What the Holidays Mean to Me: Community partners share the importance of this season

December 21, 2020

Louisville is a compassionate city with many faiths and diverse cultures. Although the holiday celebrations might look different, there is one uniting principle: goodwill toward all. Here is just a sampling and glimpse from our community partners of what this festive season means to them. We would love to hear from you on our social media channels about how you celebrate the holidays.

Spirit of the season ‘touches the heart of everyone’

The holiday season is definitely the best time of the year with all of its festivities and bright lights. Whether one is Christian or not, spirit of days surrounding the Christmas season touches the heart of everyone. Both Jesus and Mary are the revered figures in Islam as in Holy Quran, Jesus is mentioned 49 times and a whole chapter is dedicated to Mary.

Therefore on Christmas Day, I make prayers for my family, friends and humanity in general while enjoying the cultural aspect of this sacred day. 

Muhammad Babar, MD MBA MSc, University of Louisville Physicians

Kwanzaa’s ‘values are a universal way of life’

In 1966, Kwanzaa was first celebrated by Dr. Maulana Karenga, professor, philosopher and political activist. Since then, Kwanzaa has been an annual observance for seven days from December 26 to January 1. It is an African-American and Pan-African holiday celebrated by millions throughout the African diaspora. Dr. Karenga established Kwanzaa to help African Americans reconnect with their cultural and historical heritage by uniting in the seven core principles honoring African heritage. These principles are called the Nguzo Saba, in the African language of Swahili. The core principles are:

  • Umoja (Unity)
  • Kujichagulia (Self-Determination)
  • Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility)
  • Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics)
  •  Nia (Purpose)
  •  Kuumba (Creativity)
  •  Imani (Faith)

Kwanzaa was not created as an alternative to religious beliefs or the observance of religious holidays.

During my visits to Africa, I learned about the multiplicity of ethical and moral concepts that evolved from the cradle of civilization and now has spread around the world. For example, among the traditional Igbo people in West Africa, the word ‘Nma’, conveys the idea of goodness. The Odú Ifá, the sacred text of the Yorùbá people of Southwestern Nigeria, gave birth to the concept of Iwa Pele, which means gentle and balanced character, essential to development as human beings.

In Kenya, East Africa, you will find the concept of ‘Harambee,’ Swahili for let’s pull together! ‘Terranga’ is a concept of hospitality among Wolof people in Senegal, West Africa. Then there is Ubuntu (uu-buun-too), an ancient ethical and moral concept practiced by the Zulu and Xhosa people of South Africa. Ubuntu means, "I am what I am because of who we all are." Ubuntu is a worldview in which people can only obtain fulfillment through interacting with other people. Ubuntu represents a spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood across both race and religious beliefs that unites mankind to a common purpose.

Just as the concepts of ‘Nma,’ ‘Iwa Pele,’ ‘Harambee,’ Terranga,’ and Ubuntu have roots in Africa, Kwanzaa is part of this ancient continuum, communicating a cultural message that speaks to the best of what it means to be African and human, no matter what your religious beliefs. The central belief is that these values are universal truths and a universal way of life.

­­Aukram Burton, Executive Director, Kentucky Center for African American Heritage

Winter solstice: A day of great spiritual importance

Alongside many indigenous, earth-bound religions, which emphasize relationships with both place and circular time as opposed to doctrine or linear time, the Lakota traditions have historically recognized the winter solstice as a day of great spiritual importance. For many, this is in preparation for both the demands and blessings of the upcoming year.

Canunpa ("sacred pipe") and Inipi ("sweat lodge") ceremonies are common in acknowledging the Waní-Wí-Ipȟá ("Crest of the Winter Sun"). Mythic stories, songs, and narratives are shared in order to maintain ties with the ancestors to whom we give reverence. These stories also serve to reinvigorate our own sacred paths tied to the seven generations that have proceeded us as well as the seven generations that will come after we are gone.

As the world around us pauses and rests during the winter months, preparing for its own rejuvenation, we also take the time to both reflect and prepare for our own. We do this so the people will continue to persevere and prosper as the circular cycles of both nature and time begin again.

Jeremiah A.R. Cunningham, MA, Adjunct Professor of Religious Studies and the Humanities, Jefferson Community and Technical College

Peltokipa Iktomi Sapa Wakan, Lakota Tradition: Water Pourer and Sundancer 

Three Unities: The Foundation of Our Belief

I am a member of the Baha’i Faith, and as part of the foundation of our belief are three unities: the unity of God, the unity of mankind and the unity of religion.

Unity of God means that God, an unknowable essence, has created the entire universe, the earth and human beings out of His love for creation. Because of this divine love, He has provided guidance and education for us by sending divine educators, which we know as prophets, messengers or manifestations. Regardless of their title, they have provided humanity guidance throughout history based on needs and capacities at every age and every generation.

This means the unity of religion is continuously being evolved.

Unity of mankind is irrespective of our race, gender, country or origin, education or socioeconomic states, we are members of one family.

The tabernacle of unity has been raised regard ye not one another as strangers ye are the fruits of one tree and the leaves of one branch “Bahá’u’lláh. Bahá’u’lláh teaches me that unless I accept and love those who came before Him, like Moses, Lord Jesus Christ, and Muhammad, I cannot claim to love because they’re all on the same, so this time is very sacred.

I respect and celebrate it with my Christian sisters, brothers and friends without the fanfare and materialistic aspects of it, which to me, to some extent, takes away from the real meaning of the birth, life and sacrifice - an example of Jesus Christ. I share that with my sisters and brothers and family and join in their festivities.

Dr. Jahangir Cyrus, servant of the community and physician, Family Health Center

Grandparents’ menorah holds sentimental value

I grew up in a Jewish family, and my husband and I raised two Jewish children, so we have always celebrated Hanukkah. We light the menorah, an eight-limbed candelabra, for eight successive nights. We start by lighting one candle and add one each night of the holiday.

We have several menorahs, but the one I most like using is from my grandparents’ home. When our kids were little, it was especially meaningful to connect generations who never met one another with this special object. One theme of Hanukkah is ‘light in dark places,’ and spreading light is what I remember my grandparents doing throughout their lives.

This year, we visited my mom for the holiday, but needed to be socially distant, so we lit a menorah together in her garage. I never expected to celebrate Hanukkah that way, but we did it. The candles indeed burned bright, even in the garage. And that is 2020 in a nutshell.

Deb Frockt, Chief Executive Officer, Jewish Family & Career Services

A time to celebrate our culture … and we eat

Hanukkah is a time to celebrate our culture and heritage as Jews . . . and to eat (an important part of our culture and heritage).  Frying potato latkes, saying blessings while lighting the menorah and telling an ancient story (or, as they say on TV, based on a true story) are all traditions (which, by the way, share no significance with Christmas, except for the calendar). 

Our family’s celebration includes my husband, Michael Ginsberg’s, re-enactment of “Herschel and the Hanukkah Goblins.”  Herschel saves Hanukkah through trickery and courage, mischief and mayhem, and pickles and hard-boiled eggs.  In the end, our Jewish faith and the spirit of helping others is celebrated . . . and we eat.

Jeri Swinton-Ginsberg, Retired CEO, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Kentuckiana

Saying ‘Happy Holidays’ is a good place to start

It wasn’t until I started working with refugees and immigrants that I realized how difficult it is to not be a Christian during the “holidays." While I can make a distinction between Christianity and all of the holiday fanfare, many of my international neighbors from different cultures and religious traditions are not, and so it seems a little overwhelming. There may be no other time in the year when the hegemonic force of white/Christian/capitalism is more oppressive than during the Christmas holidays. This is not to say don’t practice Christianity and Christmas.

As a sacred humanist, I deeply appreciate the stories, traditions and practices of Christianity and Christmas, and find in them a powerful and universal message for all of humanity. However, the challenge seems to be how Christians can practice them faithfully in the context of a pluralistic and diverse country. A simple shift in saying, "happy holidays,” as opposed to “Merry Christmas” is a good place to start. If the three wise men, in the Christmas story, were able to see beyond their traditions honor the Christ child, then surely, we can do the same for them.

Jud Hendrix, Executive Director, Interfaith Paths To Peace

‘Let’s step out of comfort zone and help one another’

As a Muslim, we do not celebrate Christmas as Christians would do, but we do believe in Jesus Christ as being a prophet sent from God. We celebrate his birth, and we are motivated by one of the two greatest attributes that God has given us: mercifulness and compassion. If you look at our holy book, you'll see these two attributes included in the very first sentence of every chapter. Almost every chapter begins with, "In the name of God, the most merciful and the compassionate."

We need to attain as many attributes as we can that reflects our holiness, our God. During the holidays, these are the times that we need to reflect on being merciful and compassionate toward others. Some people are not getting the justice that they deserve, so we need to be their voices. We need to be their supporters.

I believe this is the time for us to be even more compassionate toward one another and try to really step out of our comfort zone and help one another. This pandemic really has given us a tremendous opportunity to show our humanity and be able to be a good friend to other brothers and sisters of ours and to show our humanity at its best. If we are fortunate enough to be able to do that, in my perspective, that is the best way that we can celebrate this holiday season, not just in our community but also in our world. I don't like to limit my humanity within my community but extend it all throughout the world. Anything that I can do, as one human being for others, that's something that motivates me, inspires me to do more.

My children are both in the medical field, so they don't take time off. They keep themselves available so that others can spend some time with their families. They're going to be working during the holiday season and give their time on the frontline.

Haleh Karimi, Lecturer, University of Louisville College of Business

‘We send prayers for the community and entire world’

We have very big holy days commemorating the Buddha's birthday, enlightenment and death date for a month each year. We follow the Lunar calendar, so it’s usually in May or June.  During these holy days, we are learning and remembering the great kindness of the Buddha and all the followers, and the Indian masters because Buddhism comes from India. During this month there are special teachings, meditations and giving to people who are in need. In India, there are many poor families near our Monastery, so we provide rice and food.

We also recognize Christmas as a holy day for many people. At our center in Louisville we eat together, as well as practice prayers, rituals, and meditation. It is also a time we send prayers and wishes for the community and the entire world.

At the end of the year, we offer dedication prayers in which we commit any good that has come from our efforts throughout the year to help those who are suffering now. We offer these prayers to try to ease the suffering of others during this special holiday season time in December.

Geshe Rapgyal, Teacher and Executive Director, Drepung Gomang Center for Engaging Compassion

Giving Christmas gifts means brotherly love

Christmas is my absolute favorite time of the year, and I love the Advent season. I love celebrating, decorating. I started buying gifts in the summer and was done by October 31st. I love the representation of what God gave to us, which is why I like giving gifts.

I also love that we get a new year with new opportunities, and it seems as if everyone seems to have a better attitude and outlook about new chances and renewed spirit. This season is about the birth of a new chance, it's birth of new opportunity and most of all, the birth of our savior.

Even though it’s my absolute favorite time of the year, I have to admit, this year's been a little difficult because it’s the first year without my brother. My mother is having a difficult time because she's spent 47 years with him, and now he's not going to be here.

There have been some sometimes, especially in October I thought, "What am I going to get my brother for Christmas?"  Well, I bought all his friends something for Christmas, because they are now my little brothers.

But no matter what has happened this year, this season is still a remembrance that tomorrow is a new opportunity. That's what I love about this time of the year.

Marsha Thornton, Jr. Administrative Assistant


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