By Jen Maldonado
White candles flickered throughout the Cavalla Room on Thursday at Rider’s annual Celebration of Lights ceremony, which featured holiday traditions from different on campus cultural groups.
The event began in 1991 and has since been adopted by the Center of Multicultural Affairs, where the goal was to expand the celebration to “include everything about this holiday season,” according to Don Brown, director of multicultural affairs.
The theme of this year’s celebration centered on a story from Latin America, in which nine nights before Christmas, people light candles in a precession and knock at others’ doors asking for shelter, “recreating the story of Mary and Joseph seeking shelter and at each house, celebrating with a fiesta,” according to Pooja Mandesh, senior accounting major and SGA diversity chair, who opened the night with her speech.
“At our Celebration of Lights, we will all move together from one side of the room to the next, carrying a lighted Rider candle,” Mandesh explained. “We hope you all gain a greater understanding of tradition.”
The tour of the holidays began with Kwanzaa, a weeklong celebration. Members of the Black Student Union (BSU) explained the significance of each candle on the Kinara which all stand for a different principle. These principles include unity, which the black middle candle represents, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith, all of which focus heavily on helping others in one’s community.
Next was a visit to Boxing Day, a tradition that is mostly practiced in the Caribbean but is of English origin. It takes place on Dec. 26 and comes from the charitable concept of boxing up toys to give to children.
“I never really knew much about Boxing Day,” Danielle Trautwein, junior early education and psychology major said. “It’s nice to know that there is a holiday that focuses on giving to those who might not have had gifts of their own on Christmas.”
After Boxing Day came Christmas, when members of the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship discussed Christmas and the origin of the candy cane, which began as a decoration on Christmas trees. The candy cane is said to represent Jesus, since it’s shaped like a J and a shepherd’s staff and shepherds were the first to hear about Jesus’ birth.
Hanukkah was afterwards, which started with members of Hillel lighting candles on a menorah and reciting three blessings in Hebrew.
Members of the Latin American Student Organization (LASO) described the holiday of “el día de los reyes magos,” or “Three Kings Day” and offered empanadas to attendees, which are a traditional food eaten during the celebration. Jasmine Martinez, a junior psychology major and member of LASO who spoke to the audience about the holiday, is proud that Rider has the Celebration of Lights each year.
“It’s really important to have an event like this because there is diversity on campus that people don’t know about and with this type of event, it provides a really great way for students to learn about different cultures,” Martinez said.
The final holidays the crowd went to were the Indian celebrations of Diwali and Eid-al-Adha. Diwali is known as a festival of lights and Eid-al-Adha focuses on celebrating an end to the month of fasting.
Ashley Reeves, a sophomore global studies major, was one of the event planners for the Celebration of Lights and said she thinks it’s “especially important and helpful that this event takes place.”
“I’m from Edison, a very diverse town,” Reeves said. “Rider is a campus that is 75 percent Caucasian so I think it’s very important to incorporate different races and cultures. That way, students will realize they’re not alone.”
Trautwein agreed and although it was her first time attending the event, she said she felt she learned a lot of things she didn’t know about various holidays celebrated during this time of year.”
“I never knew the symbolism of the candy cane before so that was something interesting,” she said. “I really thought the singing added a nice touch too. Overall, this was a really nice way for Rider to get students into the holiday spirit.”
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