukkah is celebrated by Jewish communities world-wide on the eve of Kislev 25 on the Hebrew calendar. On the civil calendar, it generally coincides with the month of December.

One of the main rituals for Hanukkah include lighting the Menorah, a nine-branched

candleholder. The candle in the middle, known as the Shamash (“attendant”), is used to light the other eight flames, one for each night. Other Hanukkah customs include singing traditional Hanukkah songs, reciting Psalms, and enjoying Hanukkah meals with loved ones.


Kwanzaa is a week-long cultural festival that joins communitarian values and practices of pan-African and African American communities. The holiday, celebrated from December 26th to January 1st, was created by Dr. Maulana Karenga, a professor of Africana Studies, in 1966. During the holiday, families and communities organize activities around the Nguzo Saba, The Seven Principles.

  1. Umoja (Unity)
  2. Kujichagulia (Self-Determination)
  3. Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility)
  4. Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics)
  5. Nia (Purpose)
  6. Kuumba (Creativity)
  7. Imani (Faith)

On each of the seven nights, the family gathers to light a candle on the Kinara (candleholder). On the first night, the black candle in the center, dedicated to Umoja (unity), is lit and the principle is discussed. For the remainder of the holiday, one candle is lit each night and one of the principles is discussed. Kwanzaa traditions also involve feasts, music, dance, poetry, and narratives. The last day of the celebration is dedicated to reflection and recommitment to The Seven Principles as well as other central cultural values

Las Posadas:

Beginning on December 16th and ending on December 24th, Las Posadas is a religious holiday that commemorates the journey that Joseph and Mary made from Nazareth to Bethlehem in search of a safe refuge where Mary could give birth to baby Jesus. Though it originated in Spain, Las Posadas is generally celebrated in Mexico and some parts of the U.S.

During each evening of the celebration, a procession reenacts the journey of Joseph and Mary. The procession sings songs while the group representing the Holy Family asks for posada (lodging) at a series of houses and is turned away until the procession reaches the designated house and is invited to enter. The celebration is continued inside the home with prayer, song, and a feast. On the last night, Christmas Eve, the celebration is concluded with a midnight mass.


Eid-al-Adha is an Islamic holiday celebrated by Muslims worldwide to honor the willingness of the prophet Ibrahim, also known as Abraham, to follow Allah (God’s) command to sacrifice his first-born. Because the Islamic calendar is based on the lunar calendar, the date of Eid-al-Adha varies greatly.

In the period around Eid al-Adha, many Muslims travel to Mecca to perform the Hajj pilgrimage, a mandatory once-in-a-lifetime religious responsibility. Communities also celebrate by visiting family and friends, and in some traditionally Muslim countries sacrifice an animal in an act known as qurbani. This represents the animal that Ibrahim sacrificed in the place of his son. Ultimately, the meat from the sacrifice is shared with friends, neighbors, and the poor, to ensure that everyone can partake in the holiday feast!


Diwali, also known as the festival of lights, is a 5-day celebration that generally takes place in autumn and is an official holiday in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and neighboring countries. The festival gets its name from the avali (row) of deepa (clay lamps) that observers light outside their homes to symbolize the inner light that protects from spiritual darkness.

During Diwali Hindus celebrate the triumph of good over evil, or light over darkness. In Jainism it commemorates the nirvana, or spiritual awakening of Lord Mahavira after his death. Sikhs use Diwali to mark the anniversary that Guru Hargobind Ji, the Sixth Sikh Guru, was freed from imprisonment.

Regardless of the holiday(s) you celebrate, we at SDIS wish you a Happy Holidays and New Year!


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