Throughout November and December, TV, movies, and advertisements are full of Christmas-centric messaging and splashes of red and green. Christmas isn’t the only holiday Canadians will be celebrating this winter, however. With so many diverse cultures and communities in Canada, this should come as no surprise.
It’s essential for businesses to understand the communities we serve if we want to make authentic connections with them. Recognizing an often-overlooked holiday—or vocally celebrating your own culture’s traditions—has a meaningful impact, particularly as a diverse-owned business with diverse audiences. For some, it could act as a moment of recognition and gratitude. For others, it’s a chance to explore the rich histories of our different cultures. For Canada and our Indigenous communities, it can even be an opportunity for cultural reclamation and reconciliation.
Winter Celebrations of Canada’s Indigenous Peoples
The winter solstice falls on December 21, the “shortest day of the year” with the least amount of total daylight. For thousands of years, First Nations communities around the world have recognized the winter solstice as a day of celebration, ritual, and tradition.
Some Indigenous peoples still maintain their traditional solstice practices and teachings today. However, many communities had their celebrations moved to December 25 or New Year’s Day to align with the national calendar and government-recognized holidays. Colonialism and the Canadian residential school system led to the forcible erasure of many of these traditions. Now, as more and more people are rediscovering and reviving those traditions, the solstice acts as a day to reclaim them and reconnect to traditions once thought lost forever.
For many Indigenous cultures, winter is a time to connect with the spirits of the past. The December solstice became a time to reflect on and thank their ancestors, share stories, honour their origins, and set intentions for themselves in preparation for the cold months ahead. It’s also a time to recognize everyone’s fundamental interconnectedness—with each other, nature, and the cosmos.
Blackfoot First Nations of Treaty 7 territory in Southern Alberta saw the solstice as the return of the sun, as each day it remains for a little bit longer. Celebrations often focused less on spiritual ceremony and more on games, community dances, and feasts. Many elders have shared stories of visiting different communities throughout Blackfoot territory, each with their own unique styles of drumming, singing, and dancing.
The celebration of the solstice isn’t limited to Canada’s Indigenous Peoples, however. Cultures around the world have marked the day in their own unique ways, including the Feast of Juul (the origin of the term “Yule”, referring to the winter holiday season) and St. Lucia’s Day in Scandinavia, Szczodre Gody in Poland, Yalda in Iran, Chawmos in Pakistan, the Fiesta de Santo Tomás in Guatemala, and Dongzhi in China.
This African-American holiday isn’t religious or spiritual—rather, it’s a cultural holiday celebrating African heritage. It lasts for seven days, from December 26 to January 1, and each day a candle is lit on the “kinara”—a candelabrum similar to the menorah used in Hanukkah.
Each candle represents one of the Seven Principles: Umoja (Unity), Kujichagulia (Self-determination), Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity), and Imani (Faith). Those who are celebrating greet each other by asking “Habari gani?”, a Swahili greeting chosen because of Swahili’s status as a Pan-African language. People then respond by naming that day’s principle, reinforcing their commitment to the values it represents.
Different communities recognize this Buddhist holiday on different days, depending on their calendar. Japanese Buddhists celebrate Bodhi Day on the same date every year: December 8. However, it changes each year for Mahayana Buddhists who follow the Chinese lunar calendar. Coincidentally, their Bodhi Day celebrations will also fall on December 8 this year.
Bodhi Day is a celebration recognizing the Buddha’s awakening and enlightenment, achieved under the bodhi tree. To celebrate, people decorate trees with colourful lights, but instead of the evergreens we see at Christmas, they’ll use a Ficus tree. The lights symbolize the many different paths to Nirvana, as well as our interconnectedness.
Jewish communities will celebrate the Festival of Lights from December 18 to 26 this winter. It honours the purification and rededication of the Temple by the Maccabees after the Jewish people defeated the Greek Syrians in 165 BC.
During the battle, the Temple’s candelabrum burned for eight days and nights, despite only having enough oil remaining to last for one day. This miracle is recognized by the ritual lighting of the menorah. It holds eight candles—one to light for each day of the festival.
Chinese New Year
This New Year’s celebration follows the Chinese lunar calendar, and this year it will fall on January 22, 2023. It technically lasts for 16 days, but in China, it is only considered a public holiday for one week. For eight days prior to the start of Chinese New Year, people prepare for the celebration during a period they call “Little Year” (January 14–21, 2023). The first 11 days of the celebration are called the “Spring Festival” (January 22–February 1, 2023) and the final four days are reserved for preparing for the final celebration, the “Lantern Festival” (February 5, 2023).
Chinese New Year marks the transition between the signs of the Chinese Zodiac. 2023 will be the Year of the Rabbit (2022 was the Year of the Tiger). The rabbit symbolizes elegance, peace, and good luck—hopefully, that means there’s a relaxing, prosperous year ahead of us!
Sharing Traditions Across Cultures Over the Holidays
If you’re a diverse-owned business celebrating a holiday other than Christmas, we highly encourage you to celebrate openly and with pride! Learning about each other’s cultures is a powerful way to build connections across diverse communities, and it brings a little more joy and light to the cold winter season.
If your organization is connected to diverse communities celebrating different occasions, give them a shoutout on your socials or send out a newsletter with some well wishes. It’s a meaningful gesture that shows you’ve taken the time to get to know your communities and their values.
From all of us at CAMSC, we wish you a happy and healthy winter holiday with lots of good food, great company, and warm memories—no matter what you choose to celebrate.