Wine has united cultures and marked celebratory occasions since its creation millennia ago. While the process for making wine largely transcends cultures, its purpose in specific celebrations and its symbolism vary widely. As we move into the height of the holiday season, folks around the world will be enjoying wine in the special traditions that mark the end of a year or the beginning of a time of remembrance. Here’s a glimpse at how wine plays a role in a few prominent cultural traditions.


Wine in Judaism


Yes, Manischewitz is the icon of popular kosher wine, but it is by no means the only one out there. In the Jewish faith, “kosher” simply denotes adherence to certain processes for cultivating the ingredients and, in the case of wine, for producing it as well. Kosher wine thus serves a ceremonial importance in many Jewish holidays, including the Passover and Purim. By being kosher, the wine represents a sort of purity and tradition. It is often blessed before it is drank, and typically accompanies a symbolic feast where dishes reflect the oral traditions and recorded history of the Jewish people surrounding a particular holiday. While kosher wine may well be a part of meals during Hanukkah, the 8-day holiday is actually not considered one of the most prevalent in the faith.


Wine for Kwanzaa


Kwanzaa is akin to the American thanksgiving tradition in that it has its origins in celebrating the first harvest, but the 7-day pan-African celebration is focused on the values of unity, self-determination, responsibility, cooperation, purpose, creativity and faith. Various customs and practices are carried on throughout the holiday, each one paying homage to these values in their symbolic importance. Kikomba cha umoja, or “the unity cup,” is a cup used on the sixth day of Kwanzaa in a special feast. Very often, this cup is filled with wine and passed around to foster unity and remembrance.


Wine for Carnival


For some Catholic adherents, carnival may have lost some of its err…verve in modern times, but in many cultures, it is still one of the most celebratory festivals of the year. While its origins are largely uncertain, we do know that carnival (or carnaval or carnivale, depending on where you find yourself) precedes the season of fasting for Lent. Historically, carnival was a period of excess, fun, and lots and lots of wine. Today, these traditions carry on with parades and libations at festivals like Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Carnival represented something of an inversion, where people from all classes and walks of life celebrated together—a power wine still seems to have, well past the medieval origins of carnival.


Wine in Chinese Holidays


Traditional Chinese culture is particularly wedded to ideals of family, loyalty, and togetherness. Many holidays and festivals focus on remembering ancestors, which can be a bittersweet experience. Thus, wine often figures as way to depart from cultural norms of emotional guardedness and experience the feelings that come with recalling those who have come before you in your family.  


From celebrating to commemorating, wine remains an integral part of diverse traditions. May it continue to bring us all to a table where we feel welcomed and loved.