Three Winter Holidays
(Hanukah) Sundown December 12-Sundown December 20
Also known as The Festival of Lights, Hanukah
is an 8 day Jewish observance which commemorates the successful rebellion of
the Jewish people against Greek rule in the Maccabean War 162 BCE. The victory was followed by a ritual
cleansing and purification of the temple.
According to Jewish tradition, there was only enough consecrated oil to
keep the temple lamp burning for one day, but the oil miraculously lasted for 8
days, allowing for the completion of the cleansing and rededication.
Central to the observance is the lighting of the Menorah, a candelabrum which holds 8 candles to commemorate the 8 days the oil burned and a 9th candle, the Shamash, which is used to light the others. One candle is lit each night and kept burning until all the candles are burning on the final night.
While the Hanukah celebration focuses
specifically on Jewish victory in the Maccabean War, it has also become an
occasion for many to reflect on the seemingly miraculous survival of the Jewish
people in the face of persecution and adversity.
Day December 25
In most countries with large Christian populations Christmas Day is observed on December 25 which is preceded by a Christmas season consisting of festive parties, dinners and public displays often accompanied by gift giving. For most observant Christians December 25 is a day that includes both worship and a ritual of gift giving, often centered on children receiving gifts believed to be delivered by the mythical figure Santa Claus.
meant a special church service, or mass, associated with the birth of
Christ. Festive celebration was reserved
for Easter, the day of resurrection. The
festivities associated with the observance of Christmas originated in pre
Christian winter festivals. Among these
were the Roman winter festival which concluded with the celebration of the
winter solstice which fell on December 25 in the Roman Calendar; and the
Scandinavian festival called Yule, which lasted 12 days from late December to
early January and consisted of parties organized around the burning of logs.
The Bible assigns no date to the birth of Jesus. It is likely that the date of December 25 was adopted under the influence of the Roman winter festival.
With the onset of the Protestant Reformation
in the 16th century some branches of Protestant Christianity set out
to eliminate the festive traditions and make Christmas a purely religious
observance. Puritan New England outlawed
the observance of Christmas as a day of celebration. By the 19th century, these
reactions had largely subsided and, save for a few smaller sects; the festive
traditions have become a recognized part of the Christmas observance in nearly
all Christian denominations.
December 26-January 1
Kwanzaa is a holiday honoring African culture
and traditions. Initiated by Mauluna Karenga, an African American Leader.
Kwanzaa was first celebrated in December 1966-January 1967.
Kwanzaa is celebrated by people from many
African countries and their descendants, including African Americans. It consists of a week of celebrations
featuring the lighting of candles and the pouring of libations, frequently
accompanied by music and drumming. It
ends with a feast and the exchange of gifts.
Several items are central to the
celebrations. These include: a mat on
which the other items are placed, a candlestick holding seven candles, ears of
corn, the Kwanzaa flag and a poster listing the seven principles of
Kwanzaa-unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility,
cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and earth. The Kwanzaa flag displays three blocks, each
of which is colored in one of the three colors of Kwanzaa-red, black and
green. Three of the seven candles are
colored red, three are green and one is black.
Kwanzaa was originally considered an alternative to Christmas. Mixing elements of other traditions into the celebrations was generally discouraged. While many, perhaps most, people observing Kwanzaa continue to hold this belief, the practice of mixing elements of Kwanzaa and Christmas celebrations has increased among African Americans in recent years. This mirrors the manner in which components of Christian belief have been blended with Roman and Scandinavian festival traditions in the holiday observances of people of European ancestry.