The holiday season has officially begun; lights are up, and holiday music is playing in just about every store. Elizabethtown College is not an exception to those traditions. The tree lighting ceremony took place last week and decorations can be seen all over campus. The town of Elizabethtown is also in the holiday spirit: lights can be seen all along Mount Joy Street and College Avenue.
To add to the excitement, the faculty and staff at the College are very diverse in their nationalities, religions and cultures, which result in many different traditions.
Dr. Suzanne Webster, an associate professor of English, who is originally from Great Britain, practices holiday traditions that are a little different from the traditions that many Etown students are used to. On Christmas Eve, Webster and her husband listen to “Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols” from King’s College, Cambridge. According to the institution’s website, “the service includes carols and readings from the Bible. The opening carol is always ‘Once in Royal David’s City’, and there is always a new, specially commissioned carol. Some of the other carols featured, are ‘O Come, All Ye Faithful;’ ‘God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen;’ and ‘Hark! The Herald-Angels Sing’.” Webster said that she thinks Christmas is more consumer-oriented in America than in Britain. The British also celebrate Boxing Day, which is the day after Christmas and is known as a shopping day. Webster said, other than those few differences, Britain’s holiday traditions are pretty similar to American traditions.
Dr. Jeffery Long, a professor of religious studies, practices Hinduism and celebrates Diwali instead of Christmas. Therefore, his holiday traditions are different than most peoples’ on this campus. Long and his wife celebrate several Hindu holidays, but the main one is Diwali. Diwali occurred in late October this year and is celebrated for six days. Each day signifies an important principal story associated with the holiday. Diwali is the “biggest holiday of the year” and is celebrated by families performing traditional rituals together in their home. Diwali is practiced in several countries, such as India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Mauritius, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname, Malaysia, Singapore and Fiji. Long described Diwali as a combination of Christmas and the Fourth of July. Long also said “most Hindus observe Christmas by simply having a Christmas tree and giving presents to children. The vast majority of Hindus [in India] are barely even aware of Christmas.”
Dr. Rita Shah, assistant professor of sociology, does not celebrate the holidays and is rather critical of them in general. Shah finds fault in the holiday season “because we are supposed to be living in a country where the government does not endorse a particular religion. By naming Christmas an official federal holiday, the government does not flat out endorse Christianity, but it is certainly playing favorites.” Shah also said there are other religions that celebrate holidays around the same time but their members are forced to take off work and inconvenience themselves. By making Christmas a federal holiday, it shows that the followers of one religion are more privileged than others.
Shah said, “My biggest complaint is the extreme commercialization of what is supposed to be a sacred event. The holiday season has, essentially, become about nothing more than spending money and buying [mostly] needless gifts.” Shah also said, “To me, the holiday season is about celebrating the ones you love, coming together as a community and reminding ourselves that we are all one. For those celebrating the religious holidays, there is an additional meaning because of those religious beliefs.”
President Carl Strikwerda’s holiday traditions are similar to what most Etown students would think of when they hear the words “holiday traditions.” Strikwerda celebrates a classic American Christmas: he attends a Christmas Eve service at church, opens presents around the Christmas tree, receives “stocking stuffers” from other family members and has a Christmas dinner with his family. Strikwerda sends a one-page, low key summary of his family’s doings for the year to friends on both sides of the Atlantic. He also watches “A Christmas Carol” with George C. Scott as Scrooge. Strikwerda said that his favorite holiday tradition as a child was getting presents.
There are many holiday traditions on this campus due to many different nationalities, religions and cultures represented here. Christmas seems to be the most widely represented holiday on campus but several different traditions are celebrated by students and staff.