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Holidays of Light

Diwali

November 14, 2020

Diwali, also known as the Festival of Lights, is held on the darkest night of the Amavasya moon cycle to symbolize the victory of the light over darkness, good over evil and justice over injustice. Each year, Hindus and Sikhs observe Diwali during the lunar month of Kartika, which is October to November on the Western calendar.

To celebrate Diwali, people set off fireworks, hang strings of electric lanterns, and light earthen oil lamps called diyas. Families and friends exchange gifts of sweets and fruit as tokens of good wishes.

Hanukkah

December 10-18, 2020

Hanukkah celebrates the Jews’ victorious fight for religious freedom in 165 B.C. and a miracle that occurred during the Jerusalem Temple’s rededication. Priests found only one small flask of holy oil for rekindling the Temple lamp. Instead of burning for a single day, the oil miraculously lasted for eight.

To commemorate these events annually, Jews light a nine-branched candelabrum, called a menorah. This ritual gives the holiday its nickname—the Festival of Lights. Every evening for eight nights, Jewish families sing blessings and light a candle, adding one each night as the week passes.

Kwanzaa

Dec. 26, 2020–Jan 1, 2021

Kwanzaa is derived from the phrase “matunda ya kwanza” which means “first fruits.” It is an African-American holiday based upon ancient harvest celebrations from all parts of Africa. Dr. Maulana Karenga created Kwanzaa in 1966 to reaffirm African heritage and reinforce a sense of community among African Americans.

Nguzo Saba—the Seven Principles—form the core of Kwanzaa. Beginning on December 26, families light a candle each evening for seven nights to celebrate these principles. After the candle-lighting ceremony ends, everyone joins in preforming songs, dances and skits, then guests and family members share a unity cup of water.

With support from the Kemetic Institute of Chicago.

Lunar New Year

February 12, 2021

Lunar New Year is a major holiday and fun-filled celebration across much of Asia. Also known as Spring Festival, the commemoration begins on the first new moon of the lunar calendar and ends on the first full moon, though not all countries observe all 15 days. The date changes from year to year on Western calendars, and takes place usually in January or February.

New year celebrations are called Tet in Vietnam, Seollal in Korea, Losar in Tibet, Tsagaan Sar in Mongolia, and Chunjie in China. Some Lunar New Year traditions are similar across countries, while others differ. One shared custom is to spotlessly clean one’s home prior to the new year to rid it of any residual bad luck. Families across Asia also reunite during this time.

Ramadan + Eid Al-Fitr

May 12-13, 2021

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, and it is observed as a month of fasting and spiritual cleansing for Muslims. It commemorates the beginning of Islamic enlightenment, where the Prophet Mohammed received the revolution of the Quran, the Muslim holy book.

On the next full moon, Muslims conclude the month of Ramadan with the celebration of Eid al-Fitr, the “Feast of breaking the fast.” On the first day of its three days, celebrants gather in mosques to pray and reaffirm their unity with all Muslims around the world.

Saint Lucia Day

December 13, 2020

Saint Lucia, whose name means “light,” holds a special significance for the Swedish people who must wait out the long, dark winters of Scandinavia. She symbolizes the returning daylight hours of spring and the spread of Christianity throughout Sweden.

The Swedish Christmas season opens with Saint Lucia Day on December 13. Early that morning the eldest daughter of the house dresses like the saint in a white robe with a wreath of candles on her head. She then wakes the household by singing the song “Saint Lucia,” and serves coffee and saffron buns to the family.

With support from Linnea South Suburban Swedish Women’s Club and Swedish Museum of Chicago.