Seattle is an ethnically, culturally, and religiously diverse city. It is home to a dozens of synagogues, mosques, minority churches, and cultural centers. But Seattle is in the grip of Christmas every holiday season.
A giant Christmas tree towers over Westlake Center. Homes from West Seattle to Shoreline are decorated with inflatable Santas and his twinkling reindeer. Apart from a menorah thrown in here and there, most Seattleites don’t see other celebrations that take place in our city this holiday season.
According to a study from the Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project, 72 percent of Washingtonians identify with a branch of Western Christianity. Twenty-three percent do not identify with a religion at all, one of the highest percentages in the country. The remaining 5 percent identify with a variety of faiths from all over the world. This is about 350,000 people in the state of Washington, who celebrate something other than Christmas on Dec. 25. So what holidays have we missed in our Christmas monopoly?
Lunar New Year
The Lunar New Year festival is celebrated in China and some other Asian countries, and has a large presence in Seattle due to our large Asian community. It celebrates the New Year in the Chinese lunar calendar. The date usually falls in late January or early February and it will be Feb. 19 in 2015.
The celebration is one of the most important in the year for many Chinese families.
“People consider it is an important festival for family reunion,” said Min Shao, a Chinese student studying in Seattle. “For most of the workers, especially migrant workers, it is the only time in a year that they are able to go back to their hometown and reunion with their family.”
Shao said it is tradition to clean out homes to remove evil spirits before new year’s day, and to set off fireworks in the first minute of the new year to scare out any that linger.
Shao said the festivities begin with a family dinner on New Year’s Eve. During the next few weeks of celebrations, elder family members will give money to children in red envelopes, considered a lucky color in China. The celebration wraps up with the Lantern Festival, when thousands of paper lanterns are lit to decorate cities and towns.
Because Lunar New Year is such an important holiday to Chinese communities, celebrations happen all over the world. Seattle’s International District holds an annual Lunar New Year celebration that draws crowds of hundreds to the streets of the International District. The University of Washington Chinese Student Association will also be hosting a new year celebration in 2015, on Feb. 6, and encourage anyone interested to celebrate with them.
Russian Orthodox Christmas
Unlike many Western Christian denominations which celebrate Christmas on Dec. 25, the members of the Russian Orthodox Church, and other Eastern Christian churches, celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on Jan. 7.
Archpriest Alexei Kotar, Dean of Saint Nicholas’ Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Seattle, said the preparations for Russian Orthodox Christmas differ from the festive celebrations often seen in the United States.
“While you are partying, we are fasting,” he says. He said it is traditional to eat only a vegan diet for 40 days before the holiday.
During this time, children from the church go caroling to elderly and home-bound members, and church services remind the congregation of the reason for the holiday, Kotar said.
On Christmas Eve, Jan. 6, the Saint Nicholas holds its Christmas Eve service.
“That one, everyone comes to,” Kotar said, laughing. The church is so packed the staff sets up tents in the garden to shelter those who can’t make it inside.
After the service, the fast is broken with a feast when the first star appears in the sky. On Christmas day, families wake to gifts brought by the Russian Santa Claus, whose name translates to “Father Frost” and is often pictured in a yellow or blue floor-length robe. There is a traditional Christmas morning church service, followed by an even larger, more festive feast. Families and friends will gather and take turns hosting feasts and exchanging gifts for 12 more days of celebration.
Saint Nicholas Russian Orthodox Cathedral, on Seattle’s Capitol Hill, is one of the oldest Russian Orthodox churches outside of Russia, according to its website. It was founded by Russian immigrants fleeing the Bolshevik revolution in 1932.
Milad un Nabi
Milad un Nabi is the celebration of the Prophet Mohammad’s birth celebrated by some denominations of Islam. It traditionally takes place in December or January. The exact date can vary among denominations.
Some Islamic denominations do not celebrate Milad un Nabi, believing that it is disrespectful or improper to celebrate the birth of the Mohammad because he is immortal. Others disagree on how and when it should be celebrated. However, many communities and mosques around Seattle will mark the occasion, such as the IMAN Center of Kirkland.
Boubacar Diallo, a member of the University of Washington Muslim Students Association, says that those who commemorate the date will focus their thinking on God.
“People usually gather together and engage in the remembrance of God as well as sending peace and blessing to the Prophet Mohammad,” Diallo said.
Celebrations happen in the evening in mosques and special prayers commemorate the occasion. Diallo also said that participants often share food.