It’s a festive time of year! People in every corner of the world are buying or constructing gifts, making candles and candy, decorating their houses, issuing invitations, taking-out treasured family recipes or googling ethnic dishes for a new immigrant.

Hindus, Jains and Sikhs all use the joyous expression of food during the five days of Diwali, or Festival of Lights. Held in October or November, it is considered a time of renewal, and the beginning of a new calendar season; a time to give thanks for the past year’s blessings and to light the way for good fortune into the coming year. Houses are decorated with lights, families gather, gifts are exchanged and fireworks are set-off.

Strings of lights and the warm greetings of Muslims all over the world announce Eid-Al-Adha, marking Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his beloved son in obedience to Allah. A lamb took the place of the boy, and today, the meat of a sacrificial lamb is shared with family and friends, Muslim and non-Muslim, and with the poor. Gifts are exchanged, and large numbers of the faith attend mosque for prayers. 

Buddhists also use candlelight and multi-coloured lights on Bodhi Day, December 8, to honour the enlightenment of The Buddha, founder of the faith.

Light is central to The Feast Day of Santa Lucia on December 13. There are a number of legends; one goes back to the 304 BE killing of Lucia, a Sicilian girl, who placed the wreath of candles she’d fashioned upon her head, thus freeing both arms to carry food through the dark tunnels of the Roman catacombs where persecuted Christians were hiding. Her kindness and bravery are revered throughout Scandinavia, Europe and Italy, and in some countries, children pay her special honour by dressing in white, lighting candles and bringing their parents coffee and buns in bed!

Traditions, customs and legends may come; go; reappear; disappear forever, or they are tweaked; altered; nipped and tucked … like Hanukkah. When large numbers of Jewish people began to immigrate to North America at the turn of the last century, it occupied an easily overlooked step on their holiday hierarchy. Now, however, Hanukkah – a word that paid quiet tribute to the purification of the Temple in 167 BCE, and marked the miracle of the oil – is now known the world over.

Although the story of the Nazarene has stayed the same since the beginning of Christianity, secular legends about Santa Claus abound; as do wild variants concerning gift delivery … in Australia, Santa uses water-skis; in parts of Africa, he is spotted stepping out of the jungle and in the Northern Hemisphere, his reindeer fly him over rooftops. 

South Americans celebrate Christmas in much the same spirit as North America; the emphasis however, is placed on the crèche, not on secular Santa. Old traditions passed through the centuries also flourish. Brazilians, in the oldest known – 4,000 years – ceremony still in existence, dress in white and gather on a beach to light candles to the Goddess of the Sea and make a wish; while Ecuadorians, wishing to wipe away evil, gather to light the Midnight Bonfire for the Burning of Effigies.

The Jonkonnu Festival, which is celebrated throughout the Caribbean just after Christmas, also keeps traditions alive for it is the intermingling of European and West African dance and music to commemorate the strength and endurance of 17th century slaves. Jonkonnu celebrations may continue through to New Years, testament indeed to the inheritance of fortitude.

Fortitude is also the name of the game in Scotland; Christmas receives its due, but it’s New Year’s or ‘Hogmanay’ that reigns supreme. Glasgow and Edinburgh host the two largest street parties in the world, which can last days. In Spain, New Year’s festivities are more measured; in celebration of a good harvest, people eat one grape at each toll of the twelve midnight bells. While seemingly reminiscent of Eliza Doolittle’s day at the races, it is a serious event, and said to bring much luck to the coming year.

Luck is so highly valued by the Chinese that during the longest and most important of Chinese holidays: the 15 days (mid-January to mid-February depending on the Chinese lunar calendar) of New Year festivities celebrated by approximately a sixth of the world’s population, pay it special significance. Although rituals ? offerings to household deities, house cleaning, a large banquet, ancestor worship, firecrackers ? may differ, most people wear red clothes, give children “lucky money” in red envelopes, throw open their doors to let good luck enter, and are careful not to sweep it out until the New Year’s celebrations are over.

May good luck always enter your doors.

Your Common Outlook Team

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