Try holiday traditions of another religion

The Holidays are upon us once again, and we immerse ourselves in a multitude of religious, secular, and social activities, many deeply rooted in the rich traditions of our beliefs and families. So, how do we individually and collectively celebrate this time — what is it all about, and how can we go about making the most of Winter Break 2015?

Many religions from around the world celebrate a major element of their beliefs in the month of December. Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Judaism all do.

While each is uniquely its own, the Holidays have, in some respects, become a homogenized cultural tradition.

Walking around campus this time of year you have most likely heard someone call the upcoming break “Christmas Break.” Yes, Christmas is going to happen over break, but when we say this, we are forgetting about the celebrations of other religions that happen in December. It’s about time we understood the culture and celebrations of a religion other than our own.

Individuals use Bodhi Day (beginning Dec. 8 and often continuing for 30 days) for additional meditation, study of the Dharma, chanting Buddhist texts, or performing acts of kindness. Because Buddha sat under a Bo tree while seeking enlightenment, a live ficus tree is often brought into the home. The tree may be adorned with strings of beads symbolizing all things united, and three shiny bulbs representing the three jewels of Buddhism – Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Likewise, multicolored lights may be strung throughout the home, representing the many paths to enlightenment. A traditional meal of tea, cake, and readings is also common.

In the Hinduism Pancha Ganapati celebration (Dec. 21- 25), a shrine with a large picture or statue of Lord Ganesha is created in the main living area. Pine boughs, flashing lights, tinsel, and colorful hanging ornaments may complement the display. Each morning children dress Lord Ganesha in a different color (golden yellow, royal blue, ruby red, emerald green and brilliant orange), each representing one of the five powers (shaktis). Each day a tray of sweets, fruits, and incense are prepared and offered by the children. Chants and songs are performed in praise, after which the sweets are enjoyed. Gifts are given each day to the children, then placed before Lord Ganesha to be opened on the 5th day.

One candle of the Menorah is lit each night during the Hanukkah celebration (this year Dec. 6-14), and each member of the family may light a menorah. It is lit at sundown and typically placed in a window. Blessings over the candles and about the miracle of deliverance are recited every night. Gifts are given to the children, games are played, and food is enjoyed. The game of dreidel, a four-sided top, is often enjoyed in remembrance of the time when Jews studying the Torah used it to hide their activity from approaching Seleucid soldiers. Latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (jelly donuts) are eaten throughout Hanukkah.

Now that you know that each major religion has it’s own traditions and celebrations for the month of December, you can begin to appreciate the different cultures. You may have taken notice of some overlap, mainly in the area of food. Who doesn’t like food?

Just like how each religion has its own holiday celebration traditions, they also have their own holiday food traditions.

Even though we may have differing beliefs, we can all appreciate diversity, family and traditions.

Finish up your finals and enjoy your break. Who knows? Maybe with this insight you will try something new and create a new tradition over the holidays.