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Merry Chrismukkah, Season’s Greetings or Joyous Kwanzaa?

Customs and rituals are an important element defining culture and most of us grow up immersed in the tradition embraced by our parents. However, in today’s global community, one should also be aware of the alternative holidays that could be important to our friends, work colleagues or customers.

In the Christian tradition, December is a month when we celebrate Christmas, while in Judaism it is often the time to celebrate Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights (the date varies every year and falls between late November and late December). While Hanukkah is not a major Jewish holiday, the coincidence with Christmas has made it more prominent and includes a gift-giving tradition. It commemorates a rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem following a Jewish revolt against the Seleucid (Hellenic) monarchy which had outlawed Judaism in the 2nd century BC. The Hannukah rituals include special prayers and blessings during the eight days of the holiday and kindling candle lights of the special candelabra, called themenorah, after dark (moving progressively from two to nine candles, adding one extra light every night).

Due to an increased number of interfaith marriages celebrating both Christmas and Hanukkah there has been a recent invention of the term ‘Chrismukkah’ along with the introduction of cards and decorative objects including symbols from both traditions. While this idea has been often criticised for diluting and cheapening both holidays, it has allowed some of us to honour our mixed faith friends with a Chrismukkah card in place of the more bland ‘Season’s Greetings’.

Kwanzaa is an African-American holiday celebrated in the week between 26th Dec and 1st January. It was introduced in the 1960s as part of the redefining of the distinct culture and heritage of Afro-American people and continues to be celebrated by several million people worldwide (exact numbers quoted by different sources vary greatly). The main focus of the holiday is to celebrate the seven principles of Kwanzaa, or Nguzo Saba, which constitute the essence of African thought and philosophy. Each day is dedicated to one of the seven values: Umoja(Unity), Kujichagulia (Self-Determination), Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba(Creativity) and Imani (Faith). Unlike in the individualist Western tradition, Kwanzaa reinforces the collectivist or communitarian aspects of African culture. The rituals include decorating the household with art objects, a candle-lightening custom, libations, traditional music and performance art, reflection on Pan-African tradition and symbols, and a feast.

In the Spanish tradition, Christmas festivities extend to Epiphany Day on the 6th of January (Día de Los Tres Reyes Magos) when gifts are traditionally opened in commemoration of the visit of the Three Magi to Baby Jesus. Also round this time (7th January), according to the Julian Calendar used by the Eastern Orthodox Churches, celebrations of Christmas take place in Russia, Serbia, Georgia, Macedonia and Ukraine.

Awareness of the different customs and rituals sends an important message to the employees and customers of any global business. It is a mark of respect for cultural diversity and possessing a vision going beyond one’s own immediate experience. Why not review the way your company connects globally with its customers on festive days, and find out if you should perhaps be including a menorah symbol in your Christmas newsletter, or if you should be sending out Chinese New Year wishes in early February 2011 rather than just on 31st December 2010. Also, have a look at our colour symbolism list to see if your website’s colour scheme evokes the right connotations in different locations!

Below is a short summary of colour symbolism relating to national and religious importance:

Purple – church authority (Italy)
Blue – holiness (Israel)
Green – holiness (Arab Middle East), Catholicism and nationalism (Ireland)
Red – Communism, celebration, good luck, joy (China)
Red and green/red and white – Christmas
Orange – Protestantism (Ireland)
White – purity, innocence (Western culture), death, mourning (India, China)
Black – death, mourning (Western culture)
Green, gold and red (or red, black and green) – colours of Pan-Africanism