Trent Ernst, Editor
The longest night of the year happens in December, between December 21 and 22.
This is known as the winter solstice, and it’s occurrence is the cause of much celebration, as, after months of losing light, days begin to get longer again.
Many cultures and religions have marked it as an important time. Christmas, of course, happens on December 25, while ancient Germanic people celebrated a three day festival of Yule or a similar observance.
While many of the Yule-tide traditions have found their way into Christmas traditions, neopagans have also adopted many of these traditions into their midwinter celebrations, too.
Hindus, or at least, Hindus who have moved to the US celebrate Pancha Ganapati from Dec 21 to 25 as their version of Christmas. It was started in 1985, and while it is popular with Hindus in the west, it is virtually unknown in South Asia, where Hinduism has its roots.
Yalda is a Persian solstice celebration that celebrates the birth of the Persian philosopher Mithra.
Jewish people celebrate Hanukkah, or the Festival of Lights, for eight days starting on the 25th day of Kislev. As the Hebrew Calendar and the Gregorian Calendar have a different number of days per year, Hanukkah can happen any time from mid November to late December. This year, it happens December 16 to 24. The festival celebrates the dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem during the second century BC.
Many solstice festivals are no longer celebrated. The bets known of these is Saturnalia, an ancient Roman festival. While some neopagans have revived elements of Saturnalia, it no longer exists in its original form.
Neopagans have revived many historical pagan beliefs that existed before Christianity, but not all holiday celebrations are historical.
For instance, people who push for the concept of Esperanto as a politically neutral language “that will transcend nationality and foster peace and international understanding between people with different languages.”
While at most two million people speak Esperanto, many of these people celebrate the birthday of L.L. Zamenhof on December 15.
For a more modern celebration, people can look to Festivus—the only holiday with its own tag line—which started in 1997 when it first appeared on the TV show Seinfeld.
Festivus happens on December 23, and is a secular parody of Christmas that tries to provide an alternative to the commercialism of Christmas. Instead of a tree, an unadorned Aluminum pole sits in the corner. There is a Festivus diner served, and after the dinner is the airing of Grievances and the Feats of Strength, where one person is challenged by the head of the household. The two wrestle, and the holiday does not end until the head of the household is pinned.
The week between Christmas and New Years is celebrated by people of Western African descent as Kwanzaa, which started in 1966. Creator Maulana Karenga says his goal was to “give Blacks an alternative to the existing holiday and give Blacks an opportunity to celebrate themselves and their history, rather than simply imitate the practice of the dominant society.” Most people who observe Kwanzaa also observe Christmas.