Holiday happenings

Happy Holidays!

By Sara Martin

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A nation of many cultures has many celebrations

The U.S. Postal Service employs more than 644,000 people — all from different economic, religious and cultural backgrounds. And our employees serve diverse communities throughout the nation.

The holiday season — and the different associated festivities — allows us to celebrate the various cultures of the people at the Postal Service and of the customers we serve.

Every year, the Postal Service commemorates cultures and events on a variety of stamps. Our holiday stamps include designs for Christmas, Kwanzaa and Hanukkah. We also have stamps that celebrate the Lunar New Year, Halloween, Day of the Dead, Diwali and Eid. Other commemorations throughout the year highlight people and cultures that make up the American experience.

Holiday season

Between Halloween and New Year’s Eve, many Americans take part in celebrations and festivities to honor their cultures. In recent years, it has become increasingly common for people to mix elements of different cultural celebrations into their blended-family traditions.

Here is a brief synopsis of a few of those celebrations, using the calendar dates for 2021.

Nov. 1-2

Day of the Dead (Dia De Los Muertos) is a two-day Mexican holiday where death is celebrated, not mourned, and where families honor the lives of departed family members. Altars — called ofrendas — are decorated with bright yellow marigold flowers and photos of the departed, along with their favorite foods and drinks. The altars are believed to encourage visits from the land of the dead as the departed souls join in the festivities after hearing prayers and smelling the food offerings.

Nov. 4-8

Diwali — also known as Deepavali, Dipavali, Dewali, Deepawali or the Festival of Lights — is a holiday that lasts about five days. The festival celebrates the victory of righteousness and the lifting of spiritual darkness. Lamps, fireworks and bonfires illuminate this holiday, as the word Deepawali means “a row or cluster of lights” or “rows of diyas” (clay lamps). It is a time of renewal and appreciation of time spent with family and friends.

Nov. 25

Thanksgiving is a holiday for people in the United States to give thanks. Families and friends gather for a meal, which traditionally includes turkey, stuffing, potatoes, vegetables, cranberry sauce, gravy and pumpkin pie. This holiday always falls on the fourth Thursday of November.

Nov. 28-Dec. 6

Hanukkah, the eight-day Jewish Festival of Light, celebrates the tale of triumph of good over evil, and of light winning out over darkness. It is celebrated with sequential lighting of the menorah, eating traditional foods, playing games and exchanging gifts. Many Jewish Americans start this celebratory period by gathering with friends and families to eat, sing and play games with a four-sided toy called a dreidel.

Dec. 25

Christmas is a sacred Christian religious holiday that has become a popular celebration in non-Christian households, too. People observe this holiday with religious and secular traditions and practices by exchanging gifts, decorating Christmas trees, attending religious services and waiting for Santa Claus to arrive. Americans typically celebrate Christmas on Dec. 25. However, Eastern Orthodox and Coptic Christians celebrate it 13 days later.

Dec. 26-Jan. 1

Kwanzaa is a weeklong holiday celebration that honors the culture and traditions of people of African origin. Candles are lit and libations are poured during the celebrations. A feast is prepared at the end of the week and gifts are exchanged. Kwanza celebrations often include musical performances, drumming and art exhibitions.

Dec. 21

Winter Solstice, also known as Yule, is observed on Dec. 21 — the longest night of the year and first day of winter. Since ancient times, people all over the world have recognized this astronomical occurrence in a variety of ways. It sets the stage for festivals and celebrations of the past year and sharing good wishes for the future. Many ancient traditions — such as the Christmas tree, wreath and Yule log — were adapted for both religious and secular Christmas traditions.

Soyal is the winter solstice celebration of the Hopi Indians. It is a religious tradition of the Kachina — spirits representing the natural world and the sun — welcomed back to its summer path with ritual dances. Ceremonies include purification, singing, dancing, storytelling and sometimes giving gifts to children. Prayers for the coming year using prayer sticks and kachina dolls are also part of the festivities.

Dong Zhi — “the arrival of winter” — is a time for families to get together and celebrate the past year. It is one of the most important festivals celebrated by Chinese, Taiwanese, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese people during winter solstice. The origins of this festival go back more than 2,000 years and reflects the yin and yang philosophy of balance and harmony, with longer days increasing positive energy.

Dec. 31

New Year’s Eve is celebrated around the world with various cultural festivities and traditions. In the United States, the night is often celebrated with food, drinks, fireworks and a countdown as the clock strikes midnight. People have gathered in New York City for centuries to “ring out the old, and ring in the new year,” initially gathering at the Trinity Church to hear the bells ring. In 1907, the New Year’s Eve “ball drop” in Times Square made its debut, a tradition that continues today. New Year’s Eve is also celebrated as Watch Night in which the faithful congregate in religious services past midnight, giving thanks for the blessings of the outgoing year and praying for a bountiful new year.

Oh, and if none of these traditions work for you, there is always Festivus for the rest of us. 😉

USPS Postmaster van illustration.