Happy Holidays From Around The World!

Happy Holidays!By Sarah Hoffbeck

Merry Christmas, Feliz Navidad, Happy Hanukkah, Froehliche Weihnachten, Joyeux Noel, Happy Kwanzaa, Gledelig Jul, God Jul! Whether your heritage is American, Spanish, Jewish, German, French, Norwegian, or Swedish, all of these phrases basically convey the same message: Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas!

With the holidays upon us in full swing, I decided to sit down and chat with Harvey Henderson, Associate Professor of Social and Behavioral Science, about the different holidays around the world and how holiday celebrations, even in our area, can be incredibly diverse.

Henderson recently shared an interactive presentation in November entitled, “Holidays Around the World,” which focused on three main holidays and the traditions that accompany them.

“While every culture is diverse in their holiday traditions, many have the same ancient foundations, established thousands of years ago: The winter solstice; the sun, or a measure of time; fire; and food or feasting,” said Henderson.

With Henderson’s insights, I’ve broken down the three holidays of Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa, all of which are very popular in the United States today.


Christmas was established as an alternative Christian celebration to the Roman “pagan” festival Saturnalia sometime during the fourth century. Even thousands of years ago, light, storytelling, and feasting were all observed. While these traditions have obviously evolved over the years, most are still going strong. Christmas lights, stories, and good food are staples of just about any Christmas celebration. Add in a few new traditions like the Christmas tree, Santa Claus, and gifts, and you’re good to go!


Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday that began in the fourth century after the Greeks in Jerusalem revolted and a miracle occurred. The “Miracle of Hanukkah” refers to a container of oil that burned for eight days, even though there was technically only enough oil for one day. Hanukkah is steeped in family tradition and is observed for eight days. Also known as the Festival of Lights, the Menorah, a special candelabrum, is lit to remember and celebrate the Miracle of Hanukkah.


A relatively new holiday, Kwanzaa wasn’t established until 1966, and is celebrated by African Americans in the U.S. While Christmas and Hanukkah are basically religious celebrations, Kwanzaa is a celebration of culture. A seven-day celebration, the traditions of Kwanzaa include food, gifts, and community. Each of the seven days of Kwanzaa is dedicated to one of the seven principles of Kwanzaa: Unity, Self-Determination, Collective Work and Responsibility, Cooperative Economics, Purpose, Creativity, and Faith.

“While taking a look at these three holidays, one can see a lot of the same themes being observed in each,” said Henderson.

While we all have our own beliefs and traditions, it is important to remember that one is not more important than the other. So the question arises: How do we honor different traditions? We learn to embrace and respect them. By keeping an open mind, you just might learn something new!

To learn more about diversity at NDSCS, visit www.ndscs.edu/diversity, which focuses on enriching people’s lives through respectful acceptance and celebration of human differences.

Happy Holidays from NDSCS!