Holy month: Religious observances of myriad faiths fill December calendar

Published: Friday, Dec. 21 2012 5:00 a.m. MST

The Hanukkah menorah, a nine-branched candelabrum, is also a well-known symbol of the holiday. “Rabbi Benny Zippel of Chabad Lubavitch of Utah lights a special menorah each year at the Gallivan Center in downtown Salt Lake,” Silver said, “and this year they lit one up in Park City off of Main Street.”

But mostly, Silver continued, Hanukkah celebrations are shared between family and friends. Although it isn’t one of the Jewish High Holy Days — like Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah, for example — it is elevated in the minds of many non-Jews because of its proximity to the Christian celebration of Christmas as well as its focus on lights and gift giving.

And that works, she said, because Hanukkah is “more of a festive holiday.”


It should noted that while Islam reveres Jesus Christ as a prophet, Muslims don’t celebrate Christmas as a faith tradition. The only time an Islamic holiday is observed during December is when an annual holiday happens to land during the last month of the year, according to the lunar calendar, which adjusts by 10 days annually, said Imam Muhammad Shoayb Mehtar of the Islamic Center of Greater Salt Lake.

While it is not a religiously oriented holiday, Kwanzaa is a relatively new celebration that honors African heritage in African American culture. Largely an American holiday, it is also celebrated in Canada and in the Western African Diaspora. It was first observed in 1966, and is now on the calendar for Dec. 26-Jan. 1 each year. Many view it as at least semi-spiritual in nature because of its emphasis on “imani,” which is Swahili for “faith.”

On Dec. 22, Wiccans and other Pagan groups celebrate Yule in honor of the winter solstice. And on Dec. 26, Zoroastrians note the death of the prophet Zarathustra, who lived in what is now Iran 900 years ago and whose name is attached to a piece of classical music you’ve doubtless heard but probably didn’t know: Richard Strauss's “Also sprach Zarathustra,” translated as “Thus Spoke Zarathustra,” best known for its thematic use in the 1968 film, “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

Which wasn't exactly a holy movie. But Strauss's "tonal poem" is the perfect accompaniment for the Zoroastrian "holy day."

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