Traditions from around the world: Other holidays celebrated in Redmond community

With endless sales, countless songs and numerous TV specials about the holiday, the month of December could easily be renamed the month of Christmas. But this time of year also plays host to a number of other holiday traditions.

Rabbi Mordechai Farkash of the Eastside Torah Center leads the crowd at Redmond Town Center in a series of traditional Jewish songs during a public menorah lighting Wednesday evening

Rabbi Mordechai Farkash of the Eastside Torah Center leads the crowd at Redmond Town Center in a series of traditional Jewish songs during a public menorah lighting Wednesday evening

With endless sales, countless songs and numerous TV specials about the holiday, the month of December could easily be renamed the month of Christmas. But this time of year also plays host to a number of other holiday traditions.

From a celebration of miracles to a solemn observance of a new year, here are a few holidays that are also observed this time of year.

FESTIVAL OF LIGHTS

The Jewish holiday of Chanukah, also known as Hanukkah, is an eight-day celebration commemorating the Maccabees’ resistance against and victory over the Syrian Greeks who occupied Israel and tried to influence Jews to adopt the Greek way of life in the second century, B.C.

Sholom Elishevitz, a junior rabbi at the Eastside Torah Center (ETC), said Jewish practices were outlawed during this time but the Maccabees, a small group of untrained Jews, successfully took their land back and rededicated the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Part of this rededication included lighting the temple’s menorah, which was required to burn throughout the night every night, but there was only enough olive oil for one night. However, Elishevitz said the oil miraculously continued to burn for eight days.

This miracle is commemorated by lighting a candle on a nine-branched menorah on each successive night of Chanukah. The ninth candle, called the shamash, is used for extra light as well as to light the other candles.

“The menorah symbolizes religious freedom,” Elishevitz said.

During Chanukah, he said food plays a significant role as they eat foods that use a lot of oil such as donuts and fried potato pancakes called latkes.

“The idea is to remember the miracle of the oil,” he explained.

Another Chanukah tradition is gelt — where children receive small gifts or money on each of the eight days. Elishevitz said this is important because a big part of the religion is educating the next generation and receiving money on each day of the holiday will get them excited about Chanukah.

In addition to educating children, Chanukah helps educate others about Judaism, Elishevitz said. The menorah is meant to be displayed in an area where it can be seen by others, such as a windowsill or next to a door. Elishevitz said this is to let onlookers see and learn about the holiday’s miracle.

One way ETC — which serves Jews all over the Eastside, including Redmond — did this was by holding a public menorah lighting at Redmond Town Center Wednesday evening, the first official night of Chanukah. However, Elishevitz said the Jewish calendar begins at sunset, so they also lit a candle on Tuesday night to begin the eight-day holiday, which ends Dec. 28.

A HOLI HOLIDAY

For the month of December, students at the Goddard School at 4200 228th Ave. N.E. in Redmond studied different holidays around the world and in learning about Hinduism they celebrated Holi, the religion’s Festival of Colors.

Abby Yokers, the school’s education director, said the holiday is celebrated with people wearing white and throwing colored powder and colored water at each other.

Holi is filled with joy and excitement and actually celebrated in the spring, but Yokers said they chose to hold their celebration this month to go with their curriculum.

The school’s interpretation was to cover an entire classroom in white paper and drop cloths, fill bowls with paint and allow students to paint the room as they saw fit.

“It was absolutely fantastic to watch,” Yokers said. “It was a lot of fun — very messy, but totally worth it.”

Goddard serves about 80 families and because students are 6 weeks to about 5 years old, she said the potential for disaster was high and she expected chaos. However, the kids were very well behaved considering they were in a zone with no rules except for no running (for safety purposes), Yokers said.

Each class had the opportunity to paint and as a result, the room was filled with flowers, train tracks, footprints as well as paint smears created by the students. Yokers said she even witnessed some students mixing colors.

“It was amazing to see what they would create on their own,” she said.

Goddard owner Jeff Barison said the activity took the majority of the day and was an opportunity for students to get creative and use their imaginations.

He said they studied other holidays this month such as Kwanza, Diwali and St. Lucia Day. One of the reasons they have included this in the curriculum is just as reflection of their student population.

“Our school is very diverse and with that, that’s why we do holidays around the world,” Barison said.

He added that parents saw their children’s creations at the end of the day at pickup time. One of the fathers is from east India and Barison said he appreciated what they did and the school’s homage to the tradition.

“It meant a lot to him,” Barison said.

HISTORICAL NEW YEAR

While most holidays in the Western calendar fall on the same day each year, the Islamic month of Muharram changes annually.

Muharram marks the first month in the Islamic calendar, which is 11 days shorter than the Gregorian calendar. As a result the Islamic new year is pushed back by 11 days every year and this year, Muharram began on Nov. 26 and ends Dec. 26.

Hamzah Maqbul, who occasionally serves as an imam, or religion leader, for the Islamic Center of Redmond, said Muharram is one of four sacred months in Islam. During this month, wars and disputes end and fighting is forbidden. Additionally, the 10th day of Muharram, the Day of Ashura, is particularly sacred.

“It’s a day that’s highly recommended for Muslims to fast,” Maqbul said.

Maqbul said Ashura holds historical significance for Sunni Muslims. On this day, Moses and his people were victorious over the Egyptian Pharaoh and as a result, Jews would also fast on Ashura, which was Dec. 5 this year.

The sacred 10th day for Shia Muslims is also part of the Mourning of Muharram or Remembrance of Muharram, which marks the anniversary of the Battle of Karbala and death of Imam Hussain, the grandson of the Islamic prophet Muhammad who refused to pay allegiance to a tyrannical leader.

“This is the time where the Shia Muslims around the world remember Imam Hussain,” said Jawad Khaki, a former president for the Ithna-asheri Muslim Association of the Northwest (IMAN) Center of Kirkland.

Khaki said Muharram and Ashura is a time for Muslims to gather together, revive their spirits and reflect on “the reasons why people stood for freedom and justice.”

Both Khaki and Maqbul said Muharram is a solemn month and focused more on observing and remembering significant historical events in Islam’s history.

Qasim Hatem, the resident scholar for the Mihraab Foundation — which promotes a traditional understanding of Islam in a Western context in the greater Seattle area — added that Muharram encourages people to be charitable and generous to others.


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