Students celebrate non-Christian holidays

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December 8, 2007

2:23 PM

p. It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, and it doesn’t take the keenest observer to know yuletide cheer reigns supreme at the College. But that certainly doesn’t mean Christmas has a monopoly on holiday joy.

p. As many of her friends string up Christmas lights, Hillel President Alexandra Eichel ’08 summons her Hanukkah spirit with doughnuts and illicit candles.

p. “We express our amazement for the oil by eating a lot of fried foods,” Eichel said. “Really, no fried foods are off limits. … One traditional food we always eat is the potato latka.”

p. One of the most recognizable Hanukkah traditions is the lighting of the menorah each night, a practice encumbered by the College’s pesky policy outlawing candle burning.

p. “Students often gather in groups to light the menorah each night,” Eichel said. “My freshman year I brought 10 menorahs back to school with me and had the whole hall congregate in my room each night to light them. Everyone loved it.”

p. Of course, those who celebrate Hanukkah also get to look forward to eight days of presents.

p. “We also traditionally get presents each night just as part of the celebratory atmosphere,” Eichel said. “Although coinciding with Christmas has definitely overemphasized the importance of presents in this holiday, no one has complained.”

p. This year, Hanukkah began Dec. 5. The eight-day celebration will extend into the first week of finals.

p. “It’s hard to be in the Hanukkah spirit with all of the stress of school and finals,” Eichel said.

p. Ramadan is another prominent holiday celebrated on campus. Yet, unlike Hanukkah — and Christmas for that matter — Ramadan doesn’t lend itself to overindulgence.

p. “It’s a month to cleanse, to purify, to strengthen your will and endurance,” Muslim Student Association President Selma Alamin ’08 said. “It’s a chance to remember those less fortunate and focus on more than just food, nourishing your mind and spirit.”

p. Alamin said that the difficulty of fasting makes each meal after sundown special.

p. “It’s difficult to fast alone,” she said. “That’s why MSA sponsored weekly iftaar meals [breakfasts] during Ramadan and hopefully created a network for Muslim students to eat every day with others who were also fasting.”

p. As wtih Hanukkah, the exact date of Ramadan changes in relation to the 12-month calendar traditionally used in the U.S. This year, it began Sept. 13.

p. “[We] celebrate Eid al-adha, which is the celebration of the sacrifice, and will be celebrated December 20,” Alamin said. “It’s a celebration of sacrifice and giving zakat (alms [or] charity) and following Abraham’s example and eating a lot of lamb.”

p. Unlike Ramadan, Hanukkah and Christmas, the Kwanzaa holiday doesn’t have a religious backdrop.

p. In fact, Kwanzaa’s history is relatively new. It was created and first celebrated in 1966 by a black author and political activist named Ron Karenga.

p. “Kwanzaa reflects the traditional customs and values of Africa combined with those in America,” Director of Multicultural Affairs Chon Glover said. “It is an opportunity to celebrate what we have, to give thanks and to reflect on the new year.”

p. Kwanzaa is celebrated from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1 each year, one day for each of the seven principles for which Kwanzaa stands — unity, self-determination, collective work, cooperative economics, creativity, purpose and faith. Each night during Kwanzaa, families gather to light one candle on the kinara, which is similar to a menorah.

p. Although Karenga originally described Kwanzaa as a “Black alternative to the holiday,” Kwanzaa is now considered open to all.

p. “I think it is typically celebrated by African Americans,” Glover said. “But anyone can celebrate it.”

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