Maryam Mohseni, ‘24
Winter isn’t called the holiday season for no reason. It’s absolutely jam-packed with celebrations, from religious holidays to cultural traditions. For me, the holidays mean celebrating Christmas with my huge family. Although Christmas is the most well-known and widely celebrated winter holiday across the United States, countless other celebrations abound. Similar to Christmas, some are religious in nature, however, others mark the end of the past year and bring the promise of new beginnings. Although these holidays are celebrated by many in the United States, they come from a variety of cultural, religious, and ethnic backgrounds. Without further ado, here are the most popular winter holidays celebrated in the United States:
Hanukkah: Eight Days from the 25th day of Kislev
Hanukkah – Hebrew for “dedication” – is a Jewish holiday based on the story of the menorah in the Second Temple of Jerusalem that burned for eight days despite having a day’s supply of oil. The temple had just been rededicated to God following the Maccabean Revolt, where the Jews rose up to defeat the powerful Greek-Syrian army that oppressed them. It was seen as a miracle and thus, Hanukkah was born. During each of Hanukkah’s eight nights, one candle on the menorah is lit by the Shamash candle – the ninth candle used to ignite the rest. A recitation of special blessings accompanies the nightly lighting ceremony followed by the singing of traditional songs. Traditional food dishes, such as potato pancakes called latkes and jelly-filled donuts called sufganiyot, are fried in oil to honor the initial oil-based miracle. Many Jewish families exchange gifts, one for every of the eight nights, wrapped in traditional silver and blue gift bags.
Winter Solstice: December 21
Winter Solstice marks the start of winter and the longest night of the year. Although some don’t consider the Winter Solstice a holiday, it is celebrated by many cultures. Native American tribes, like the Zuni and the Hopi, celebrate the sun returning after the longest night of the year. These celebrations, called Soyal, last for around sixteen days. Celebrations include cultural dances, prayers, stories, and songs. People dress up in costumes for festivals and families get together for feasts and gift exchanges. Many Soyal practices are performed to welcome helpful spirits called kachinas. Middle Eastern cultures also celebrate the Winter Solstice, which they call Yalda. In the past, Yalda was a time to celebrate Mithra, the god of light and mark the end of the harvest season. Traditions include staying up late with family, reading traditional literature, like poems and myths, praying for luck, and eating fruits such as pomegranates, which signify life.
Christmas: December 25
Christmas, of course, originated with the birth of Jesus Christ. Although the month and date of Jesus’ birth are unknown, the church in the early fourth century fixed the date as December 25. Nearly all Americans celebrate Christmas in some form, despite many not identifying as Christians themselves. In fact, 93% report celebrating the holiday, while only 65% define themselves as Christians. Christmas has come to symbolize family, love, coziness, and expressions of joy. It’s a time for families to come together, decorating houses in lights, exchanging gifts, and most importantly listening to Christmas music.
New Year’s Eve/New Year’s: December 31 - January 1
On December 31st, New Year’s Eve, family, and friends get together, staying up until midnight, to celebrate the beginning of the new year. In the United States, the most iconic New Year’s tradition is the dropping of a giant ball in New York City’s Times Square at the stroke of midnight. Millions of people around the world watch the event, which has taken place almost every year since 1907. Other customs include watching fireworks and singing songs to welcome the new year, including the ever popular “Auld Lang Syne." Of course, it wouldn’t be New Year’s without the practice of making resolutions for the upcoming year. Hopefully, this will be the year I keep my New Year’s resolutions, but then again, I say that every year and it has yet to happen.