’Tis the season to be jolly or to light the yule log or dance around the bonfire, read holy scriptures, give presents, share with the hungry or simply spend quality time with family and reflect on what’s really important in life.
Christmas, celebrating the birth of Jesus and traditions surrounding that observance, might be the main theme of the season among Canadian Christians, but there are other traditions celebrated here by various religions.
Gift giving and the sharing of food with those less fortunate seems to be universal, but how the season is observed spiritually varies somewhat.
Douglas Headworth, chairman of Interfaith B.C., said his members will ring in the New Year by encouraging people to make Nanaimo a city of compassion, culminating in three days of compassionate action around Valentine’s Day.
“That’s what the Interfaith, as a broader community, is looking at this year – just bringing compassion and joy to the mid-Island lives of all of our faiths and traditions and remembering the golden rule,” Headworth said.
Druids, which Headworth happens to be, celebrated the winter solstice on Saturday by observing the Falling of the Holly King (the Winter King) and the start of the Rise of the Oak King and the transition toward summer. The celebration includes the ancient Celtic practice of burning a yule log, usually a log cut from holly, that represents winter’s passing into embers. Mistletoe is also hung to celebrate the return of light to the world and to help give expression to true love.
Hannukah and the lighting of the menorah is celebrated by the Jewish faith Nov. 25-Dec. 5.
The period represents a time of struggle for the Jewish people more than 2,000 years ago when the Seleucids (Syrian-Greeks) who ruled Jerusalem attempted to convert the people of Israel to Greek culture and religion.
There really is no religious festival coinciding with Christmas in the Jewish faith other than the lighting of candles for the Shabbat or sabbath, observed every Saturday, which this holiday season fall on Dec. 21 and 28, and the reading of the Torah.
“It’s a very, very special day,” said rabbi Meir Kaplan. “To be able to stay home – we don’t watch TV – we just sit home with the family and talk about the things are important in life. I think this is a message anyone can take – the idea – especially in the kind of world we have today and at this time of year when everyone is running and rushing and not having a moment to sit and think about what are the important values we live for.”
Sikhism also has festivals that happen around the holiday season, but the reasons for those observances are far removed from Christmas.
“In the Sikh religion, something goes on every month because there are 10 gurus,” said Joe Dodd, president of the Vancouver Island Khalsa Diwan Society. “We celebrate almost throughout the year, but most important is the Guru Nanak birthday – the first guru.”
Near Christmastime the martyrdom of the 10th Guru Gobind Singh’s children is celebrated followed by the observance of his birth on Jan. 5.
Of course some Canadian traditions a have been adopted over the years too, like buying Christmas presents.
“In our situation or any family, if you don’t have gifts for the kids or whatever, the kids get upset,” Dodd said. “Whatever goes around … I’m doing it. I live in Canada. It’s a holiday and a peaceful time.”