Students enjoy diverse holidays over break

by Amy Horst

Ling-Ya Wang will use winter break to relax and reflect on life with her friends but not to celebrate Christmas.

Wang, a University graduate student and member of the University branch of the Minnesota Buddhist Association, is one of many University students who do not celebrate on Dec. 25.

Wang and other Buddhists will meditate daily for four days before New Year’s Day. On New Year’s, members will have a potluck to celebrate new beginnings, even though Buddhists do not recognize Jan. 1 as a holiday.

While Christian students prepare for Christmas, Hindus, Jews, pagans and students of other religions will also take part in activities during the holidays.

Hindu students will celebrate Sankranti, a festival that traditionally marks the end of southern Asia’s harvest.

The word Sankranti means “to begin to move,” and the occasion encourages Hindus to be unselfish and forgiving. The festival takes place Jan. 14 each year and is the only Hindu festival that follows a solar rather than a lunar calendar.

In Nepal, Hindus observe the day by cleaning their houses in the morning and bathing themselves in a river, second-year graduate student and Hindu Student Society President Sajeet Haridas said. If there is no river, they will go to a lake or bathe in their homes, he said.

After bathing, adherents will pray and then prepare foods such as sweet potatoes and yams.

“It’s prayer and good food and sweets,” Haridas said. “Back home it also usually means a lot of shopping and new clothes.”

Haridas said Hindu students at the University will observe the festival at one of their weekly gatherings.

While Hindu students prepare to observe Sankranti, about 40 Jewish students will be on their way to Israel for a 10-day trip organized with the help of Hillel, the University’s Jewish student center.

“The reason (for the trip) is to give these students a chance to discover their Jewish roots and history, with the hope that they will become more connected to the Jewish people as a result of the trip,” Hillel executive director Amy Olson said.

In addition to the trip, students will celebrate Hanukkah, which begins Dec. 19 this year and ends Dec. 27, Rabbi Sharon Stiefel said.

The holiday commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem after the Jews’ victory over Hellenistic Syrians. Hillel is hosting many pre-Hanukkah events, but because most of the holy period falls after the semester finishes, none of the activities will happen during Hanukkah itself.

University pagans will also have things to celebrate over break, most notably winter solstice, a celebration of the coming of light after days of increasing darkness, on Dec. 21.

Brody Derks, a College of Liberal Arts junior and former president of the University Pagan Society, said society members will get together during break to celebrate the solstice with a potluck meal and wine.

Christian groups at the University will participate in activities to help the community.

Parishioners at St. Lawrence Catholic Church will have the chance to donate food to homeless shelters, Father Donald Andrie said.

They also have an advent tree with Christmas wish lists from low-income families. Parishioners can take a list off the tree and buy the items on the list. Church members will deliver the gifts to the families that asked for them.

Even those without religious beliefs will celebrate during the break.

Christopher Weiss, a member of University Atheists and Humanists and computer science senior, enjoys spending winter break with his family.

“It’s just a time to be with family,” Weiss said. “We don’t spiritualize the whole thing.”