The Origins of Our Holiday Celebrations

One question that likely won’t be asked during the endless holiday parties you’ll be attending in the next week or so is ‘what are you celebrating’? For most, it’s simply a matter of enjoying the festive season by virtue of tradition. Of course there’s plenty to cherish – friends, family and good fortune, to name a few – but there’s also much deeper roots. And it’s also highly likely those roots are different for many of us, given the diverse backgrounds that exist within our country. Here’s a quick brush-up on what we’re all celebrating and why:

Christmas is by far the most celebrated occasion in Canada. Most will probably know that the 25th of December marks the birthday of Jesus Christ and is annually celebrated with a feast, as it always has been, the Advent season (and chocolate calendar) in anticipation of the nativity of Jesus, and the twelve days following Christmas to countdown the day of Jesus’ baptism. Of course it’s also the highlight of the retail year, with gift purchasing taking centre-stage during modern Christmas seasons.

Known as the Festival of Lights and celebrated around the world predominately amongst the Jewish population, Hanukkah takes places every year in November-December to commemorate the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. The celebration starts on the 25th day of Kislev on Hebrew calendar, which translates to anytime between late November to late December in the Gregorian calendar. The nine-branch Menorah is generally regarded as the primary symbol of Hanukkah.

Muslims around the world mark the ninth month of the Islamic calendar with 30 days of fasting to honour patience, spirituality, humility and submissiveness to God. Eating, smoking, drinking and sex are strictly prohibited during this time, when it is believed that the first verses of the Qur’an were revealed to the prophet Muhammad.

Kwanzaa first emerged on the holiday radar in 1966-67, when African Studies professor Maulana Karenga started the tradition of a week-long celebration of African-American culture and heritage between December 26th and January 1st. The holiday is regarded as the first one specific to African-Americans and is marked by the lighting of seven candles, as well as a feast and gift giving.