While many might be familiar with Christmas and Hanukkah celebrations, traditions like Yule, Kwanzaa, Diwali and others might seem foreign.
Organizers at East Carolina University’s Ledonia Wright Cultural Center are hoping to include many holiday traditions and celebrate how the light of diversity can shine bright when conversations around them are held.
Last week, students and members of the campus community gathered for “A Celebration of Light” and were able to share and experience different winter holidays that ultimately evoke a sense of togetherness and inclusivity as Thanksgiving approaches.
“Often times we center Christmas as the only holiday and we here at ECU believe in celebrating all of our students,” LWCC associate director Shaun Simon said. “We wanted to find a unique way to celebrate everybody and recognize those other traditions as well that often get left out.”
The event was held at 6 p.m. in the main campus student center.
One of the presenters at the group, Kayla Jones, a junior English and African-American studies major, talked about Kwanzaa, a week-long celebration that honors African-American heritage. It is observed from December 26 to January 1, culminating in gift-giving and a feast.
“Our tradition is Kwanzaa and while I don’t celebrate it, we’re just here to educate people about it,” Jones said. “Kwanzaa’s not really a replacement for Christmas, it’s just a way for black people and others to come together.”
For ECU freshman Sydney Wade, the event was a breath of fresh air as she has always been interested in learning about how other religious groups celebrate the winter months.
“I think I’ve always been interested in learning about stuff like this around the world,” Wade said. “I think it’s really cool and it kind of shows how diversified ECU is.”
Like Wade, Jones said she is happy to see ECU staff members hosting an event that brings people together.
“I think it’s very vital for people to be able to learn about different faiths and what other people come together and celebrate,” Jones said. “It gives us a better understanding of one another.”
Another presenter, senior biology major Pujan Patel, highlighted Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights.
The celebration typically lasts five days and is celebrated during the Hindu Lunisolar month Kartika. It is one of the most popular festivals of Hinduism.
“The main reason we celebrate Dwhali is good over evil essentially,” Patel said.
Patel said he hopes that by sharing the holiday with others, his group can spread Indian culture throughout campus.
“We personally, as the Indian Student Association, believe it’s very important,” he said. “One of our main goals this year have been to spread our culture throughout ECU’s campus. We want to diversify the community and this is a great opportunity for us to do that.”
Simon said nine different organizations participated in the festival and that the lack of diverse representation on campus when it comes to holiday traditions inspired the center to host this event.
Another aspect Simon said she hopes the event achieives is fostering love and respect of those who celebrate the holidays a bit differently.
“I think it’s important because as we enter that season of giving and being kind to one another, I think this is another way we can do that,” she said. “We can be kind in recognizing people who have other traditions and other faiths and be respectful.”