A Season of Celebration and Worship
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This time of year is dominated with celebration, and worship. Christmas and Hanukkah are the most well known this time of year, but there are other religions that celebrate, such as the Hindus. There are plenty of secular celebrations this time of year, as well!(But I don't have a Festivus webcam, lol!)
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Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Christ. The date of December 25 was given during the early days of the Christian Church because it was believed that Jesus was conceived on March 25, the Roman day for the spring equinox.
Christmas has not always been the #1 holiday of the season. In the early days of Christendom, Epiphany was celebrated. The first feast at Christmas was not documented until the year 354. In 1647, Puritans, which ruled England at the time, banned Christmas celebrations, saying that the revelry associated at the time with celebrating Christmas was the work of the Devil! Boston followed, banning Christmas from 1659 to 1681. Scotland also abolished Christmas in 1640, going so far as not having Christmas as an official public holiday until 1958!
Charles Dickens heavily influenced modern Christmas celebration, which is more secular and family-based than the church-oriented celebrations of the past. His book, A Christmas Carol, influenced millions with its message of family, goodwill, and compassion. "Merry Christmas", a phrase from the book, became popular following its publishing, and remains so to this day!
Christmas became a legal U.S. holiday in 1870.
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Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, is celebrated between late November and late December. This year, Hanukkah falls between the 8th of December, and the 16th.
In 168 BC, Syrian king Antiochus IV Epiphanes invaded Jerusalem, looted the Temple, and constructed an Altar to Zeus, banning Judaism in the process. A Jewish priest, Mattathias Maccabee, with his five sons, began a revolt in protest, his son Judah finally being able to expel the Syrians by 165 BC. Judah ordered the Temple to be cleansed, a new altar to be built, and new holy vessels to be made.
In the Temple, they found a solitary jar of oil, enough to burn in a lamp for only one day. However, the lamp burned for eight days, long enough for more oil to be pressed and refined for use! Jewish leaders of the day declared this a miracle, and proclaimed an eight day festival to celebrate.
Today, Jews light a chanukkiah, a special candelabrum consisting of nine candles; a central, raised candle called a shamash, used solely for illumination, and eight lower candles, four on each side. Each night, for a half an hour, the shamash candle, and an additional candle is lit, until on the last night, all the candles are lit. It's important that the shamash is lit, for it is forbidden that the other candles are used for illumination. The other candles are for telling the story of Hanukkah! A hymn, Ma'oz Tzur, is sung after the lighting of each candle.
Gifts are given, and fried foods in olive oil, such as latke(potato pancakes), and pontshkes(jam filled doughnuts) are enjoyed. Other Psalms are sung, and there are prayers and special services at synagogues.
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Tamil Hindus also have a celebration this time of year, called the Karthikai Deepam. Between mid-November and mid-December, when the moon and the Pleiades(or Karthikai, in Tamil) are in conjunction, there is a festival, where houses and streets are lit up with lamps(or Deepam).
From wikipedia: "The six stars(Pleiades) are considered in Indian mythology as the six celestial nymphs who reared the six babies in the saravana tank which later were joined together to form the six faced Muruga. He is therefore called Karthikeya, the one brought up by the Karthigai nymphs."
Karthikai is basically a festival of lamps. The lamps are supposed to ward off evil and bring joy. This festival is also celebrated to commemorate the bonding between brothers and sisters in south India. Sisters pray for the prosperity and success of their brothers and light lamps to mark the occasion.
The Karthigai festival in Tiruvannamalai (where Mount Arunachala is located) is very famous. On Karthigai day, a huge fire lamp is lit up on the hill, visible for several kilometers around the hill. The fire (dheepam) is called Mahadeepam, as Hindu devotees visit the place, to pray and offer Lord Shiva.
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From Tenrikyo, the Main Sanctuary cam!
Tenrikyo is a fairly recent religion, founded in 1838 by Miki Nakayama, who was chosen as the Shrine of God. " Followers of Tenrikyo believe that God, known by several names including Tenri-O-no-Mikoto, expressed divine will through Nakayama's role as the Shrine of God. Tenrikyo's worldly aim is to teach and promote the Joyous Life, which is cultivated through acts of charity and mindfulness called hinokishin. The Joyous Life in Tenrikyo is defined as charity and abstention from greed, selfishness, hatred, anger and arrogance. Negative tendencies are not known as sins in Tenrikyo, but rather "dust," as a metaphor, that can be swept away from the mind through hinokishin and ritual."
Tenrikyo doesn't have a festival around the winter solstice, but they do have monthly services on the third Sunday of each month, as well as daily services.
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From Martin Grund, the PinguinKam!
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Updated: 2:43 AM GMT on December 24, 2012
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