Richard Liang of Maria Carrillo High School


The cold fronts have begun to sweep across the land covering the trees and grass with a fine layer of frost. It is clear winter is upon us. ‘Tis a season of chilly weather, but also the promise of a wonderful, relaxing holiday season and the coming inception of a new year. Houses are garlanded with decorations and tons of delicious foods are consumed during these celebratory times.
This most wonderful time of year evokes countless traditions, some developed over many centuries, others more recently established. Even customs unique to just one family can be passed down, quickly becoming important and fundamental elements of that family’s festivities. And I find the origins of these celebrations fascinating in the ways they have shaped modern holiday revelries.
Undoubtedly, Christmas is a holiday strongly linked to tradition. Many people probably know Christmas was originally — and for many people still remains — a celebration of Jesus of Nazareth’s birth. However, throughout history, it has grown and consumed the traditions of other world cultures, creating Christmas as we know it.
Probably, someone in your family recently spent long hours scaling slick shingled roofs. Likely, more than one futile attempt was made trying to unravel the intertwining wires, the results of a hasty holiday cleanup the year before. Yet, when strung, the lights illuminated the night sky and gave your house a cheerful glow during your recent holidays. Considering that so many people put up decorations for every year simply because it is tradition, I was amazed to learn that this custom developed from the ancient universal ritual of escaping the impending winter by lighting fires and thus staving off the darkness with light.
Still, the influences of tradition extend past the thousands of miles of lights sold annually. On Saturday, families all around the world gathered around Christmas trees, drooping with ornaments of every color, shape and size. Children tore through wrapping paper like hurricanes, exclaiming over their presents and wondering how Santa could have snuck in during the dead of night. This too stemmed from an ancient legend, that of pious Saint Nicholas, who once saved three maidens from unhappy lives as spinsters by secretly providing the money for their dowry. Now, the benevolent man has morphed into a jolly, gift-bearing symbol of children’s resolutions to be good and avoid being penciled onto his naughty list. By merging significant events from antiquity with modern expressions of celebration, Christmas always will remain an important and enjoyable holiday.
Soon, a new year will arrive, bringing about both conclusions and beginnings. New Year’s Day is the oldest of all the holidays. Like Christmas, it has combined its traditional import with modern-day values. For people like the ancient Babylonians, it was a time to rejoice in the birth of spring that rejuvenated their crops and animals. Over the course of history, the modes of merriment may have changed, but it remains a celebration of renewal. On this day, people reflect on the past 365 days and make resolutions to improve upon the past year.
In different countries, new year traditions often fall on other dates but are equally important and reflect those nations’ cultures. As a person of Chinese descent, I know China’s New Year’s Day adheres to a lunar schedule. So, when the moon’s new set of phases begins, my family and I and many other people celebrate this spring festival as the official start of the Chinese calendar year. On that day, men, women and children of all races flock to see the dragons and acrobatics of the joyful New Year’s Day celebrations. They laugh, eat dumplings, and jump at the exploding firecrackers.
While this holiday has become a cultural icon, it is always interesting to investigate the folklore that spawned these traditions. Who would have thought that in northern China, this custom of eating dumplings arose from the desire to protect one’s ears from the bitter cold? Ancient peoples used the dumplings as representations of their ears; they would devour the dumplings so that the dumplings would be consumed instead of their ears.
Just as customs past have greatly influenced traditions present, it is nice to know that our ways of celebrations will add fascinating and enduring new dimensions to future holidays.