Ursinus students celebrate the holidays

Photography Courtesy of Sydney Cope

Ana DerSimonian


     As winter rolls in, its long dark days are brightened by the celebration of the many diverse holidays that make up the holiday season.  Ursinus College shares in that celebration. Students of many different cultures call the Ursinus campus home for the beginning of the holiday season, each commemorating their own unique traditions. Some of these students and student organizations have shared their traditions for the upcoming holidays with “The Grizzly.”

     On Friday, Dec. 8, Sankofa Umoja Nia will be celebrating Kwanzaa with the Africana studies department.

      According to history.com, Kwanzaa was founded in 1966 by Maulana Karenga as a means to bring together the African American community. The holiday was created in response to a series of riots that occurred in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles in 1965 that protested police brutality.  At its heart, Kwanzaa is a celebration of African heritage, and is honored from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1.  A candle is lit on each day of Kwanzaa and gifts are exchanged on Jan. 1.

     On each day one of seven principles are discussed.  According to history.com, “These principles are the foundations of the culture and [are used] to bring . . . together the African American community.”

     These principles include, unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith.

      Although there is no one traditional way to celebrate Kwanzaa, the celebrations “frequently include singing and dancing, storytelling, and a grand meal,” according to the website.

     Vice-president of the Association of Latinos Motivated to Achieve (ALMA), Zonia Rueda-Juarez, celebrates Guatemalan Christmas traiditions. She explained that it is tradition in Guatamala to spend time with family on Christmas Eve and to eat a Christmas dinner composed of several traditional dishes, always including Guatemalan tamales.  At midnight, everyone lights hundreds of fireworks to celebrate Christmas.  It is custom for a prayer to be said around the tree. Following the prayer, presents are quickly opened.   

     Hillel, the Jewish organization on campus, celebrates Chanukkah, also known as The Festival of Lights.  According to history.com, the holiday commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple following the Maccabean revolt and victory over the Seleucid empire that had been oppressing the Jewish people. As part of the Temple’s rededication, the people were supposed to light a menorah to be kept burning every night. Yet, there was only enough oil to keep the menorah burning one night. A miracle occurred and the oil lasted eight nights, enough time for the people to find a fresh supply of oil.

     The website explained that “[Chanukkah] is celebrated by lighting the menorah, eating traditional foods, and exchanging gifts.”

     Chanukkah lasts for eight days, and on each day, a candle on the menorah is lit.  It is custom to play with dreidels and to eat food fried in oil.

     Nareen Babian, a freshman at Ursinus, celebrates Armenian Christmas, which takes place on Jan. 6.

      “Armenian churches usually have church bazaars during the winter season where there is many Armenian food[s].  It is a good way to spend time with loved ones and to see family and friends,” said Babian.

     According to Babian, Armenian Christmas is celebrated on Jan. 6 because it is the day of “the realization that Jesus was God’s son.”

     According to holycrossoca.org, this tradition falls on the same day as Epiphany, a Western Christian tradition that celebrates the three wise men’s first visit to Jesus which symbolizes the revealation of Jesus to the Gentiles. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, this day celebrates Jesus’ baptism as an adult, which began his ministry and revealed him as the son of God. Armenian Christmas follows the Eastern Orthodox tradition.

     Babian also celebrates Christmas on Dec. 25, but on Jan. 6, she receives Armenian gifts, such as ornaments, necklaces with her Armenian initials, and Armenian fruits.

     Babian said, “It’s a good way to keep in touch with [my] heritage.”

     The South East Asian Student Association (SASA) celebrates the Chinese New Year, which is one of the biggest holidays in many Asian countries.  President of SASA, senior Luna Kang, and junior Linwei Jiang, in charge of SASA’s public relations, explained that their popular holiday is on Jan. 1 in the Chinese lunar calendar. In the U.S., which follows the sun-based Gregorian calendar, Chinese New Year takes place on Feb. 16.

     “[During this time] families get together and celebrate a year of hard work and [to] wish for a successful coming year” said Jiang.

     There are many festivities and traditions.

     According to Kang, “People put Fai Chun on the doors.  Fai Chun is a traditional decoration used during the holiday to [create] a vibrant atmosphere . . . they [feature] couplets that express some wish for the New Year. The couplet is written on red paper, representing celebration and positivity.”

     Kang added, “We also have firecrackers. There’s a legend that there [is] a monster, Nian, and at the beginning of each year it comes out and eats kids. Somehow, people found out that [Nian] is scared of the color red and loud noises. So, people discovered that if they make firecrackers wrapped with red paper, [Nian] will be scared away. That’s why we [set off] firecrackers and everything is red. Little kids get ‘lucky money.’ Their parents and grandparents give them money and put the money in a red envelope and the kids keep the envelopes under their pillows so that if [Nian] tries to come eat them, it will see the red paper and go away. ”

The sounds of small firecrackers followed by three big, loud firecrackers are believed to sound out the old year and sound in the New Year.

     On Feb. 16, during the spring semester, The South East Asian Student Association plans to invite a lion dance group to campus as part of the celebration.

     The Ursinus community is diverse, with many different holidays and traditions being celebrated within the community this holiday season. These varying traditions help to make the winter season a special time of the year for many within the Ursinus family.