While most students spend the holiday season with their families, not all celebrate the same way.
Family unity and traditions are a part of many celebrations. While holidays might have differences, some have common ground in their origins, Harald Prins, professor of anthropology, said.
Every culture has a celebration that marks certain times of the year. For several cultures that is the harvest or mid-winter festival, Prins said.
“Mid-winter is traditionally the point when the sun is lowest in midday on the horizon,” Prins said. “It is looked at as the midpoint of a new cycle, and so in many different cultures that has been celebrated.”
ORIGINS OF GIFT GIVING
The exchanging of gifts, a key part of many holiday celebrations, also finds its origins in ancient times, Prins said.
“In the rural settings, during the summertime, everybody’s hard at work harvesting, planting. They didn’t have to time to celebrate,” he said. “So when the harvesting ends, that’s when the celebration starts. Every year would have those who did well in the harvest, and those who did poorly and had nothing, and tension would build between the two.”
Prins said giving presents eased the tension.
“This theme of goodness to others and sharing is the moral of many of these stories,” he said.
ORIGINS OF SANTA CLAUS
Santa Claus, the jolly character who has become the American embodiment of the Christmas spirit, actually began in the legends of British and Dutch tradition, Prins said.
He said the American image of Santa Claus is a combination of the British Father Christmas and the Dutch Saint Nicholas.
“In England, you have Father Christmas, who is the big rolly-polly guy, and in the Netherlands you have Saint Nicholas, who was a tall bishop with a long white beard,” he said.
Prins grew up in the Netherlands, where Saint Nicholas Day is an important holiday, celebrated on Dec. 6. In the Dutch tradition, Saint Nicholas Day is the day when gifts and Christmas itself are more of a low-key religious occasion.
“The importance of Saint Nicholas Day carried over to New York while it was still a Dutch colony, and that’s where the American Santa Claus concept was introduced,” Prins said.
Kwanzaa is a holiday that recently became part of the American tradition. Kwanzaa is a celebration of African-American heritage.
It’s a seven-day celebration that is runs from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1. Byron Williams, Kwanzaa coordinator for Black Student Union, said Maulana Karenga established Kwanzaa in 1966.
“Basically, what Kwanzaa is all about is unity within the African-American community,” Williams said. “It has seven principles, which represent the seven candles of the Kinara, or candle holder.”
The seven principals are as follows:
n The first is Umoja, or unity.
n The second is Kujichagulia, or self-determination.
n The third is Ujima, which is about helping out the community.
n Fourth is Ujamaa, or cooperative economics.
n Fifth is Nia, or purpose, so people continue to move in the right direction as a community.
n Sixth is Kuumba, or creativity.
n Seventh is Imani, or faith, which Williams said he thinks the most important principal to the African-American community.
Williams said BSU has celebrated Kwanzaa at K-State since 1991. The feast that traditionally closes Kwanzaa takes place at a group dinner during dead week.
Hanukkah, the festival of lights celebrated by the Jewish community, takes place over eight days in December.
The exact dates alternate every year as the Jewish holy year is guided by the lunar calendar. The festival takes place in honor of a story from ancient Jerusalem, said Ellen Reynolds, administrative assistant to the associate provost of international programs.
The story said Jerusalem had just been liberated from an attacking Syrian army. The temple had been desecrated by the Syrians, and the Jewish people needed their temple to be cleansed to be holy again. The menorah, which acts as an eternal flame, only had enough oil to burn for one day, but it lasted for eight. A menorah is lit each night of the festival in remembrance of this miracle, Reynolds said.
Reynolds grew up celebrating Hanukkah with her family in New York. Reynolds now attends Hanukkah celebrations at the Manhattan Jewish Congregation with her family.
“Some of the Hanukkah traditions we have (are) latkes, which are potato pancakes; the dreidel, which is a spinning top game; and gelt, which are chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil,” Reynolds said. “A common misconception is that there are eight days of gift giving, maybe some of the richer families do that, but most don’t. We usually just exchange gifts on the first night.”
Reynolds said Hanukkah is different from other holidays in the Jewish community.
“In Judaism, we have high holy days like Yom Kippur, which is a day of fasting and repentance. Hanukkah is more of a happy, low-key celebration,” she said.