Christmas is on the minds of most people, including those at Loyola University Chicago, regardless of religious background, with its central message of hope and love going beyond boundaries of religion.
Loyola’s religious affiliation is Roman Catholic, but it promotes acceptance of all religions. This is evident by the Hall of Faith, found on the second floor of the Damen Student Center, which is made up of Campus Ministry offices, prayer spaces for Muslim, Christian and Hindu students and the presence of Metro Chicago Hillel, an organization that promotes on-campus Jewish life.
The Christmas holiday has become so commonly celebrated that everyone enjoys its message, university chaplain Thomas Chillikulam said.
Protestant chaplain Tyler Ward said at this time of year, it’s expected the emphasis would be on the Christian holiday, but there’s still a need to be inclusive.
“It’s important for faiths to be able to fully celebrate their faith while still being hospitable,” Ward said.
Ward also said it’s part of Loyola’s mission to encourage interfaith dialogue and respect. He said at academic institutions the table is already set for conversation, and it’s something Loyola does well. Other members of Loyola’s community agree.
“[Celebrating all its students regardless of faith] was something I very quickly realized Loyola does a wonderful job doing,” Hannah Bloomberg, Hillel’s Jewish life associate, said. “It’s something I appreciate because I do think it’s important to foster an environment where diversity is celebrated and all students feel they can be a part of the community.”
One religious holiday outside of Christmas is Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights celebrating the rededication of a historically significant temple from the second century B.C. Every night for eight nights, people light a candle on the hanukkiyah, also known as the menorah, the special Hanukkah candelabra.
Hanukkah begins Dec. 12 and ends Dec. 20, which falls during Loyola’s finals week, but that won’t snuff out students’ celebrations. Bloomberg said she is looking forward to Hillel’s Hanukkah party Dec. 7, which will feature potato pancakes called latkes and games of dreidel.
“I love the fact that at almost every Hillel event, if not all of them, there are students that come who aren’t Jewish and just want to learn or experience the event with their friend who is Jewish,” Bloomberg said.
Kwanzaa, an African-American and Pan-African multi-day celebration, isn’t based on any one religion but the combination of many African harvest traditions. Although Loyola has a Black Cultural Center, there won’t be a on-campus event. Kwanzaa begins Dec. 26 and ends Jan. 1.
Successful turnouts with a mix of those who follow the religion and those who don’t is one — but not the only — way to identify an accepting population. The Hindu Student Organization (HSO) and Muslim Student Association (MSA) have also seen steady attendance from students outside their faiths.
“It’s really eye-opening to see that students are so willing to engage themselves in our events and not only bring themselves, but bring their friends too,” HSO President Mit Patel said. “As an organization we spread awareness about the Hindu religion, but it’s one of those things that you can’t do without also celebrating the culture.”
Regardless of religious background, Ward’s holiday message remains the same: “You are loved.”