Finding holiday meaningAround the City Thursday, December 22nd, 2011
San Diego LGBT Weekly set out to learn the real meaning of Christmas and on the way, found December is full of meaning for people of many different faiths and non-faiths.
One San Diego cleric says it’s about more than gifts under a tree.
“Christmas is about sharing – sharing with family and friends,” MCC pastor, Rev. Dan Koeshall said. “Parties, sweets, festive food, cookies, fudge.”
But the holiday presents more than an opportunity to share delicious food, according to the pastor.
“It’s an opportunity to say thank you to the special people in your life in an intentional way. It’s also a time to say thank you to the many people in our lives who are there for us rain or shine throughout the year – the postal carrier, our beautician or hairstylist, our newspaper delivery person, our teachers, our favorite waitress or waiter, our health practitioners and office co-workers.”
In addition to those more secular trappings of Christmas, there is the religious or spiritual side.
“I think of God’s unconditional love for all people by wanting to relate with humankind in flesh and blood through the baby Jesus who grew up and influenced the world through his teaching of love, humility, non-judgment, unity and hope for the future,” said Koeshall (who also asked us to wish readers a merry Christmas).
“It’s also important to remember the month of December is significant to our friends, family members and neighbors of other faiths,” Koeshall said. “There are holidays, holy days and celebrations in faith traditions ranging from Judaism’s Hanukkah, to Islam’s Eid al-Adha, to name just two.”
We reached out to clergy from some of the other major faith traditions represented in San Diego to find out what they thought about the meaning of their respective holidays, but unfortunately didn’t receive replies in time for publication. Nevertheless, Wikipedia, the online, open source encyclopedia of everything offered some insights into some of the world’s December celebrations. The following are edited and abridged entries we hope you will find enlightening.
Inti Raymi (Incan)
The Inti Raymi (“Festival of the Sun”) was a religious ceremony of the Inca Empire honoring the god Inti, one of the most venerated gods in Inca religion. According to chronicler Garcilaso de la Vega, Sapa Inca Pachacuti created the Inti Raymi to celebrate the New Year in the Andes. Since 1944, a theatrical representation of the Inti Raymi has taken place at Sacsayhuamán June 24 (approximately the seasonal equivalent of Dec. 24 in the northern hemisphere) of each year. Lasting nine days, the festival features colorful dances and processions, as well as animal sacrifices to ensure a good cropping season. The last Inti Raymi with the Inca emperor’s presence was carried out in 1535, after which the Spanish conquest and the Catholic Church suppressed it.
Bodhi Day (Buddhist)
Services and traditions vary among Buddhist sects, but all such services commemorate the Buddha’s achievement of Nirvana, and what said achievements mean for Buddhism today. Individuals may choose to commemorate the event through additional meditation, study of the Dharma, chanting of Buddhist texts (sutras) or performing kind acts towards other beings. Some Buddhists celebrate with a traditional meal of tea, cake and readings.
Winter Solstice (Pagan)
Throughout early human history, winter solstice was immensely important because communities were not certain of living through the winter. Starvation was common in winter between January and April, also known as the famine months in some cultures. The midwinter festival was the last feast, before deep winter began. Most cattle were slaughtered so they would not have to be fed during winter. It was the time of year when a supply of fresh meat was available.
The majority of wine and beer was finally fermented and ready for drinking by solstice.
Since solstice is seen as the reversal of the sun’s ebbing presence in the sky, concepts of the birth or rebirth of sun gods have been common. In Greek mythology, the gods and goddesses met on the winter and summer solstice, and Hades is permitted to enter Mount Olympus.
While Diwali is popularly known as the “festival of lights”, the most significant spiritual meaning is “the awareness of the inner light.” Central to Hindu philosophy is the assertion that there is something beyond the physical body and mind which is pure, infinite and eternal, called the Atman. The celebration of Diwali is the “victory of good over evil,” and refers to the light of higher knowledge dispelling all ignorance – the ignorance that masks one’s true nature, not as the body, but as the unchanging, infinite, immanent and transcendent reality. With this awakening comes compassion and the awareness of the oneness of all things.
Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, is an eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Holy Temple (the Second Temple) in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt of the 2nd century BCE. Hanukkah is observed for eight nights and days.
The reason for the Hanukkah lights is not for the “lighting of the house within,” but rather for the “illumination of the house without,” so that passers-by should see it and be reminded of the holiday’s miracle. Accordingly, lamps are set up at a prominent window or near the door leading to the street. It is customary among some Ashkenazim to have a separate menorah for each family member, whereas most Sephardim light one for the whole household.
Eid al-Adha is celebrated annually on the 10th day of the 12th and the last Islamic month of Dhu al-Hijjah of the lunar Islamic calendar. Eid al-Adha celebrations start after the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia by Muslims worldwide. Ritual observance of the holiday lasts until sunset of the 13th day of Dhu al-Hijjah.
In keeping with the tradition of the Prophet Muhammad, Muslims are encouraged to prepare themselves for the occasion of Eid. Below is a list of things Muslims are recommended to do in preparation for the Eid al-Adha festival:
Make wudu (ablution) and offer Salat al-Fajr (the pre-sunrise prayer).
Prepare for personal cleanliness – take care of details of clothing, etc.
Dress up, putting on new or best clothes available.
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