Last week, I talked about the origins of kissing under the mistletoe. There are many other interesting holiday traditions.
Historically, many winter celebrations began with the winter solstice, Dec. 21. People rejoiced on this day when the days began to get longer and they found the sun returning. Many holiday traditions that we associate with the Christian holiday of Christmas are actually pagan in origin, such as holly, ivy, a decorated tree, mistletoe and gift giving.
Chanukah, Hanukkah or Hanukah also is celebrated around Christmastime. Also known as the Festival of Lights, it is celebrated for eight days in December. The word "Chanukah" means dedication.
For 2,000 years, lighting the eight branches of the menorah, the candelabra, has stood as a symbol of the Jewish will to live and worship in freedom. This year, the celebration of Chanukah began at sundown on Dec. 7. There is a Jewish tradition of giving Chanukah gelt, real or candy money, to children. Special holiday foods are prepared. Greeting cards may be exchanged.
The eight nights of giving and receiving presents, which is now part of the Chanukah celebration for many, may have more to do with the influence of Christmas in America than with religious traditions of Chanukah.
For African-Americans, Kwanzaa celebrates traditional African values of family, community responsibility, working together for the benefit of all and self-improvement. Started in 1966, this is not a religious or political holiday, but the celebration of African roots and traditions. It occurs from Dec. 26-Jan. 1 with symbolic colors of black, red and green; the lighting of candles; and gift giving. On Dec. 31, a feast is prepared for family and friends.
On Dec. 8, or the Sunday immediately preceding it, Buddhists celebrate Bodhi Day to commemorate the day of Buddha's enlightenment. Bodhi Day is not associated with the solstice and seasonal changes found in other religious observances at this time of year. However, it does signify the point when Buddha achieved enlightenment and escaped the endless cycle of birth, death and rebirth through reincarnation.
No matter our religious or cultural background, I think the messages from all of these holidays and traditions for us to share and remember are that family and community are important. Blessings come in many forms, and we are all one people no matter where we live. Happy holidays and happy gardening to all in the New Year!
JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City/Storey County Extension educator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.