In Atlanta, we celebrate almost everything. If the holiday season is overwhelming for you, try to rejoice other ways. Perhaps Christmas is not your holiday. Why not take time to learn about Atlanta’s religious and racially diverse communities while sharing kindness in a city that’s “too busy to hate”?

With well over 60 languages spoken in the metro area, approximately 15 Hindu temples, over 30 Jewish synagogues and about 35 Muslim mosques, not all Atlantans observe Christmas.

“The religious landscape in Atlanta is similar to other metro areas around the country,” said Emory’s religion professor and writer Gary Laderman.

Candles May Be Required

Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, comes early this year. Beginning Dec. 2, the lighting of menorah candles (one for each of eight days) commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and symbolizes a jar of oil that burned for eight days. Gifts, games and food are part of the Hanukkah tradition.

Candles, food and gifts are also part of Kwanza. Beginning Dec. 26 and ending on Jan. 1, 2019, Kwanza focuses on traditional African music and celebrates seven African Nguzo Saba principles. Participants light a candle for each one. African history and values are discussed; it is not a religious holiday.

Diwali candle colorThis year, Diwali began on Nov. 6 and continued until Nov. 10. Diwali lamps brightened Indian homes “as a sign of celebration and hope,” said Seema Shrikhande, a professor at Oglethorpe University.

The Shrikhande family celebrate Diwali, a major five-day Indian festival which has “special meals, decorations, new clothes for children and many lights,” she said.

“I know manyIndian families who celebrate Christmas with a tree and presents, but without a religious component,” she said. “I’m one of those,” she added with a smile.

Make Your Own Traditions

The real action in Atlanta and other metro areas is among the faith demographic that’s identified in the press as ‘none’ — rather, those who don’t want to claim any one particular religious identity, said Laderman.

Conflicts can arise for blended families when all parties want to celebrate their holiday on the same day and at the same time.

Atlanta resident Judy McKinley has experience with that problem. “Christmas Day and Eve were already claimed by other branches of our family,” she said. “Fortunately, my older son Daniel came up with ‘Christmas Adam’ for us.”

McKinley said that her family gathers on Dec. 23.“After all, Adam came before Eve,” she explains with enthusiasm. “It works for us.”

Chinese food and a movie rank high among those looking for some place to go on Christmas. Asian restaurants rely on Christmas customers and remain open providing warmth — and wonderful nourishment — on a chilly day.

Some Middle Eastern restaurants stay open, too. Grains and flavorings that may be new to you make up their traditional cuisines. Olives, pita, honey, chickpeas and a mint aroma add to many of their dishes. Try tasting kabobs or shawarma this holiday season.

A Time to Give

Sunset by water
Photo courtesy of TGA Communications LLC.

The holidays are a time to “eat, drink (responsibly) and be merry — and perhaps a chance to give back too.

Since 1980, the Pinch Hitter Program has helped the Atlanta healthcare community at Christmas time.

Dunwoody resident Harry Lutz says, “It’s a special community service project.” It’s one time when people who do not celebrate Christmas give back to those who do, he said. “We go to bat” — hence the name pinch hitters — “for non-medical personnel [as volunteers].”

Perhaps you’ve heard of Volunteer Match. Try placing your name and ZIP code online to see what’s happening right in your neighborhood. In addition, Hands On Atlanta has hundreds of affiliates to help you find the right place to offer your support at any time of the year.

Still not sure about rejoicing? This year’s winter solstice arrives on Dec. 21 for all of us in the Northern Hemisphere. Following a day with the fewest hours of sunlight, brighter days are guaranteed by our sun. Now that’s worth celebrating!

Where to find holiday volunteer opportunities

Judi Kanne is a public health communications consultant and contributing writer to Atlanta Senior Life.