Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Many Celebratory Rites of Winter Are Ours





By Elaine Voci, Ph.D.  Certified Life Cycle Celebrant

America is one of the most diverse countries in the world with many different spiritual, religious secular and cultural traditions celebrated throughout the year.  In December, that diversity shines brightly with an abundance of festivals and observances that blend into this festive season that makes the winter feel extra special.  In alphabetic order, let’s visit a few of the festivities:

Buddhists celebrate Bodhi Day on December 8th which recalls the day in 596 BC when the Buddha sat beneath a Bodhi tree and is believed to have achieved enlightenment, thus escaping the repeating cycle of reincarnation: birth, life, death and rebirth. A descendent of the original tree is the most important of four holy sites of Buddhism.

Christmas is celebrated by most Christians on December 25, and it honors the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. Americans, like many of the world’s peoples, have developed their own Christmas traditions and observances, and they include gift giving, attending social gatherings, indulging in special foods and seasonal beverages, performing acts of charity, while at the same time, devoting energy to quiet reflection, rest, inner focus, and stillness. 



One of the most important Islamic festivals, Eid al-Adha (the feast of sacrifice), begins on the 10th day of the last month of the Islamic calendar.  Lasting for three days, it comes at the ending of the annual Hajj, or pilgrimage, to Mecca.  (Muslims all over the world celebrate, not just those undertaking the Hajj, which for most Muslims is a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence.)  The festival commemorates the day when Abraham intended to follow the instructions of God to sacrifice his son Ishmael; it is celebrated by sacrificing a lamb or other animal and sharing the meat with relatives, friends, and especially the elderly and the poor. The sacrifice symbolizes obedience to Allah and its distribution to others is an expression of generosity, one of the five pillars of Islam.


Hanukkah is a beloved 8-day Jewish festival (also known as the festival of lights) celebrating the miracle of temple candles which only had enough oil to burn for one day, yet they burned for eight days. It also commemorates the military victory of the Jewish Maccabees over the powerful Syrian Greek army in the cause of religious freedom which was followed by a rededication (Hanukkah) of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. Hanukkah typically falls between Nov.30 and Dec. 26.  Traditional foods include brisket, short ribs, noodle kugel,   and latkes and doughnuts – and lots of smiles.


Kwanzaa is celebrated by an estimated 18 million African Americans and many more in the diaspora, from December 26 to January 1. It is not a religious holiday, nor is it meant to replace Christmas. It was created by Dr. Maulana Karenga, a professor of Black Studies, in 1966 who wanted to design a celebration to honor the values of ancient African cultures and inspire African Americans working for progress.  Each of the seven days of Kwanzaa honors a different principle believed to be key to building strong, productive families and healthy communities: unity, self-determination, collective work, responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith. Celebrations include lighting candles, giving gifts and decorating homes in the African colors of red, green and black, and enjoying a wide range of favorite foods.

Humanlight is a most joyful festival celebrated everywhere on Earth by Humanists and non-theists to pay tribute to the light of life that shines bright in all of us.


December is also the month of the Winter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, respected as a Pagan and naturalist holiday. It marks the time when we trust that the shortest day of the year will be followed by ones in which the light will grow brighter as each lengthens toward spring. Festivals of dance and drumming and great food are enjoyed by those who celebrate the exact planetary position of the Winter Solstice.  Let us each embrace this transition with fervent hope, as best expressed by the question posed by poet Percy Shelley, "If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?”  We might also do well to remember the wisdom of the Japanese adage that advises “One kind word can warm three winter months.”

Don’t forget to make this time of the year sing true to who you are too. Find time to create a ritual of your own that enhances your precious life and those you love.

Whichever way you enjoy celebrating during this special time, and we hope you get a chance throughout your life to celebrate them all, may peace, harmony and generosity of heart be with you and all of us beings on Earth.




Elaine Voci is a life coach, specializing in end of life services, in private practice in Carmel, IN and a graduate of the Celebrant Foundation & Institute class of 2014.   Elaine is the Editor of the Celebrant Blog for the Celebrant Foundation & Institute.


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About the Celebrant Foundation & Institutewww.celebrantinstitute.org

The Celebrant Foundation & Institute (CF&I) is the nation’s preeminent online educational institute that teaches and certifies people as modern day ritual and ceremony professionals called Life-Cycle Celebrants®. Founded in 2001, the educational nonprofit organization headquartered in Montclair, NJ, is a member of the International Federation of Celebrants.  To date, the CF&I has graduated nearly 900 Life-Cycle Celebrants® who preside over 20,000 ceremonies each year throughout North America, Asia and Europe. To learn more about the CF&I, visit 



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