By Cayla Clements, Managing Editor
The holiday season is a favorite among many in the United States, with a plethora of Americans citing Thanksgiving and Christmas as their favorite holidays. There are presents, benevolence and a scrumptious supply of comfort food. However, many fail to recognize the diversity the holiday season emits. There are people that celebrate the traditional Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, but there are also people who celebrate Kwanzaa, Hanukkah or nothing at all.
History teacher Fakhira Luna values the time spent with family during the holiday breaks.
“As a Muslim family living in the U.S., we are accustomed to having time off for the American holidays,” Luna said. “For Thanksgiving, my entire extended family gathers at one house and everyone brings a dish. Our meal, however, consists of mostly Afghani dishes with a traditional turkey.”
When it comes to the Christmas season in December, however, traditions diversify. Luna and her family spend quality time with each other, but do not give gifts or put up Christmas trees. Junior Nikita Makwana, who is of Indian descent, has similar traditions.
“We always have a tradition to go to Atlanta,” Makwana said. “When we were little we used to open presents but now it’s just about being with our family.”
Joshua Present is an English teacher at the Career Center, and although Present has celebrated Hanukkah for most of his life, his traditions through the years have diversified.
“I went through a spurt where I celebrated Christmas,” Present said. “I have had a moment of celebrating nothing because Hanukkah is not one of the big holidays in Judaism so it doesn’t seem like a big one to skip.”
Currently, Present celebrates Hanukkah both traditionally and commercially.
“I have two kids, and I give gifts, even though gifts on Hanukkah is a way, I think, to match Christmas because we felt bad,” Present said. “I got, as a kid growing up, a gift everyday. It wasn’t like I was raking it in, but all the little gifts were getting spread in over the course of seven days. So I maintained that tradition with my kids, but I don’t always make the seven days because I am lazier than my parents were.”
Many could argue, however, that the wide acceptance of Christian faith holidays such as Christmas places a burden on and excludes other beliefs of acceptance. Present relates to this burden.
“There have been times in my life when I have been deeply offended by what they call ‘holiday music,’” Present said. “Holiday music is not every holiday, holiday music is Christmas music.”
Although Luna does not believe the wide acceptance of Christmas places a burden, she does acknowledge the effects this wide acceptance could have on those of different cultures of beliefs.
“Schools often have Christmas shows or chorus concerts in which students learn Christian songs to sing,” Luna said. “ I was in chorus in elementary school and we sang Silent Night. As a Muslim, we do recognize the miracle of Jesus’ birth, but other students who do not believe in Jesus at any capacity probably felt uncomfortable singing those types of songs.”
Present also admits the offensiveness that comes along with referring to winter break as Christmas break and the lack of time off during the Holy Holidays in the Jewish religion. However, Present no longer feels that resentment.
“We all change and I think that we come through various phases in life and deal with the culture surrounding us in various ways,” Present said. “The other side of it is: you can’t be too offended by great sales, awesome food and free days off work. It’s hard to be offended by that, I like those things.”
However, in favor of establishing differences, many fail to realize and signify the true reasons the holidays are celebrated.
“I think that there is, at winter, a time of yule,” Present said. “There is a time that we come together to celebrate, if nothing else, the fact that we are still alive when it’s only light for nine hours a day.”
Present believes that it makes sense the light candles during the holiday season.
“The lights on the Christmas tree are no different than the lights of the candles on the Menorah, or the candles in the Kwanzaa offering,” Present said. “All northern hemisphere cultures celebrate something around harvest and so we get Thanksgiving, and around the middle of winter and so we get Christmas, or Hanukkah or Kwanza.”
Despite the motivations that can bring together those of different beliefs, improvement is still wanted and needed. Makwana believes that a good way to improve is by encouraging involvement in traditions other than your own. Luna would recommend that “teachers at our school and schools across America be mindful of those students who are not celebrating Christmas, and recognize the holidays as holidays.” Present would like to see schools clearly state the reason for the breaks from school.
“The reason for our sales is a celebration of winter, not a celebration of Christmas, which, regardless of how we want to look at it currently, still has the name Christ in it,” Present said. “It still is a Christian holiday, which is no more inclusive than saying it’s a Hanukkah sale, which would not be terribly inclusive, or a Kwanzaa sale. So maybe it would be nice if we were more sensitive to the language but I’m an English teacher, I like language.”
Regardless of how one celebrates during the holiday season, it is agreeable to most that there is no greater gift than respect for each other, our beliefs and our traditions.
Photo from Always Summer.