Explainer: ‘Happy Holidays’ recognizes many faith, spiritual and cultural celebrations

dfwnewsa | December 12, 2023 | 1 | Fort Worth , Fort Worth News

Explainer: ‘Happy Holidays’ recognizes many faith, spiritual and cultural celebrations

Left to right, Richard Salam, Lorna Grenadier, Rosalyn Katz and Harris White practice lighting the candles for Hanukkah, the eight-day Jewish holiday that commemorates history’s first struggle for religious liberty. It started on Dec. 7 at sundown and ends with nightfall on Dec. 15. (Courtesy photo | Fort Worth Star-Telegram Collection, UTA Special Collections)
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Merry Christmas. Happy Hanukkah. 

While people of Christian, Jewish, Sikh faiths and Pagan spirituality share some of the holidays observed toward the end and beginning of each year, it’s possible to appropriately exchange greetings for each of these holidays — and others — by simply using the phrase “happy holidays.” 

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Jan Quesada, a senior instructor for Texas Christian University’s religion department, explains the significance behind the expression. 

Why “happy holidays”

Religious observances and practices vary between cultures, denominations and calendars used in the faith, Quesada said. 

For example, Hindu, Jain and Sikh holy days are based on a lunar calendar and are observed at different times in different regions, according to Xavier University. Eastern Orthodox Christians use the Julian calendar, while Western churches use the Gregorian calendar, according to ReligionLink. The shifting calendar days are why some Christians celebrate Christmas on Dec. 25, while others will celebrate Christ’s birth on Jan. 7, 2024, according to Xavier University. 

There are also cultural holidays in the mix of religious and spiritual ones around this time of year. Kwanzaa, which occurs from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1, celebrates African American heritage and culture. It’s not considered a religious holiday but includes faith as one of its seven principles, according to the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

With all these factors at play, using the phrase “happy holidays” can be a courteous way to express well wishes if you don’t know someone’s religious affiliation or identity, Quesada said. 

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“Recognize, appreciate and give space for religious differences,” Quesada said. “Take holiday encounters as an opportunity to be open and to try to learn more about the way other people experience and celebrate this time of year.”

What are people of faith, spirituality celebrating? 

Advent

Advent is the four weeks leading up to Christmas, when Christians celebrate and anticipate the birth of Jesus Christ, according to ReligionLink. 

The Advent season is a time of longing, watching and praying, said the Rev. Dr. Russ Peterman, senior minister of University Christian Church. One way Advent is observed is with a wreath with four candles. Each Sunday leading up to Christmas, a candle is lit, representing the four themes of the holiday: hope, peace, joy and love. 

“It’s a time of preparation and anticipation for the inbreaking of God and we oftentimes lean into this with an anticipation that’s marked with hope and with longing,” Peterman said. 

Hanukkah 

Hanukkah, also called the Jewish Festival of Lights, is an eight-day holiday that began  at sundown on Dec. 7 and will end on Dec. 15 this season. It commemorates the rededication of the temple by a Jewish family called the Maccabees after their victory over the Syrians, according to ReligionLink. The oil used to rededicate the temple lasted for eight days rather than the expected single day, which is why the menorah candles are lit for eight nights of Hanukkah. 

Hanukkah is considered a relatively minor holiday because, unlike Passover and the Jewish New Year, it is not mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, said Rabbi Brian Zimmerman of Beth-El Congregation. However, Hanukkah has become a way for Jews to celebrate light over darkness. 

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“It does become a message about standing up for your beliefs and not being afraid to be different,” Zimmerman said. “I can only speak for myself, as a rabbi, this is a time to be proud, this is the time to bring light and joy to others.” 

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Yule

Yule, also known as the winter solstice, marks the first day of winter in the Northern Hemisphere of the world and has Norse or Scandinavian roots, according to Britannica. 

Today, Wiccans and those who practice modern paganism observe Yule on Dec. 20-21. 

Bella Clayton has been practicing paganism since 2011 and leads the Comfy Hearth Coven in Grand Prairie. Yule is observed by placing pine and holly in the home as a form of protection from mischievous entities and mistletoe for luck in the upcoming year, she said. It’s also a time that she will spend reflecting on the year that has passed and looking toward the future. 

“During this time we realign with our goals and our ideals and plan for the year ahead and set our intentions for the upcoming year. We celebrate the journey of transformation within ourselves,” Clayton said. 

Christmas

Christmas marks the birth of Jesus Christ, which is celebrated on Dec. 25 for most Christians and on Jan. 7 for Eastern Orthodox Christians, according to ReligionLink.

Candlelight, communion and the Bible’s story of Luke are some ways that the University Christian Church will celebrate the deep religious roots of Christmas, Peterman said. 

“Christmas tends to be about connection and relationships. It’s much more spiritual than we tend to give it credit for because it’s been co-opted by culture and by consumerism.”

Gurpurab

Gurpurab refers to the celebration of a date that is related to the lives of Sikh gurus, according to the Religion News Foundation. Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth guru of the Sikh faith, is celebrated in December or January, depending on when the date falls on the lunar calendar. The next celebration for Guru Gobind Singh is on Jan. 17, 2024. 

Pal Virk is a Sikh Tarrant County resident and attends the Gurdwara Sikh Sangat in Euless. During these holidays, Virk will go to the Gurdwara to share a meal with people of his faith and reflect on the teachings of the guru, he said. 

“The gurus are seen as godly,” Virk said. “We don’t believe that the gurus were normal human beings because there are multiple places in our holy book that say those gurus are the messengers of the Almighty.” 

Don’t see a religious holiday you observe here? Let us know. 

Want to share your thoughts? Send us a news tip or email us at hello@fortworthreport.org. 

Marissa Greene is a Report for America corps member, covering faith for the Fort Worth Report. You can contact her at marissa.greene@fortworthreport.org or on Twitter @marissaygreene. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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