Atlanta is a melting pot of religions and ethnicities, all with a unique understanding of faith in a higher being. For Christians around the world, Christmas marks the birth of Jesus Christ. For other religions, it’s just another day in December. Religious holidays vary depending on spiritual calendars and even the distance between the sun and earth. It’s quite difficult to say one religious holiday is more important than others, which is why many use the phrase ‘happy holidays’ as opposed to ‘Merry Christmas.’
No, there isn’t a war on Christmas, despite what some media outlets or members of the Christian faith may say. In many religions, there’s a better understanding of inclusivity when it comes to accepting different holidays of a different faith, as one collective goal ‒ to believe in something greater than what our minds can comprehend.
Over the years, Atlanta has become more religiously diverse. There is a considerable number of ethnic Christian congregations, including Korean and Indian churches. There are also large non-Christian faiths like Islam, Judaism, and Hinduism. Across all religions, there are more than 1,000 places of worship in Atlanta.
Explore what lies within your own neighborhood and in Atlanta. Every religion coexists as one community. That harmony is beautiful, and it’s full of curiosity as well. This holiday season, be curious and compassionate to those who share different views. We’ve got more in common than you might think.
The city of Atlanta has a relatively decent-sized Jewish community, ranking ninth largest in the country with 119,000 Jewish members. Every year, families of the Jewish faith across the world and in Atlanta celebrate Chanukah or Hanukkah which lasts for eight days. It began this year on December 2, ending on December 10. The Jewish holiday celebrated the victory of Judah the Maccabee over the Syrian tyrant Antiochus 2100 years ago.
Each night of the festival, families gather around the menorah, a special candelabrum that holds eight candles. On the first night, the head of the family uses a helper candle – called a shamos – to light one candle. On the second night, two candles are lit, and so on, until all eight candles are lit on the eighth night. Each night, gifts are given.
There are more than 30 Jewish synagogues in the Atlanta metro. You might be wondering, do you have to be Jewish to visit a synagogue? The answer is no, but it’s best to contact your nearest synagogue to get details on attending before you go.
Wiccan followers most associate Yule with the Christmas holiday. It also aligns with the Winter Solstice, defined as the shortest day and longest night of the year. Though the Wiccan holiday is celebrated on December 21, the Solstice does vary year to year. In most traditions, Yule is the sabbat (a midnight meeting of witches) that begins the Wiccan year.
During this fire festival, followers celebrate the return of light. From that point forward, days will gradually become longer until Summer Solstice. According to Wiccan’s, God is reborn at Yule, having died at the previous Sabbat at the end of October. The lack of light at Yule symbolizes God in his infancy, just born and needing sustenance before he can come back into his full power.
This celebration is considered a renewal of life, where followers gather inside to be merry and give thanks. Yule rituals include many Wiccans decorating their altars with evergreen branches, holly and pine cones. There are several temples in the Atlanta metro that celebrate the Yule holiday.
The week-long celebration from December 26 to January 1 is a holiday tradition that is based on the “first harvest” celebrations in Africa. Created in 1966 by Maulana Karenga, a professor of African studies, the holiday allows African-Americans to pay tribute to their roots.
The main tradition of Kwanzaa is the lighting of a symbolic candelabra called the kinara that holds three red candles, three green candles, and one black candle. Each represents an essential value from African culture, including Umoja (value of unity), Kujichagulia (self-determination), Ujima (collective work), Ujamaa (helping others), Nia (living with a purpose), Kuumba (beautifying the world), and Imani (maintaining faith).
Families put together creative displays that include flags and artwork to represent their African roots. Each night of Kwanzaa is usually marked with a special meal, and throughout the community, members gather for African dance productions and poetry readings to celebrate the holiday.
Referred to as the Hindu festival of lights, which is celebrated every fall. This year, the holiday fell November 7. It’s a time when Hindu followers come together to celebrate good conquering evil, and light conquering dark. It coincides with the Hindu New Year and the start of a new business year. Followers pray to Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, and Ganesh, the god of wisdom and luck, in hopes of having a successful year.
Diwali is marked by four days of celebration, which illuminates the country of India and other parts of the world. Homes are filled with lights, decorations, and extravagant colors to show respect to the gods and goddesses of wealth, knowledge, peace, and prosperity.
The Mexican Christmas tradition, Las Posadas translates in English as “the inns.” The holiday symbolizes the biblical journey of Mary and Joseph as they searched for shelter in Bethlehem before the birth of Jesus. It’s a nine-day celebration lasting from December 16 to Christmas Eve (Noche Buena or “Holy Night”).
Communities across Latin America put on lively and colorful pageants with kids portraying biblical characters. People in the community travel from house to house until they’ve arrived at a designated home where Las Posadas will be celebrated. On arrival, the hosts or “innkeepers,” began the celebration with an exchange of lyrics from the traditional Pidiendo Posada song.