The party is hardly over
January 2, 2007
With all the wrapping paper cleared away, bellies distended by holiday meals, and bank accounts significantly depleted, you may be feeling as though Christmas and New Years are over and done with for another year. But for many beliefs and cultures the holiday season is not yet finished.
Although popular belief holds that the 12 days of Christmas end with Christmas on Dec. 25, most western Christian traditions view Christmas day as the start of the 12-day period ” the Christmas Season ” which continues until Jan. 5. On Jan. 6, Epiphany begins the celebration of the arrival of the three wise men who brought gifts to the baby Jesus. In some traditions, gifts are given on each of the 12 days between Christmas and Epiphany; and in others, gifts are exchanged Jan. 6.
Although Jesus was probably born in the springtime, one commonly accepted theory about why we celebrate the event in December has to do with the astronomical calendar.
For centuries, cultures around the world have celebrated the winter solstice on Dec. 21 or 22. This pagan holiday, when the sun is at its furthermost northern or southern point in its path in the sky, marks the beginning of longer daylight hours and the promise of the return of springtime. Although Christians were reluctant to celebrate the pagan holiday, the social and cultural pressure to participate may have resulted in the celebration of Christmas, the birth of Jesus, in December as an alternative.
Many people mistakenly believe that Hanukkah happens every year on the eight days leading up to Dec. 25. In fact, the eight-day Jewish holiday also known as the Festival of Lights, starts on the 25th day of Kislev (the ninth month of the Hebrew lunisolar calendar), and may fall anytime between late November and early January. Hanukkah this year was Dec. 15 through 23.
With the commercialization of Christmas as a time for exchanging gifts, Hanukkah has become for many a time for giving gifts, as well as the eight-day progressive lighting of candles to celebrate the miracle of the oil that burned for eight days and victory of the Macabbees and the re-dedication of the temple in Jerusalem.
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And then there’s the new year, which most countries celebrate on Jan. 1, the first day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. But the Chinese New Year falls on the new moon of the first lunar month, as does the Vietnamese Tet, which can be anytime between Jan. 21 and Feb. 21; the Iranian New Year or Norouz is celebrated on the exact day of the vernal equinox, either March 21 or 22; and the Thai New Year is celebrated from April 13 to 15. Your party hat may be in moth balls for the year, but others are just beginning to celebrate.