How the Winter Holidays Illuminate the Diversity of the U.S

Filed in American Culture by on December 12, 2014 0 Comments

With trees and lights and carols abounding, December is considered the Christmas season; however, the spirit of this holiday isn’t limited to one religion or segment of society.

The winter holiday season for Americans begins in the weeks prior to Christmas as lights adorn the streets and 78 percent of U.S. households will display a Christmas tree. This tradition didn’t originate in the U.S. In the 16th century, Germans brought Christmas trees into their home. It wasn’t until the late 19th century that the U.S. adopted this tradition. Today, a major holiday event is the lighting of the Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center in New York City. People also often visit light displays in their own town, like the ZooLights at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., and decorate their homes inside and out with bright lights and wreaths in addition to trees.

Nearly all Christians in the U.S. (96 percent) say they celebrate Christmas, which observes the birth of Jesus Christ. But Christmas is also becoming increasingly secularized in our multicultural society. Eight in 10 non-Christian in the U.S. say they celebrate Christmas customs. And 76 percent of Asian-American Buddhists and 73 percent of Hindus celebrate Christmas. Muslims in the U.S. also use the holiday to teach cultural tolerance and lift up the diversity of the U.S.

Jewish people in the U.S. celebrate the winter holiday of Chanukah. During this holiday, Jews remember their ancestors’ victory 2,000 years ago over a Syrian-Greek army that tried to prevent them from practicing their religion. As the story goes, when they took back their Temple, they found only enough oil to keep the Temple Menorah lit for one day. But a miracle happened: the oil burned for eight days.

Today, Jews celebrate Chanukah for eight days, lighting a new candle on a menorah (a type of candelabra) in their home each night. They also play a game with a “dreidle,” a four-sided top, and children receive “gelt” (coins) or other gifts. It is customary to eat treats that are fried in oil, including potato “latkes” (pancakes) and doughnuts.

More recently, the celebration of Kwanzaa has begun to spread across the United States. Maulana Karenga created Kwanzaa in 1966 as the first specifically African-American holiday.  Each of the seven days of Kwanzaa is dedicated to one of the following principles, as follows:

  •   Unity
  •   Self-Determination
  •   Collective Work and Responsibility
  •   Cooperative Economics
  •   Purpose
  •   Creativity
  •   Faith

During the time of the shortest daylight hours, the celebrations of the winter light up our nights with the diversity of the nation.

What different U.S. holiday traditions have you observed during your time in the U.S.? Let us know in the comments section below.

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