Tis the Season

By Debbie Ciccotelli, Vice President, Strategic Innitiative

As ASP’s workforce is culturally diverse, it is important that we ensure inclusivity while maintaining the importance of religious holidays to those who celebrate them. As we celebrate the season, it’s easy to assume that everyone celebrates the same way we do. As we interact with people in our workplace and community, it is important to learn how others celebrate the season. By learning about our differences, we get closer to one other and get opportunities for exciting real life lessons in geography, culture, history, and religion. It’s true that holiday traditions around the world have much in common, especially as cultures mix and influence one another in our globally connected world. Yet there is also rich diversity in celebrations and traditions old and new. The season’s meaning becomes broader and more vivid as it expands to include more cultures and traditions. Did you know that people celebrate more than Christmas during the holiday season in Canada? By holiday season I mean the period starting from fall to early January. Well, I say, the more the merrier! Here are other celebrations this season you may want to know more about:

Diwali (Hindu)

Although Diwali is celebrated a bit earlier in the year in October or November (exact dates depend on the moon cycle). This year Diwali was celebrated on November 4th; it is considered an autumn and winter holiday by many of those who observe it. Diwali is considered the festival of lights, is India’s biggest holiday, and is celebrated by millions of Hindus around the world. It is a five-day holiday of lights. That celebrates the victory of light over darkness or the triumph of good over evil. Hindus also take advantage of this period to contemplate and dispel the darkness of ignorance. As a symbolic gesture, they display diyas which are small clay oil lamps or candle holders

Bodhi Day (Buddhist) In the Buddhist culture, Bodhi Day is a celebration of enlightenment and a day for remembrance, meditation, and chanting. This commemorates the exact moment of Buddha’s awakening (under the peepal tree which is now known as Bodhi). The exact date of celebration varies: Theravada Buddhists use the lunar calendar, Mahayana Buddhists go by the Chinese lunar calendar, while Japan Bodhi Day is set on December 8 every year. At the start of Bodhi day, people decorate a Ficus tree with multi[1]coloured lights strung with beads to symbolize the varied paths to Nirvana (their ultimate state/goal) and signifies that all things are united.

Hanukkah (Jewish)

 Hanukkah is an 8-day Jewish celebration also known as the Festival of Lights that commemorates rededication and purification of the temple after the Jew’s victory over the Greek Syrians in 165 BC. This year, Hanukkah will be celebrated from the evening of November 28 to December 6 in 2021. The most well-known symbol of this celebration is the menorah, which is a type of candelabra. One candle is lit each day during Hanukkah. The menorah represents a miracle for the Jewish people. During the battle, the Temple’s candelabrum burned for eight straight days and nights using an amount of oil meant for a single day.

 Winter Solstice (Various Cultures/ Religions) Many cultures all over the world celebrated (and continue to celebrate) winter solstice even before Christmas came to be. In fact, the term Yule was derived from an old European holiday held at the start of the solar year known as the celebration of Light and the Rebirth of the Sun. In the northern hemisphere, the shortest day of the year, also known as the winter solstice, falls around December 21. It marks the beginning of winter and the coming of cold, harsh days, but it also marks the beginning of the sun’s return as the days begin gradually to lengthen. Since many so-called Christmas traditions emerged from pagan practices, learning about the winter solstice teaches about history and culture.

Other winter solstice celebrations include:

  • Feast of Juul (Scandinavian) – A pre-Christian festival celebrated in December. On this day, a yule log is burned on the hearth in honor of the Scandinavian god, Thor.
  • Yalda (Persia/Iran) – Also called Shab –e-Yalda, it marks the last day of the Persian month of Azar during ancient times. It commemorates the victory of light over dark and the birth of the sun god Mithra
  • Saturnalia (ancient Roman) – Aside from winter solstice, Saturnalia celebrates the end of the planting season. It was marked by games, feasts, and gift-giving for several days.
  • St. Lucia’s Day (Scandinavian) – On this day, girls dress up in white gowns with red sashes and wreaths of candles on their heads to honor the saint. It is also called the festival of lights as people light up fires to ward off spirits at night.
  • Dong Zhi (Chinese) – Dong Zhi celebrates the end of harvest and the arrival of winter. In the traditional Chinese celestial calendar, this falls between the 21st and 23rd of December. Families gather together to enjoy a feast in celebration.
  • Gody (Poland) – This is the tradition of showing forgiveness and sharing food. It was part of pre[1]Christian winter solstice celebrations.
  • Chaomos (Kalasha, Pakistan) – Kalasha or Kalash Kafir people celebrate for at least seven days. It involves ritual baths for purification, singing and chanting, a torchlight procession, dancing, bonfires, and feasts.
  • St. Thomas Day/Sun God festival (Guatemala) – December 21 is the feast day of St. Thomas the Apostle. Mayan Indians also hold a festival honoring the sun god on this day. It is celebrated with fanfare including colourful parades and the daring flying pole dance in Peru.

Pancha Ganapati (Hindu)

From December 21 – 25, many Hindus celebrate Pancha Ganapati, and hold a five-day festival in honor of Lord Ganesha, the elephant-headed Patron of Arts and Guardian of Culture and new beginnings. Pancha Ganapati was created in 1985 by Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, as a Hindu alternative to December holidays like Christmas. During each of the five days of Pancha Ganapati, a special sadhana, spiritual discipline, is focused upon by the entire family where they work together to mend past mistakes and bring His blessings of joy and harmony into five realms of their life, and they conclude by extolling one another’s best qualities. Pancha Ganapati includes outings, feasts and exchange of cards and gifts with relatives, friends, and business associates. A shrine is created in the main living room of the home and decorated in the spirit of this festive occasion. At the center is placed a large wooden or bronze statue of Lord Panchamukha (“five-faced”) Ganapati, a form of Ganesha. Any large picture or statue of Ganesha will also do. Each morning the children decorate and dress Him in the colour of that day, representing one of His five rays of energy, or shaktis

Kwanzaa (African)

Kwanzaa is not a religious holiday but a celebration of African heritage and culture that eventually ends with a large feast and gift giving. Kwanzaa, which means “First Fruits,” is based on ancient African harvest festivals and celebrates ideals such as family life and unity. It is a seven-day celebration (December 26 to January 1) that features the lighting of the kinara each day, similar to the lighting of the menorah during Hanukkah. Each day is represented by a principle of Kwanzaa: 1st – Umoja (unity), 2nd – kujichagulia (self-determination), 3rd – ujima (collective work and responsibility), 4th – ujamaa (cooperative economics), 5th – nia (purpose), 6th – kuumba (creativity), and 7th – imani (faith).

New Year’s (secular)

New Year’s Eve, December 31, marks the last day in the Gregorian calendar. It is a night of merry making marked with fireworks, parties, and feasts. Many people also observe rituals that are thought to give them good luck and help them start an auspicious year like serving certain food to bring wealth and making noise with fireworks to drive off bad spirits.

Three King’s Day (Christian)

Also known as Epiphany, this marks the day the Three Wise Men visited the Christ child and brought him gifts. Christians celebrate this on the first Sunday after January 1. In Hispanic cultures, this is a day of gift-giving and other festivities

Orthodox Christmas

Members of the Orthodox Church celebrate Jesus’ birth a week after December 25th and after all our usual celebrations have died down. They celebrate Christmas on January 7th or near this date. Why? It’s a difference in calendars. Those who celebrate Christmas on December 25th are using the Gregorian calendar introduced in 1582. Those who were still using the Julian calendar (much of the Soviet Bloc and the Middle East) celebrate Christmas 13 days later. While most of these countries now follow the Gregorian calendar, many still observe religious holidays on the Julian dates. Traditionally, Orthodox Christians begin with a 40-day period of fasting before Christmas. After the Christmas eve mass, families celebrate with feasts, joyful caroling, and other traditions. Ukrainian and Russian Orthodox faiths prepare 12 traditional dishes representing Christ’s apostles. Ukrainian households also throw a spoonful of Kutia (a traditional dish made of wheat, honey, and poppy seeds) up in the air to know what the year has in store for them. The more Kutia is stuck to the walls or ceiling, the more prosperous the year would be.

Lunar New Year

Lunar New Year is observed in many countries that follow lunar calendars, including Taiwan, Vietnam, Singapore, China, Malaysia, and more. Lunar New Year can be celebrated in January, February, March, April, September, or November, depending on the lunar calendar, but February and April are the most common times. Lunar New Year traditions vary from culture to culture. Some examples include exchanging red envelopes or silk pouches containing money, setting off fireworks, playing games, eating traditional dishes, cleaning the house, and holding parades with colourful costumes. Chinese New Year marks the end of winter and the start of spring. It usually falls between January 21 and February 20 based on the lunar calendar (February 1 in 2022). The first day of celebration starts with the New Moon and ends on the Full Moon 15 days later. People indulge in feasts, watch dragon and lion dances and parades, light fireworks, and distribute luck money in red envelopes to children.

Ramadan (Muslim)

Ramadan is a month of daily fasting during daylight hours. It culminates in Eid-al-Fitr when they break the fast. The period is determined by the Islamic lunar calendar, which is why it falls on different dates each year. It was observed from the evening of April 12 to May 11 in 2021. The next time it will be in December to January will be in 2030. Aside from fasting, Muslims also give up bad habits during the season, pray more, read the Quran, and attend services. Eid-al-Fitr is a time of celebration with the family, giving gifts and doing charitable works.


Omisoka is the Japanese New Year, and like the Western version of New Year’s, is celebrated on December 31st. It is considered one of the most important holidays in Japanese culture, second only to January 1st, known as Shogatsu or Japanese New Year’s Day. Celebrating the close of the old year and ushering in the new one, Japanese people often celebrate with a giant feast, cleaning the house from top to bottom to prepare for the new year, sending post cards and gifts to family and friends on January 2nd and hosting Bonenkai parties, intended to help forget about the past year. Many families make rice cakes as part of the celebration, and homes are decorated with a sacred Shinto straw rope. The holiday season is a great time to explore how different cultures express their values, beliefs, and customs. Celebrating workplace diversity, especially around the holidays, helps to build an understanding and awareness of other cultural practices and to reflect on our own. There’s nothing better than showing your coworkers that you care about and respect them by celebrating the holidays and traditions their families also follow. Learning about holidays from other cultures, is a wonderful way to establish awareness, appreciation, and acceptance of our differences. Regardless of your personal background and beliefs, the holiday season is a special time which is about enjoying spending time with family, friends and colleagues which makes this is the perfect time of year to focus on gratitude, appreciation, and thankfulness, both at home and in the workplace.

ASP wishes all of our employees and their families a joyous and safe 2021/22 holiday season!!

  • Category: Diversity and Inclusion