Students recount non-Eurocentric holiday celebrations


Walk nearly any street in December, and you’ll see street lights wrapped in twinkling lights, wreaths displayed on doors, Christmas trees peeking through windows with a big white angel or star on top. Go into any store and hear Mariah Cary singing her Christmas wishes over the speakers or turn on the TV and watch endless ads with fat Santas and perfectly wrapped presents in full saturation across the screen. In our society it’s close to impossible to ignore Christmas. 

Yet, there are dozens of other holidays that happen around Christmas time, throughout the winter from a plethora of different cultures and religions that deserve to be recognized. How is it that one can go through every winter completely oblivious to them?

In South Asia, and for many Hindus, Buddhists, Jain and Sikhs across the world, there is Diwali. 

“Diwali is the celebration of light over dark or good over evil. It is the festival of lights, one of the biggest celebrations in my religion. Usually, we call it our new year,” senior Nyssa Shahdadpuri says. 

Traditionally, Diwali is celebrated over five days. At the start of the festival, people clean and decorate their homes with clay lamps. Over the following days, there are prayers and big family feasts, along with gift exchanges. “We meet up and have dinner. We’re usually vegetarian for that day. It is a five-day celebration so some people are vegetarian for the whole five days, but I’m just vegetarian on that day. We have dinner together. Usually, when you go to someone’s house, you bring these sweets called Mithai,” Shahdadpuri explains.

Another winter holiday is the Chinese New Year, also called The Lunar New Year taking place between January 21 and February 20 depending on the year. Celebrations are focused around the goal of pushing out the old and bringing in the new with hopes of luck and prosperity. This often means cleaning the house. 

“A lot of the traditions are associated with cleaning and making way for the new,” junior Keira Tu explains. 

Red is traditionally worn, and people gather to watch fireworks and eat together with friends and family.

 “We have dumplings a lot of times. The dumplings look like old Chinese money and so it symbolizes wealth. The more dumplings you eat, the more wealth you’ll have in the new year. All the food is amazing,” Tu says.

 The final celebration of the Chinese New Year is the lantern festival. Glowing lanterns are brought through a parade. Often a giant red dragon, a symbol of good fortune, is featured and families come together to watch. 

 “It’s very joyous. Like how having the winter holidays in the U.S. are, just bringing people together and warmth in the winter is always nice,’ Tu says.

There is also Kwanzaa, celebrated from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1. Kwanzaa originated primarily as an African American holiday but is also celebrated outside the U.S. in areas where there are strong histories of African descent. Unlike most other winter holidays, it is both nonpolitical and nonreligious. Kwanzaa is celebrated over seven days, and each day represents a different value: umoja, kujichagulia, ujima, ujamaa, nia, kuumba,  and imani—meaning, unity, self-determination, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith. Every day, families come together to light their kinar, or candleholder and discuss the importance of the day’s value. 

Eid al-Fitr follows a lunar calendar, meaning the date of its celebrations in coordination with the Gregorian or European calendar varies each year. However, there are some years that it falls in or around wintertime. Eid marks the end of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting from sunrise to sunset. 

Fasting for thirty days really shows you that you are in control of yourself; you can control yourself from eating. If you’re able to control that, you’re able to control other aspects of your life too. You can build up skills. Like, if you have any bad habits, you can get rid of those. That’s just kind of what it represents,” senior Ysura Ansari says. 

To celebrate, people gather in the morning to pray, then join with family and friends to eat and exchange gifts. 

“We have a brunch. We typically eat cultural foods since we’re all Pakistani and there’s a lot of Pakistani food involved. There’s a lot of dates involved since that’s the main thing we eat to break our fast during Ramadan. We do a lot of outdoor activities too. One year, we did a whole water balloon, water event thing. It depends on the weather,” Ansari says. 

Hanukkah is another big winter holiday for many Jewish people. It typically takes place in December and is celebrated over the course of eight days. Although Hanukkah is not mentioned in the Torah, it has become one of the most celebrated Jewish holidays. Hanukkah celebrates and commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem during the second century BC. To celebrate, families light their menorah with a candle for each night of the eight days. 

“You light the menorah starting with the tallest candle and take it and light the rest of the candles, right to left because that’s how you read. Knowing Eurocentric languages, you want to go left to right, but we read right to left,” junior Liza Imrem explains.

 Scriptures and Psalms are read throughout the celebrations, and families come together to eat, sing songs, and exchange gifts. 

“My family normally gets together with my extended family; there are three generations of us. We go to my great aunt and uncle’s house, and we make latkes. We sit there and peel the potatoes and cut the onions, the kids normally do that. The parents will fry them and put them in the oven. It’s really fun,’ Imrem says. 

It’s clear that the winter holiday season is full of much more than just Christmas. There are many other holidays that deserve to be celebrated and recognized for their own traditions and culture.  “Hanukkah is an important holiday that people should know about, but there are also other Jewish holidays like Rosh HaShanah, Young Kippur, and Passover. We should be learning about all of them,” Liza Imrem says. 

Despite cultural differences, all of these winter holidays share themes of light, love, giving, gratitude and togetherness. 

“I feel like people kind of associate The Lunar New Year with something that is different or foreign just because it is coming from eastern countries. It’s not so different from the holidays that so many of us know about,” Tu says. 

We live in a society where Christmas is highlighted and prioritized as the dominant winter holiday, not allowing space for other essential holidays to be celebrated. 

“Typically for Ramadan since its thirty days, in the past few years, it’s usually fallen during the school year. I’ve had to go somewhere else during lunch. One year on Eid, I remember that we had final exams, so I wasn’t able to stay and celebrate with my family for that long because I had to come back and take [finals]. I think, overall, people aren’t very aware of Eid or haven’t heard of it. It’s not really recognized. Even if the school’s not shut down, at least people should be aware of it or be educated on it,”  Ysura Ansari says. 

It is up to us to honor and welcome these holidays with the same joy and care regardless of whether you celebrate or not. 

“I think this year I finally started noticing people in my life, like friends or teachers, would wish me happy Diwali, and that felt so good,” Nyssa Shahdadpuri says.