December 2011

December 2011

PAWs - Promoting Awareness and Wellness

Ashford University is proud to show you our PAWs. That is, our Promoting Awareness and Wellness initiative! Every month, we'll highlight different causes and opportunities that reflect the values of the University. You'll also learn ways that you can participate or be more involved.

December 2011 – Promoting Holiday Cultural Awareness and Observing World AIDS Day

This month, PAWS discusses two subject matters relevant to the month of December; a month-long awareness of the different ways in which various cultures celebrate the holiday season, as well as the observation of World AIDS Day on the first of the month.

Holiday Cultural Awareness

Above: Typical Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and Bodhi Day symbols and decorations. Below right: One of many interpretations of St. Nicholas.

For centuries, people have celebrated the middle of winter. Western culture has long celebrated life and light during the darkest and coldest time of the year as a means of escaping the dreariness of the winter season. The end of December in particular marks not only the occurrence of many of our better-known and celebrated western holidays, but also the arrival of the winter solstice, which is historically reveled for the simple fact that the shortest days of the year have officially passed.

While most of us may be familiar with the names of many popular holidays that are currently celebrated, each of these traditions is comprised of a unique set of observances that distinguishes it from the others. Here we will discuss some commonly celebrated holidays, including information about each that you may or may not know.

is celebrated by many countries around the world. This holiday, meant to celebrate the birth of Christ, is steeped in traditions adopted from a number of cultures. Here are just a few facts about this widely celebrated day:

  • Christmas was not celebrated until the fourth century. The Bible doesn’t quote an exact date for the birth of Christ, and it is believed that religious leaders of the time selected December 25 so that Romans, celebrating a holiday known as Saturnalia, could easily acclimate to the new holiday.
  • The traditional food and drink consumed during Christmas originates from centuries-old agricultural practices of Europe. It was during this time of year that cattle were traditionally slaughtered so that they would not have to be fed through the harsh winter months ahead. This time of year was also when most alcohol made during the year was being fermented.
  • Scandinavians celebrated Yule during late December. This time of jubilation and celebration was for the return of the sun to their northern lands. Revelers would set a large log on fire and celebrate with a feast that lasted until the log was completely burned through, a process that could take up to 12 days. From this tradition we have adopted the Christmas Yule log, which in England was meant to burn throughout “the 12 days of Christmas.”
  • Santa Claus, that jolly gift-giving figure who today is synonymous with Christmas for many children, originated from a real third century saint, the beloved St. Nicholas. A Bishop known for giving to those in need, there are many stories of his selflessness that were brought to the New World by its first European settlers. Take a fascinating look at the many ways in which the tradition of St. Nicholas lives on around the world.
Hanukkah (also spelled Chanukkah or Chanukah) is a Jewish holiday that is celebrated for eight nights during the holiday season. Its origins reach back two thousand years ago, when many Israelites were under the rule of the Seleucids. These Syrian-Greeks began a religious war with the Israelites. Against all odds, a small Jewish army was able to defeat one of the greatest military entities on earth at the time, and drove the Seleucids out of Israel. When the Jewish army went to light the menorah in the holy temple in Israel, they could only find one day’s worth of olive oil that hadn’t been destroyed by their enemies. Miraculously, this oil lasted for eight days, long enough for new oil to be prepared. Hanukkah is now celebrated by the lighting of Menorahs, the giving of gifts, and the spinning of the dreidel (a top bearing Hebrew letters that form an acronym meaning “a great miracle happened here”). Learn more about Hanukkah traditions, including music, recipes, and important dates.

Kwanzaa was created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga. This holiday takes its name from the Swahili phrase “matunda ya kwanza,” which means “first fruits.” It is a celebration taken from Pan-African tradition that reflects upon the bounty of harvest. Kwanzaa is a time for people to gather and show thanks for all blessings and beauty in the world. Kwanzaa is also a time when its observers reflect upon the past, celebrate history, and recommit themselves to the highest ideals of African culture and practice. Although there are several symbols associated with Kwanzaa celebrations, the most recognizable symbols are the seven candles of Kwanzaa. Each candle represents one of seven principles sacred to the Kwanzaa tradition: Purpose, Creativity, Faith, Cooperative Economics, Collective Responsibility, Self Determination, and Unity. Visit the official Kwanzaa website to learn more.

Bodhi Day, or Rohatsu in Japanese, is a Buddhist celebration commemorating the enlightenment of Gautama Siddhartha, or Buddha. This holiday takes place on December 8 and is usually marked as being the last day of a week of intense meditation. During this week, it is customary for those observing Bodhi Day to seek meditation in all of their actions, including when eating, and to only speak when it is absolutely necessary. According to Buddhists, after a long period of meditation, Siddhartha gained enlightenment – a state that could only ever hope to be reached through discipline and total clarity of mind. Meditation, thusly, is used as a tool to dispel delusions and come to a greater understanding of the nature of existence. Get suggestions on how to celebrate Bodhi Day yourself.

We have discussed only a small number of the countless holiday traditions that are celebrated during the month of December, as it is impossible to share the many customs that mark this time of year within this space. We encourage you, no matter how you celebrate, to respect the holiday traditions of other cultures – and to have the happiest of holiday seasons!

December 1 is World AIDS Day
by Charlott Glowacki, MEd, Student Access and Wellness Specialist

Ashford college students and faculty rally together to raise HIV and AIDS awareness.

It has been thirty years since the first cases of AIDS were identified in the United States. Much has progressed since then – not only are there campaigns for awareness, prevention, support, and research, there is also hope on the horizon for people living with HIV and AIDS.

World AIDS Day is on December 1. Not only does this campaign attempt to raise awareness, it also serves as a means to break down stigmas. Red is the color of solidarity for this campaign, as one may see during an AIDS awareness walk, group meeting, or conference.

Ashford University campus students recently participated in an awareness walk themselves on November 3, 2011 (pictured above). The students created signs and walked from the South Athletic Complex to the Bluff (main) Campus to pique attention to this subject, joined by members of the community along the way. Once students returned to campus they were able to attend a speaking engagement with a representative from The Project of the Quad Cities, “a non-profit, community-based organization which has been providing the Quad Cities area with support services for those infected or affected by HIV/AIDS since 1986.” In addition to participating in the walk and attending the speaker’s presentation, the students were also able to receive HIV testing.

Since prevention of this disease is so important, one may wonder if it’s necessary to have this screening performed for oneself, which can be done simply with a swab to the cheek. If any of the following possible risk factors apply to you, it may be something to consider:

• Unprotected sex;
• Multiple sex partners;
• Sharing needles or syringes for use with illicit drugs; or
• Diagnosed or treated for STIs, tuberculosis, or hepatitis.

One important note: until your partner is also tested, it cannot be determined from a single person’s test if both partners are HIV negative or positive. Therefore, it is recommended you go together and get tested at the same time.

Due to awareness, support, and research, there is new hope on the horizon for the prevention of HIV, and ultimately AIDS. A new method called pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, allows an uninfected person to take prevention a step further by taking a daily HIV medication to reduce their HIV infection risk. This method is administered along with condoms and counseling. According to test results from an international study conducted in November 2010, findings resulted in an average of 42% fewer HIV infections when PrEP was used. As a result, thirteen prominent organizations have called upon the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for a regulatory review for PrEP. This method now adds to an ever-growing amount of preventative options for HIV and AIDS.

Thirty years have come and passed since AIDS arrived in the United States. Hundreds of thousands of Americans, and over 25 million people worldwide, have died due to this infection. Despite these staggering losses of life, campaigns for awareness, prevention, support, and research have contributed much over the years. As these campaigns continue, the hope for AIDs to become a disease of yesteryear is always one step closer to being realized. To learn more, visit

“Holiday Cultural Awareness” Sources: (n.d.). Chanukah in a nutshell. Retrieved on November 2, 2011 from
History. (n.d.) Christmas. Retrieved on November 1, 2011 from
Judaism 101. (1995-2011). Chanukkak. Retrieved November 4, 2011 from
Larson, T. (n.d.). The yule log. Retrieved November 7, 2011 from
The Official Kwanzaa Website. (1999-2011). Kwanzaa: Roots and branches. Retrieved on November 1, 2011 from
O’Brien, B. (n.d.). Rohatsu. Retrieved on November 2, 2011 from
Smith, A. (n.d.). How to celebrate Bodhi Day. Retrieved November 4, 2011 from
St. Nicholas Center. (2002-2011). Origin of Santa. Retrieved on November 4, 2011 from
St. Nicholas Center. (2002-2011). Who is St. Nicholas?. Retrieved on November 4, 2011 from
St. Nicholas Center. (2002-2011). Visits from St. Nicholas. Retrieved on November 4, 2011 from

“December 1 is World AIDS Day” Sources: (n.d.). Facing AIDS for World AIDS Day. Retrieved October 30, 2011 from (2011, June 6). Global statistics. Retrieved October 31, 2011 from
AIDS Project Quad Cities [Facebook page]. (n.d.). Retrieved October 29, 2011 from
CDC. (2011, August 3). Basic information about HIV and AIDS. Retrieved October 30, 2011 from
CDC. (2006, November 6). HIV/AIDS basics. Retrieved October 30, 2011 from
CDC. (2010, July). HIV in the United States: an overview. Retrieved October 28, 2011 from (2005). The history of AIDS. Retrieved October 30, 2011 from
National HIV and STD Testing Resources. (n.d.). Frequently asked questions. Retrieved October 31, 2010 from
PR Newswire. (2011, October 18.) HIV/AIDS organizations tell FDA and Gilead Sciences: Don't delay HIV prevention for gay and bisexual men and transgender women. Retrieved October 28, 2011 from
World Aids Day. (2011). Events. Retrieved October 29, 2011 from