By Lisa Henderson
The Celebration of Lights is a young tradition, adopted in 1991 when a spirited group of students and faculty met near the campus gates to celebrate unity in the holiday season.
Since then, Rider University’s Center of Multicultural Affairs has kept the pasttime alive, inviting student groups to the Celebration of Lights each year to share knowledge of the holiday they honor.
On Thursday, students, faculty and staff gathered in the Bart Luedeke Center’s Cavalla Room to learn about other cultures and the holidays they celebrate during the winter season.
Student Government Association President Brian Williams welcomed all attendees, noting that the event centered on peace, love, joy and humanity. Williams introduced senior Rebecca Lotito, president of Rider’s literary magazine “On Fire!!” who initiated the lighting ceremony with a tale of the origin of fire.
The crowd was then serenaded by Rider’s Unashamed Gospel Choir, a three-person ensemble that performed a harmonious holiday medley featuring well-known favorites such as “Joy to the World,” “O Come All Ye Faithful” and “Silent Night.”
The Black Student Union was first to begin with a tribute to Kwanzaa. A set of seven candles was displayed as each student explained the virtue that each candle represents, with self-determination and hope as two of the central concepts.
The Japanese Pop Culture Society was next with the story of Shogatsu, otherwise known as Japanese New Year. As Japan’s most important holiday, Shogatsu is the celebration of a fresh start and brand new beginnings as well as a time to appreciate one’s blessings. Shogatsu lasts three days, and many traditions are honored, such as the wearing of traditional kimonos, as well as the enjoyment of Osechi-Ryori, which are boxes full of colorful, delicious Japanese foods.
“The addition of Shogatsu to our program is interesting and really adds diversity,” said freshman Ashley Reeves, a student organizer with the Center of Multicultural Affairs.
Boxing Day was next, and the Rider Organization of Caribbean Affiliated Students was present with information about this often-misunderstood holiday. Contrary to popular belief, Boxing Day has nothing to do with the sport.
“It’s celebrated in Canada, but it’s also celebrated in the Caribbean,” freshman Katina Theoehile said. “It’s of English origin, and it’s sort of like charity. When people are done with their toys and things they’ll box them up and give them to the less fortunate. It’s a holiday for giving.”
Intervarsity Christian Fellowship was present with a nativity scene — a perfect representation of the true meaning of Christmas, which, sadly, is often lost and forgotten in a sea of commercialism.
“Many students come to our meetings with their own ideas about what Christmas means,” senior and President of Intervarsity Zachary Bragg said. “We talk about the true meaning and try to clear up some of those misconceptions.”
Chanukah, meaning “dedication” in Hebrew, was represented by Hillel along with a plethora of meaningful items, including a menorah and a bushel of gelt, which are festive chocolate coins. During Chanukah, one candle is lit per night for eight nights as a commemoration of the re-dedication of Jerusalem’s holy temple.
“We want to explain the meaning of Chanukah,” junior Naomi Vernon said. “We’ll sing blessings and explain the meaning behind the oil, gelt and candles.”
The Latin American Student Organization explained the origin of “El Día de Los Reyes Magos,” or Three Kings Day. This “Latino Christmas” is celebrated every Jan. 6 in honor of the three wise men who brought gifts of myrrh, frankincense and gold to baby Jesus following his birth.
The students of LASO prepared empanadas for the event, an important part of a traditional Three Kings Day meal.
“The holiday is mostly for children,” said junior Diana Ramirez, vice president of LASO. “It’s interesting because it’s celebrated differently in different places, but the main idea stays the same.”
Seniors Tejash Bhoola and Saud Zaffar explained two Indian holidays, Diwali and Eid-al-Adha. Diwali, also known as the “festival of lights,” is a celebration of the changing of seasons.
During Eid-al-Adha, families traditionally make an animal sacrifice and offer the meat to friends, family, and the less fortunate while only keeping a small portion for themselves.
“Diwali brings in the New Year, while Eid-al-Adha commemorates your willingness to sacrifice what you have,” Zaffar said.
Additional performances throughout the evening enhanced the warm atmosphere. The Rider Vibes treated the audience to multiple holiday tunes, such as “Winter Wonderland” and “Carol of the Bells.” Senior pianist Ezike Anene played multiple ballads throughout the night, and the Tashan Bollywood Dance Team closed the night with an authentic Indian routine.
With many traditions and cultures explored, the Celebration of Lights is an annual learning experience as well as a forum for acceptance, love and sharing. Hopefully members of the Rider community will think of others during the upcoming winter interim.