A Multicultural Calendar

December 15 through January 6 > PUERTO RICO: NAVIDADES. Traditional Christmas season begins mid-December and ends on Three Kings Day. Elaborate nativity scenes, carolers, special Christmas foods and trees from Canada and the United States. Gifts given on Christmas Day and on Three Kings Day.

December 26 through January 1 > KWANZAA. American black family observance created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga in recognition of traditional African harvest festivals. Seven-day festival stresses unity of the black family, with a harvest feast (karamu) on the first day and a day of meditation on the final one. “Kwanzaa” means “first fruit” in Swahili.

January 1 > GREECE and CYPRUS: SAINT BASIL’S DAY. Saint Basil’s or Saint Vassily’s feast day observed by Eastern Orthodox Churches. Special traditions in Greece and Cyprus, include serving Saint Basil cakes, called Vasilopitta, each of which contains a coin. Feast day observed on January 14 by Orthodox Churches using the Julian calendar such as the Russian Church.

January 1 > NEW YEAR’S DAY > ANNIVERSARY OF THE OPENING OF ELLIS ISLAND. Opened on this date in 1892. Over the years, more than 20 million immigrants were processed through the stations. Island was also used as a point of deportation as well. In 1932 alone, 20,000 people were deported from there. Closed November 12, 1954 and declared a national park in 1956. Reopened as a museum in 1990.

January 1 > HAITI: INDEPENDENCE DAY. National holiday commemorating the proclamation of independence in 1804. Haiti, occupying the western third of the island Hispaniola (second largest of the West Indies), was a Spanish colony from its discovery by Columbus in 1492 until 1697. Then it was a French colony until independence was declared in 1804.

January 6 > GREECE and CYPRUS: THEOPHANY of the Eastern Orthodox Church is observed in Churches using the Gregorian calendar (January 19 in Churches using the Julian calendar). This feast day celebrates the manifestation of the divinity of Jesus at the time of His baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist.

January 6 through February 20 > CARNIVAL SEASON. Secular festival preceding Lent. Time of merrymaking and feasting before the austere days of Lenten fasting and penitence (40 weekdays between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday). Depending on local custom, the season may start anytime between November 11 and Shrove Tuesday. Celebrations often include theatrical aspects such as masks, costumes and songs. Observed traditionally in Roman Catholic countries from Epiphany through Shrove Tuesday.

January 6 > EPIPHANY OR TWELFTH DAY. Known also as Old Christmas Day and Twelfthtide. On the twelfth day after Christmas, Christians celebrate the visit of the Magi, the first Gentile recognition of Christ. Epiphany of Our Lord, one of the oldest Christian feasts, is observed in Roman Catholic Churches in the United States on a Sunday between January 2 and January 8.

January 6 > ITALY: LA BEFANA. Epiphany festival in which the “Befana,” a kindly witch, bestows gifts on children, toys and candy for those who have been good, or a lump of coal or a pebble for those who have been naughty. Festival begins on the night of January 5 and continues with fairs, parades and other activities.

January 6 > THREE KINGS DAY. Major festival of the Christian Church observed in many parts of the world with gifts, feasting, last lighting of Christmas lights and burning of Christmas greens. Twelfth and last day of the Feast of the Nativity. Commemorates the visit of the Three Wise Neb (Kings or Magi) to Bethlehem.

January 7 > RUSSIA: CHRISTMAS OBSERVANCE.

January 8 > GREECE: MIDWIFE’S DAY OR WOMEN’S DAY. Honors midwives and all women. On this day, women stop their housework while the men do all the chores and look after the children.

January 17 > MEXICO: BLESSING OF THE ANIMALS AT THE CATHEDRAL. Church of San Antonio at Mexico City or Xochimilco provides best sights of chicken, cows and household pets gaily decorated with flowers. (Saint’s Day for San Antonio Abad, patron Saint of domestic animals.)

January 17 > POLAND: LIBERATION DAY. Celebration of 1945 liberation of the city of Warsaw from Nazi oppression on this day by Soviet troops. Special ceremonies at the Monument to the Unknown Soldier in Warsaw’s Victory Square (which had been called Adolf Hitler Platz during the German occupation).

January 17 > SAINT ANTHONY’S DAY. Feast day honoring Egyptian hermit who became the first Christian monk and who established communities of hermits; patron Saint of domestic animals and Patriarch of all monks. Lived about AD 251-354.

January 20 > FIRST OF MUHARRAM. Islamic New Year.

January 29 > ASHURA: TENTH DAY. For Shia Muslims, commemorates death of Muhammad’s grandson at the Battle of Karbala. A time of fasting, reflection and meditation. Jews of Medina fasted on the tenth day in remembrance if their salvation from Pharoah.

February 14 > VALENTINE’S DAY.

February 18 > CHINESE NEW YEAR.

February 19 > BEGINNING OF EASTERN ORTHODOX LENT.

February 21 > ASH WEDNESDAY.

April 8 > GREEK ORTHODOX EASTER.

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