As we approach the end of December, many people are preparing for their festive celebrations. The season’s significance is deeply personal, rooted in culture, religion, beliefs, and experience, and shaped by family dynamics and circumstances. Christmas is celebrated in some way by most countries, and by billions of people worldwide, yet what it means to people and how it is celebrated, varies hugely. Let’s not also forget that a great many people around the world do not celebrate Christmas and instead celebrate other events in the calendar that are important to them, whether that be for religious or other reasons.
From the Muslim celebrations of Eid al- Fiṭr and Eid al- Aḍḥā, to Yule which is widely celebrated by Pagans, through to the traditional family Christmas, here at Radical Moves, we each celebrate holidays in different ways. New team members joined us in the summer, so over the last few weeks, we’ve enjoyed finding out about the different ways that we each celebrate the days and holidays that are important to us individually. In this blog, we’ve tried to capture some of the fascinating conversations we’ve had.
We’ll kick off with how holidays are celebrated within Islam.
Eid al-Fiṭr and Eid al-Aḍḥā
While Muslims may also celebrate other holidays, there are two holidays in Islam that Muslims celebrate worldwide: Eid al-Fiṭr and Eid al-Aḍḥā. Eid al-Fiṭr marks the end of the month long fast called Ramadan, and translates roughly to the Celebration of Breaking the Fast. On Eid al-Fiṭr, it’s common to attend the Eid prayer in the morning and then to celebrate with family, friends, and the local community afterwards. The way that people celebrate the holiday varies between countries and cultures, and also from family to family because people tend to adopt their own traditions on Eid. Having said that, Muslims often celebrate Eid by visiting friends and family, eating, exchanging presents, and also by going on day trips. And mosques usually organise community fun days for families, which could include fun fairs, day trips, and sports events.
The second big event in the Muslim calendar is Eid al-Aḍḥā, which comes at the end of the Hajj pilgrimage, and roughly translates as the Celebration of Sacrifice. The celebration lasts four days and takes place between 10th – 13th of the month of Dhul-Ḥijjah. It’s customary to have an animal sacrificed, such as a sheep, goat, cow or a camel on the first day, and then share the meat out from your sacrifice with those in need, or share with people in general – whether in need or not. The routine on day one is very similar to Eid al-Fiṭr; there is a prayer in the morning, and this is followed by celebrations. The other days aren’t really set but may involve days out, seeing family and friends, and going to community events arranged by the mosque.
Some Muslims choose to celebrate Christmas, but for those that don’t, it’s still a time to come together with family, which is lovely because everyone is off work and school, so able to properly relax. The days are normally filled with a lot of food, catching up with family, adults throwing strops over board games, and kids either arguing or saying they’re best friends for life!
Yule is an ancient Germanic tradition celebrated on the Winter Solstice, on 21st December, and is now commonly celebrated by Pagans worldwide. On the Winter Solstice, the Pagan within the Radical Moves team is thankful for the return of the winter months, for the chance for new life in the spring, and for all living things having a chance to hibernate and recharge for the seasonal calendar ahead. Simmer pots are traditionally made on Yule, by putting oranges, cloves, cinnamon and other festive spices and fruits in a bowl of water over a candle, to bless the home and symbolise warmth in the heart of the colder months. Rituals are performed for the new seasons approaching, and a pine tree is decorated with festive fruits and pentagrams for protection and love in the household. Gifts are also exchanged for prosperity and love as the seasons begin again.
Another big celebration in the Pagan calendar is New Year which is celebrated on the 31st October and known as Samhain. On this day, the Pagan within the team has made it customary to go outside of the house with a loaf of fresh bread and a celebratory drink, and knock on the door ready to be let into the home anew. This is said to bring good luck, warmth, and protection to the home ready for the new year of seasons to start afresh. On this day, also, Pagans traditionally honour their loved ones who have passed by wearing black or orange and decorating an altar with harvests from the season such as pumpkins, gourds, fresh flowers and herbs. Most know this holiday as Halloween, which is deeply rooted in traditional Pagan beliefs and rituals.
The traditional family Christmas (if there is even such a thing these days!)
Some of us on the team also celebrate what many would see as a traditional Christmas, which is all about being together with family, whether that be a big extended family or just our nearest and dearest. For those of us with children, on Christmas Eve, a mince pie and glass of milk are left for Santa and a carrot for the reindeer, and stockings are left on or by the children’s beds. Children get up at the crack of dawn to discover that Christmas presents have magically appeared under the tree and stockings are filled with presents. Christmas Day itself often centres around present giving and opening, a large Christmas meal with crackers to pull, wearing the obligatory bad fitting hats and telling silly jokes, and maybe settling on the sofa later to watch a Christmas film.
It’s interesting that we have each carried on some of the traditions from our own childhood such as watching Die Hard or a James Bond movie, only opening presents after breakfast or lunch or placing the stockings in a particular place: think door handle versus end of bed! We’ve also started to create our own traditions, such as sprinkling reindeer food on the lawn the night before (also known as oats and farm animal feed!) or making an adventschuur which is a custom from Germany where a wreath is made with presents hanging down from it, to be opened on each day of advent. And for some Radical Movers, Christmas now sometimes takes a different form from the traditional day and means going away and making new Christmas memories to add to all of those that have gone before.
Less well-known celebratory customs that we’ve experienced
Here in Wales, where Radical Moves is based, there is an interesting tradition called the Mari Lwyd. Traditionally, the Mari Lwyd involved groups of men going from house to house in their local area with a hobby horse made using a horse’s skull mounted on a pole, decorated with ribbons and carried by a person under a sack cloth. The group would sing at the door of each house to ask to be let in, and it’s customary for the householder to initially refuse their entry, again through song. The tradition is still celebrated but is now enjoyed by men, women and children alike, albeit without a real horse’s skull! Children often make their own Mari Lwyds in school and can be seen going door to door singing in the villages local to the Radical Moves office.
Another interesting tradition here in Wales is Callenig which takes place on New Year’s Day, when children go door to door in their local area, singing a special Callenig song. Householders then give the children a gift or more often money. Again, this is a tradition that still happens today in our local area.
In Scotland, as part of the New Year celebration known as Hogmanay, at 12am, some people like to knock at the back door with some coal and then open the front and back doors of houses to let the New Year in. In Germany, on St Nicholas’ Day on 6th December, a Nikolausteller is given as a gift, which is a plate or bag full of chocolates and sweets. Moving a bit further afield, In Hong Kong, it’s customary to visit the Lam Tsuen Wishing Trees during the Lunar New Year and write your wish on joss paper attached to an orange, then throw it at the tree. If it hangs on a branch, it’s said that the wish will come true.
In this diverse collection of personal experiences, it’s clear that the holiday season means different things to each of us. However us Radical Movers choose to spend the next few weeks, there’s one common factor, and that is that we’re all taking a break from the daily routine, and making the most of the opportunity to relax, recharge, and enjoy time with the people we love.
Happy holiday everyone from all of us at Radical Moves!