’Tis the season to decorate

Get into the holiday season with all the trimmings, no matter what you’re celebrating

This is the first year Jess Foran got her very own Christmas tree to decorate for her celebration of the holiday season.
This is the first year Jess Foran got her very own Christmas tree to decorate for her celebration of the holiday season.

It’s almost December and people are beginning to deck the halls, bringing out star-topped trees for Christmas, Hanukkiahs for Hanukkah and colourful African art for Kwanzaa. For many faiths, this is the season to celebrate and the season to decorate. That means tinsel, candles and colour: even Festivus has a pole.

Though commercialism might be intruding on some religious customs, there’s something to be said for taking part in tradition this holiday season.

Jess Foran, ArtSci ’08, had done a bit of decorating in the past, but this year she decided to go all out by decorating her apartment for Christmas.

“This year we got the works. We went out and got a big tree and everything,” she said.

For Foran, the tree’s probably the best part of the decorating for the season.

“I’ve never had my own tree before,” she said.

The artificial Christmas tree embellished with various ornaments and a big light-up star is just one piece of the décor creating a holiday atmosphere at Foran’s place, though.

“We have in the centre of the living room a fireplace with a huge mantel and we put stockings on it,” she said.

“The stockings give it a really homey feel and it adds a lot of character.”

And her non-functional fireplace, there just for decoration, didn’t stop Foran from putting logs in it for that warm winter feeling.

A tinsel-filled window and garland climbing up the railing complete the festive look.

Foran said she loves to decorate for Christmas because the décor puts her in a good mood.

“It gives you something to look forward to,” she said. “It keeps the break in sight.”

But the finished product is really only part of what makes holiday decorating so special.

“I’d say the best part is putting it up,” she said.

“We put on the Charlie Brown Christmas CD when we’re decorating and it’s a lot of fun. It’s a time when you don’t have to be doing schoolwork.”

Foran has even gotten crafty and made her own decorations.

“Last year we made probably 50 different snowflakes and hung them from the roof of our house,” she said.

Making your own decorations is also a way to ensure your decorating bill doesn’t go overboard. But it really isn’t that difficult to trim your tree or your house on a student’s budget, Foran said.

“I definitely think you can [decorate on a student budget],” she said.

“I mean if you go to Dollarama they’ve got a lot of stuff for $1. The only thing you have to splurge on is the tree, but if you buy a reusable one you only have to do it once.”

Parents’ old decorations can be another huge resource for students. Foran said a lot of the decoration for her apartment came from her roommate’s parents.

Hanukkah begins Tuesday night, but Dara Abells, ArtSci ’08, said you won’t see any lights being hung in preparation for the event.

“It’s not something where you decorate for weeks before,” she said.

But that doesn’t mean Hanukkah doesn’t have its own symbols for the celebration. Abells said Hanukkah parties are usually decorated.

“In terms of the decorations, it’s fake dreidels hanging from the ceiling and ‘Happy Hanukkah’ signs.”

The dreidel, which has become a decorative symbol, is a spinning top associated with Hanukkah. Players take turns spinning the dreidel, gambling on which Hebrew letter it will land on. The letters stand for the Hebrew phrase, “A great miracle happened there,” referring to the miracle the holiday celebrates of the one-day supply of oil that lasted eight days.

Abells said she plans to celebrate Hanukkah by participating in the ritual of lighting the Hanukkiah, a candelabra with nine branches.

“The biggest tradition is the lighting of the candles on the Hanukkiah,” she said. “You start with lighting one candle and each night you add a candle.”

Abells said it’s a fun holiday and they do give presents for Hanukkah, too, but that’s not really the importance of the celebration.

“It’s part of keeping the tradition alive and if people just ignore it, then how are we going to show that we are unique and our religion is important to us?” she asked.

“This is a fun holiday. It’s known as the Festival of Light. It’s a really joyous holiday. And why not celebrate?”

The four-day Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha begins Dec. 20 this year, at the end of the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca.

Ishraq Alim, MA ’08, said Eid al-Adha commemorates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son, Ishmael. In addition to attending festive meals with friends and family, people will make charitable sacrifices of their own to emulate Abraham’s.

Alim, who’s celebrating with his family in the Toronto area, said his charitable donation will be split between overseas, local and community donations.

He said that, in contrast to the locally ubiquitous Christmas celebrations, Eid al-Adha doesn’t feature specific symbolism.

“People give out gifts but there’s no single gift like stockings or candy canes or stuff like that.”

Chaplain Rev. Brian Yealland said decorating for the holidays is always symbolic and ritualistic.

“Generally you will find that religions and cultures use symbols to evoke a certain affiliation with an event,” he said.

“It would be very similar as the Tricolour is to Queen’s. The Christmas tree functions that way. It is a symbol that all Christians can affiliate with.”

Though our holiday decorations largely come to us from religious symbolism, Yealland said they are also influenced by culture.

“For instance, in Christianity, you may have the cradle … but you may also have cultural symbols like the reindeer and Santa,” he said.

Yealland said Christmas is one religious holiday that has been particularly influenced by culture.

“I would say that it is because Christianity came to be over the period of the Christian era … almost sort of a state religion, whereas Judaism never did. Judaism and other traditions never had that power throughout the West,” he said.

Holiday symbols such as Santa Claus that we associate with our own culture though didn’t actually originate in North America. Yealland said these are more often rooted in Icelandic and Northern European traditions.

Yealland said many traditions are celebrating at this time of year because it’s around the winter solstice which is an auspicious and spiritual time.

“Because they all coalesce around the solstice, they tend to represent the same kind of thing,” he said. “They all tend to have something to do with the birth and death cycle and with fertility.”

Yealland said having a meal on a holiday is one of the various symbols of fertility, adding that many of holidays also place an emphasis on gathering people together.

With all of the different religious celebrations at this time of year, Yealland said the best thing to do in public spaces is to be inclusive as possible.

“The point is not to take down the Christmas tree but to put up other symbols as well,” he said.

“You can put a very nice display together that may say happy holidays but doesn’t just leave it at a generic happy holidays. All the symbols are there.”

And don’t hesitate to celebrate a tradition just because you don’t participate in the culture or faith, Yealland said.

“In most traditions, people will welcome you to be a part of their celebration.”

—With files from Anna Mehler Paperny

Why the holiday season will make your exams a little merrier:

1. If you give someone at Stauffer a candy cane they’ll probably save your seat.

2. You can study into the late hours by the glow of the Hanukkiah.

3. Putting the periodical table of elements to the tune of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” will help you remember it better.

4. There’s an abundance of cookies and chocolates in the grocery store for a tasty study snack.

5. You can take out your studying aggression by challenging your housemates to a snowball fight.

6. Writing study notes on red and green cue cards will help you decorate your room and prepare for the big final at the same time.

7. An exam schedule looks less depressing when it’s written on an advent calendar.

8. A dreidel can easily be turned into a study game.

9. You can ask Santa for an A.

10. You can look forward to putting that last exam behind you by partaking in the Kwanzaa sharing of libations.

A sampling of December holidays:

• Dec. 4: First night of Hanukkah (Judaism)

• Dec. 20: Eid al-Adha (Islam)

• Dec. 20: Maunajiyaras (Jainism)

• Dec. 22: Yule (Wicca)

• Dec. 25: Christmas Day (Christian)

• Dec. 26: Anniversary of death of Zoroaster (Zoroastrianism)

• Dec. 26: Kwanzaa

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