December is upon us, and it’s time for the holidays! Nowadays, we often say “happy holidays” instead of the staple “Merry Christmas!”
Obviously, this is done out of consideration for every holiday, multiple religions, and all kinds of faith. Grouping everything into one might have good intentions, but it also allows us to skirt through the holiday season without taking the time to really learn about other people or celebrations.
The religious background is as follows: the New Testament of the bible depicts the birth of Jesus Christ in two books (two different accounts): Matthew and Luke. The virgin Mary and her fiancee, Joseph, traveled to Bethlehem and, in the absence of a place to stay, spent the night in a manger: there the baby Jesus Christ was born. Jesus Christ is the savior: who died for the sins of all people.
Christmas, as most people know, takes place on December 25th.
Though originally religious, there are many aspects to Christmas that have nothing to do with Christianity. Many people who do not regularly or ever attend a church still celebrate Christmas. Santa Claus, for example, was a character first introduced under that name in the US in 1773. He was popularized in the 1900s. It’s almost hard to imagine that this icon, as we now know him, is over a hundred year old story!
What Christmas is really about will always be disputed: is it about the presents? Family? The “Christmas spirit”? You could get a thousand different answers, but even for non-Christians, Christmas can be an important part of the holiday season!
Older than Christianity itself, this Jewish Festival of Lights begins on the 25th day of Kislev and lasts for eight days. The celebration marks the historical victory when the Maccabees (a group of Jews) fought and defeated the Syrian Greeks, reclaiming Jerusalem and the temple. When they went to rededicate the temple (which takes eight days) they found oil with the seal of the High Priest: but only enough to light the candelabrum (the menorah) for one day. Miraculously, the menorah remained lit for all eight days instead of one.
Because of this, traditionally, one candle is lit each night of Hanukkah: with the help of an extra candle, the Shamash. Normal menorahs have seven candles, but the menorah used for Hanukkah has eight (plus the Shamash) and is called a hannukiyah. The Shamash typically sits higher, lower, or to the side of the Hanukkah candles, and is the only candle to be lit with a match. It is then used each night to light each candle-from right to left-as it is stated that the Hanukkah candles are to be used for nothing other than the publicizing of the Hanukkah miracle.
Blessings are said each night, and the candles are to remain lit for at least half an hour past nightfall, and typically you are supposed to let the candle burn down and not blow it out. Food is an important part of Hanukkah: especially that which is fried-to celebrate the miracle of the oil, and children typically receive a gift each night.
Kwanzaa: it’s mentioned often, but how much do you really know about it?
One of the most prominent differences between Kwanzaa and many other holidays is the lack of religious affiliation. The celebration of Kwanzaa honors African heritage, and is a week long celebration from December 26th to January 1st. Maulana Karenga founded the holiday in 1966, in the midst of the Black Power movement, as a way to help Africans and African-Americans reconnect and reaffirm their history.
Karenga created Nguzo Saba: seven principles of African Heritage. They are as follows:
1. Umoja (Unity): To strive for and to maintain unity in family, community, nation, and race.
2. Kujichagulia (Self-Determination): To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.
3. Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility): To build and maintain our community together and make our brothers’ and sisters’ problems our problems, and solve them together.
4. Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics): To build and maintain our own stores, shops and businesses, and to profit together.
5. Nia (Purpose): To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.
6. Kuumba (Creativity): To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.
7. Imani (Faith): To believe with all our hearts in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.
Decorations, fresh harvest, and a kinara (a seven-candle candle holder) are all common symbols of Kwanzaa.
Whether you celebrate all three holidays, one, or none, the basic principles seem to be the same. Love, family, and pride in your background are all important.
I’m no expert on “Christmahanakwanza” but I’d say that each of these distinct holidays deserves to be mentioned on their own.
So Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Joyous Kwanzaa to you all!
By Quinn Murphy