between-our-steps-11-29-17-doubleA Facebook post that gets shared at this time of year explains why a person say "Season's Greetings" or "Happy Holidays." The specifics vary but the general point is that over the next two months many of the world's religious traditions have sacred days. The Christian celebration is just one. Also, many of the world's cultures have special celebrations: January first is only one of the possible days to mark the new year.

I went looking for what will be celebrated in the next while.

On December 1st, some Muslims will mark a celebration called Mawlid, the birthday of the prophet Muhammad. In some communities, houses and mosques will be decorated with coloured lights, and there will be street processions. Storytelling and alms giving are important in this festival. There is, however, controversy about this celebration, and it is not marked in Qatar or Saudi Arabia.

Also, this week, on November 30th, will be Geeta Jayanti. This marks the day when Krishna spoke the words of the Bhagavad Gita to Arjuna. The text of this conversation has been important to many Hindus, including Mahatma Gandhi.

For four days starting January 14th, Tamils will celebrate Thai Pongal, the harvest festival in Tamil Nadu, the eastern part of South India. One part of this celebration is a dish of rice cooked with milk, raisons, cardamom and other treats is cooked in a decorated clay pot.

After a forty-day preparation underway now, millions of Hindus will take vows in their home temple, then make a pilgrimage to arrive at the Ayyapa temple in Sabarimala, Kerala between December 30th and January 20th.

A couple Sikh celebrations are coming up as well. The birth of Guru Gobind Singh will be celebrated on January 5th. He was the tenth guru and an accomplished poet who holds an important position in the history of the community. In parts of North India, there will be large processions with people singing devotional songs. Sweets will be shared. Special prayer gatherings will take place at the gurudwaras.

Shortly after, Lohri and Maghi are marked. Lohri is celebrated in the Punjab by Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus and Christians. This festival marks the end of winter and the return of the sun with a bonfire. Children go door to door singing traditional songs and will be given sweet or savory treats.

The next day is much more somber. Maghi commemorates forty Sikh martyrs who died defending the tenth guru. A fair is held in Mukstar Sahib, where this happened, and people will make a pilgrimage to the place.

The Jewish celebration of Chanukah begins Dec 12 and goes on for eight days. This festival celebrates the miracle that took place when the temple was rededicated, and the small amount of oil available lasted for eight days.

Buddhists will mark December 8th as the traditional day that the buddha achieved enlightenment. Also, the Mahayana New Year is traditionally January second, though this will be celebrated on different days in different countries. This is a fairly solemn day marked by prayer and meditation. Candles will be lit in some traditions, and a Japanese practice will include writing on a paper that is then burnt to represent letting go of karma.

Chinese New Year will take place on February 16th, and in our community a course is being offered so that we can learn about the traditions of that celebration.

Starting on December 26th, Kwanzaa honours the African heritage in African-American culture with a celebration that culminates in a feast on January 1st.

Aboriginal people in our community will mark the winter solstice, the day when the sun will begin to its return journey. In many ways, it is the solstice that makes this season special in the northern hemisphere. The dates for some celebrations are determined by the sun's movement. For example, Lohri takes place when the sun enters Capricorn.

Not all of these are major celebrations. Rosh hashana and Ramadan are holier and happen at other times. Different Hindu traditions make Navarati and Diwali more prominent. But many traditions mark important events in this season.

In Canada, the official days off are based on the Christian celebration of Jesus' birth and the secular celebration of January first as the new year. But given how many other celebrations will take place, saying "Season's Greetings" or "Happy Holidays" does honour people around us.

Cathy Hird is a farmer, minister, and writer living near Walters Falls.


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