Winter Holidays in 2020 and Happy New Year

December 16, 2020

As with everything this past year, the winter holidays are going to be celebrated a little bit differently because of the pandemic. Museums are continuing to offer virtual programs, tours, et. cetera to help us all engage with and keep our spirits up during the holiday season. While we are figuring out how we are celebrating this year, I thought I would do a short examination of the history of holidays that take place during this time of year.

There are many holidays celebrated in December around the world, and the ones I mention in this blog are only a sample of what holidays are out there. I have included in the list of links a link to the December holiday calendar that shares various holidays celebrated this time of year (even some that secular holidays). The holidays celebrated in December include but are not limited to Yule, Christmas, and Hanukkah.

Yule is a celebration, practiced by pagans, neo-pagans, and other individuals who incorporate witchcraft practice in their lives, which involves gathering together to enjoy meals and gift giving, and activities like feasting and wassailing (where the tradition of singing carols comes from) are sometimes regarded as sacred. Also, it is one of the celebrations from the Wheel of the Year acknowledging the change in seasons; Yule represents the celebration of death and rebirth in nature, and the eventual return of the sun from its weakest point in the year, faced during the winter season. Some of the traditions that are practiced during this Yuletide time are but not limited to decorating the Yule tree, lighting the candles on the Yule log, making and hanging wreaths, and telling stories.

This celebration corresponds with the astrological change of the Earth tilting away from the sun, known as the Winter Solstice. The amount of sunlight on Earth during this time varies, short day and long night to long darkness, depends on which part of the globe one lives on. In the Northern Hemisphere, it also marks the first day of winter. In Mary Kate Hagan’s article “Winter Solstice Celebration”, she pointed out that

Winter Solstice is a time to pause, with the restraints of winter, to perceive the seeds of our future growth. It is an invitation to align ourselves with the turning of the seasons and the natural world, experiencing ourselves as being woven into the sacred web of life, acknowledging the mystery of the Divine creative presence pulsating through all. (185).

Yule is linked to a number of religious celebrations and spiritual traditions that coincides with the Winter Solstice which occurs on December 21st this year in the Northern Hemisphere.

One of the most common examples of Yule’s connection with other religious celebrations and spiritual traditions is Christmas. A lot of the traditions that have been adopted into Christmas traditions came from pagan celebrations. Stephen Nissenbaum’s The Battle for Christmas: A Social and Cultural History of Our Most Cherished Holiday is one of the examples of books written about the history of Christmas and its roots in paganism. Nissenbaum used documents and illustrations in his book to share Christmas’s carnival origins and shows how it was transformed, during the nineteenth century, into the celebration we know now. His book also shared the origins of Christmas traditions from St. Nicholas to the Christmas tree and the practice of giving gifts to children.

Christmas is the celebration in the Christian religions to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ and, especially in the secular world, gather with loved ones by giving presents and having meals together. There are many customs that vary in different countries, and in the United States Christmas traditions are celebrated together with many customs from other cultures and countries. Families around the world decorate the tree and home with bright lights, wreaths, candles, holly, mistletoe, and ornaments. Some individuals attend church on Christmas Eve, and Santa Claus comes from the North Pole in a sleigh to deliver gifts; in other parts of the world, Santa arrives on other modes of transportation such as in Hawaii he arrives by boat and in Ghana he comes out of the jungle.  Another holiday celebrated in December is Hanukkah, the Jewish holiday.

Hanukkah is celebrated by the Jewish people honoring the Maccabees’ victory over King Antiochus who forbade them from practicing their religion. They celebrate over eight nights to remember how the oil in the temple was supposed to last for one night ended up lasting eight nights. To celebrate Hanukkah, they start with a prayer, the lighting of the menorah, and food. The menorah holds nine candles, eight candles to be lit on each night and the nineth is used to light the other candles. Also, children play games such as the dreidel, sing songs, and exchange gifts. Unlike Christmas, the days the Jewish people celebrate Hanukkah changes each year because the holiday follows the lunar cycle. This year Hanukkah starts at sundown on December 10th and ends on December 18th. As I am writing this blog post, it is the sixth night of Hanukkah (when this is posted, it will be the seventh night) and will be lighting the menorah with my husband and his family.

All of the celebrations that I mentioned above and the ones I share within the links section have in common is the focus of celebrating with loved ones whether we are in person or not. While celebrating the holidays this year will be different, technology will be able to help us connect with family members as we focus on getting a better control of the pandemic.

I am taking a break from posting on the blog for the holidays. I will be working on the campaign and more posts on the blog for the upcoming new year. Stay tuned for more posts and exciting developments in the new year! Thank you all for your continued support, and I hope all of you have a fun and safe holiday.

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!!

Related Posts:

Blog Campaign:

Happy Holidays! Museum Education during the Holiday Season

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year: Ready for Museum Education


Holiday Calendar List

USA Today: “Hanukkah 2020: When it is and what to know (no, it’s not the ‘Jewish Christmas’)” by David Oliver

F. C. Conybeare, “The History of Christmas”, The American Journal of Theology, Jan., 1899, Vol. 3, No. 1 (Jan., 1899), pp. 1-21, Published by: The University of Chicago Press.

Jan M. Ziolkowski, “The Yuletide Juggler”, The Juggler of Notre Dame and the Medievalizing of Modernity, Volume 5: Tumbling into the Twentieth Century, Open Book Publishers.

Mary Kate Hagan, “Winter Solstice Celebration”, The Furrow, Vol. 61, No. 3 (March 2010), pp. 185-188 (4 pages), The Furrow.

The Battle for Christmas: A Social and Cultural History of Our Most Cherished Holiday by Stephen Nissenbaum

America’s Favorite Holidays: Candid Histories by Bruce David Forbes

All About Yule

Holidays Calendar: Yule

James Buescher, “Wiccans, pagans ready to celebrate Yule”, Intelligencer Journal, Lancaster County, PA, Published: Dec 15, 2007.

Global Perspectives on Museums

Added to Medium, September 20, 2018

I recently received AAM’s recent Museum magazine, What Binds Us? Global Perspectives Local Solutions, in the mail. As I read the articles, it made me think about my own experience in learning more about perspectives outside of the country. The magazine provided numerous examples of how museums outside of the United States face similar situations U.S. museums deal with as museums continue to maintain their relevance in society.

In her introduction letter, Laura Lott, the president of AAM, wrote about the importance of connecting with other countries around the globe. Lott revealed in her letter that she expanded her knowledge of countries around the world in her earlier years. She went to Tokyo, Japan as an exchange student for a year. Lott briefly revealed this about her experience:

I learned more during that year—about the world, about myself, and about life—than I could have in 12 years of school. A global perspective will do that. In many ways, I am still on that journey, as one of the greatest attributes of museums is their ability to create fresh vantage points from which you can see the world.

By having a global perspective, one can learn so much about the world around us and about oneself. I had a couple of similar experiences of having a global perspective, and I wish to broaden my global perspective more than I have in the past.

When I was a young child, I traveled outside of the United States for the first time. I went to Ontario with my family. A couple of things we did on this trip was to see Niagara Falls and saw a documentary about the history of Ontario and Niagara Falls. In middle school, I went on a French class trip to Quebec where we met our French-Canadian pen pals.

Before traveling to Quebec, my class were assigned to French-Canadian students of the same age to communicate our experiences in French. I learned a lot from the experience and from my pen pal Audrey. For months we communicated about various things such as what our schools were like as well as our families, our favorite places to visit, and what activities we like to do. Our teacher arranged to have our class travel to Quebec to meet our pen pals in person.

During this trip to Quebec, my class and I explored Quebec City learning about the history and culture of the French Canadian city. While we were in the City, our class stayed in the Chateau Frontenac, a historic hotel located in the historic neighborhood of Quebec City. The Chateau Frontenac opened in 1893, and was named a National Historic Site of Canada in 1981. Then we traveled on foot around the historic neighborhood and visited many sites including historic churches and The Battlefields Park where it is home to 50 historical artillery pieces. We met with our pen pals during our visit, and talked with them about our visit so far. Our class learned about maple syrup and ate at a place where the maple syrup was gathered. Also, we went to Village des Sports where we went tubing. While I treasure these memories, I do wish to continue to broaden my global perspective.

When individuals visit museums and historic sites they can learn so much about history and culture, as well as making connections with the people around the world. Lott discussed identifying with one another and learning from one another:

When we at AAM discuss issues with our counterparts in the United Kingdom and Europe, South America, and even farther afield, we find that issues we had thought were uniquely American are more universal than we had imagined. Race relations, complex histories, even models of advocacy and funding—museums around the world are laboratories in which we can hold these issues up to the light in order to understand them better.

Since these issues are universal, we can communicate with one another about what all museums can do to educate our global community and resolve problems our institutions face. In my previous blog post, What Can We Learn from International Museums? Encouraging A Global Relationship Between Museums, I pointed out “If we continue to engage with museum professionals both within our country and outside of the country, we will not only have a better understanding of one another we will also be leading by example on dealing with current issues in the world.” There are a few examples of museum organizations that help museum professionals around the globe help one another in pursuit of understanding and education.

In my blog post, I discussed about Museum Next, Museums Associations, and the International Council of Museums. These museum organizations have the common goal of serving the global community.

Museum Next is an organization that began in 2009 with the question “what’s next for museums?” They discovered that the answer to this question is as varied as the people who are building it. This organization builds a global community of museum leaders, innovators and makers who champion future thinking in museums. MuseumNext has led to collaborations that span the globe, and the influence of this passionate community can be seen in action in museums all over the world. It offers conferences held throughout the year in Europe, North America and Australia to offer participants the opportunity to hear inspiring presentations, pick up career skills in expert hosted workshops and network with fellow delegates.
Museums Association is a UK based organization that inspires museums to change lives. It is the oldest museums association in the world (set up in 1889) based in London, and is independently funded by memberships.
The International Council of Museums (ICOM) is an organization created in 1946 by and for museum professionals with more than 37,000 members and museum professionals who represent the global museum community.

Global work in the museum field is discussed in the articles featured in the Museum magazine.

I will share a couple of examples from the magazine to show common issues museums face and the work museums throughout the world do to serve their communities. One of the examples is the article “Full Engagement: Museums globally are expanding their social role—and value—by engaging underserved communities” by Yael Grauer (p.17-21) which discussed the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities change to serve the local community since the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, and discussed how this museum and other cultural institutions are working to figure out how to better engage with underserved communities. Grauer shared a few tips on how to engage with underserved communities:

1. Think local. When making programmatic decisions, put yourself in the place of the people in your community that you want to serve. Consult with people who already work with the communities you’re trying to reach. Asking questions and being open to seeing things from another perspective will help you develop skills to apply to new programs or initiatives.

2. Make time to listen. While museums excel at structured programming, sometimes it’s important just to listen, particularly when you are visiting people in their schools or homes. Often, people want to share their own small treasures or connection with the art. This is a good way to strengthen your museum’s connection with the community.

3. Embrace new ways of operating. Engaging different audiences may mean that the museum needs to move from its comfort zone and try new things, or focus more on relationships than imparting knowledge.

4. Learn from peers. Seek out projects that are similar to what you’re trying to do so that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. However, keep in mind that you’ll likely need to develop new ideas or make adaptations to meet the specific, unique needs of your community or institution.

5. Be patient. Accept that you might make some missteps at first. It takes time to draw interest from different parts of the local community.

These tips can help all museums around the world engage with their communities, especially their underserved communities. With adjustments to reflect what the communities’ needs are, following these tips will help museum professionals on the path to better serving communities within their countries.

Another example of articles in this magazine is “Confronting Canada” by Karine Duhamela (p. 32-37). The Canadian Museum for Human Rights attempted to tell the story of Canada’s history as it celebrates the country’s 150th anniversary in 2017. A tough reality check came during the celebration for the country as a historical and contemporary world model for peace, tolerance, and respect for human rights with projects and stories that emphasized themes of diversity, inclusion, youth, the environment, and reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. The definition of reconciliation was challenged since for most Indigenous people the country’s anniversary is not a cause for celebration; they saw this as a celebration of 150 years or more of land theft forced assimilation, and genocide. This argument caught curators and interpretive staff’s attention and worked to find out how they could approach the reconciliation process in a different way to tell a different story. The article shared three keys to meaningful engagement which are: invest in relationships, invest in time, and invest in resources. Meaningful engagement is a continued effort for all museums especially for the Canadian Museum for Human Rights who continue to work with Indigenous peoples.

The lessons shared in this edition of the magazine would help all museums face similar situations within their own communities. By sharing these lessons, museums will be able to effectively serve the global community and strengthen all of our global perspectives.

What museums and sites outside of the United States have you visited? How did your experiences help shape your perspective of the world around you?

Museum magazine, What Binds Us? Global Perspectives Local Solutions, September/October 2018, American Alliance of Museums
What Can We Learn from International Museums? Encouraging A Global Relationship Between Museums, October 26, 2017,