More Than Christmas: Major Holidays in Other Religions

More Than Christmas: Major Holidays in Other Religions

By Hannah Biener

Hindus lighting candles for Diwali. Photo courtesy of Khoka Rahman via Wikipedia

Hindus lighting candles for Diwali. Photo courtesy of Khoka Rahman via Wikipedia

Christmas lights shine warmly at night time, Christmas songs dominate the airwaves, and Christmas decorations spring up everywhere from school lobbies to doctor’s offices. With the onset of Christmas season comes the collective merriment that Americans across the country can enjoy. However, despite Christmas’ pervasiveness in American culture and public discourse, many fellow citizens identify with their own separate religious holidays, a phenomenon evident in the Charter community.

Charter students observe a myriad of spiritual belief systems, and most seem happy to explain their religion’s most important celebrations to those who are not familiar with them. Senior Yasser Abdelaal identifies as a Muslim and says that Islam’s main holiday is “hard to define.” But “Ramadan is one that a lot of people know. It’s where we fast for 30 days.”

When asked the significance, Yasser answers, “It’s sort of like a gesture that shows how we can give up something in the name of god...You don’t only fast from food during the month, you fast from things that you usually would like to do-- to stay humble, in a sense.” He laughed, adding, “It’s sort of a plus for me—I get off from school.”

Senior Jake Rosengarten knows about fasting all too well. He identifies as Jewish and discusses the importance of Yom Kippur, which he describes as “a day where we atone for our sins.” The fast consists of “a whole 25 hours” where he “can’t have any food or water.” 

He says his plans “depend on the year,”  but states that “a lot of times, my family will come down to my house. We’ll go to synagogue for services, and sometimes we’ll stay all day. Because the kids can’t go the whole day fasting, we have to bring them home to eat, so if there’s a lot of kids one year...we’ll all go home together.”

Senior Alan Balu has a different perspective. As a Hindu, he observes Diwali, which he describes as “the festival of lights” that “symbolizes the triumph of good over evil, or light over darkness.” 

For Diwali, Alan details the many ways people celebrate. “Everyone usually lights lamps and does fireworks. Usually, you go to people’s houses and... go to parties and pujas, which are where you go to pray. You give offerings to God and pray for good luck for the new year,” Alan says, noting that “It’s different in different regions [of India].”

With the Pew Research Center estimating that Muslims, Jews, and Hindus comprise 0.9%, 1.9%, and 0.7% of the US population respectively, there are more holiday celebrations than at first glance. As Americans spend time with friends and family this holiday season, they can thank their country for allowing them and their neighbors to celebrate freely and openly.

(For reference, in 2017, Ramadan begins May 26, Yom Kippur on September 29, and Diwali on October 19.)

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