'Tis the Holiday Season

Kwanzaa
Image via Wikipedia

By Anne Marie Coar
Staff Writer

It’s almost that time of year – for Christmas, Kwanzaa, and Hanukkah.

Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. Christianity Today International states Christmas was first celebrated in the 4th century. Although Jesus’ actual birthday is thought to be in the spring, church leaders chose December 25 as the official day to commemorate this monumental event. This date was chosen in part to compete with the Romans’ celebration of their sun god’s birthday.

Over the centuries, many Christmas traditions began to de- velop, some of which people still practice today. The spirit of Santa Claus began with St. Nicholas, who lived in the 4th century. He was a very generous man who often delivered gifts to houses. Christian History Institute writes that Christians began singing Christmas carols around the 13th century. By the 16th century, the custom of decorating Christmas trees was widespread in Germa- ny. Other rituals, such as kissing under the mistletoe, actually orig- inated from pagan practices.

Another important holiday celebrated in December is Kwan- zaa, which begins December 26 and concludes on January 1. Ac- cording to Kwanzaa: A Celebra- tion of Family, Community, and Culture, Dr. Maulana Karenga, a professor of Black Studies at California State University, cre- ated Kwanzaa in 1966. Kwanzaa is both an African American and Pan-African holiday. It is a spe- cial day to celebrate culture, com- munity, and family. Africans of every faith participate in this cel- ebration, and millions of Africans around the world commemorate this day.

As stated in Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community, and Culture, Kwanzaa is derived from the Swahili phrase, “ma- tunda ya kwanza,” which means “first fruits.” First- fruit celebra- tions are noted in the history of ancient Egypt and Nubia. Other African civilizations, including Yorubaland and Ashantiland, and many societies in southeast Af- rica have also held these celebrations in both ancient and modern times.

Dr. Karenga notes first-fruit festivals were composed of five fundamental activities, all of which are incorporated into Kwanzaa. These include ingathering, rever- ence, commemoration, recommitment, and celebration. Kwanzaa is a time for people to gather together and recognize the bonds that tie them to each other. They show reverence for their creator and appreciation for all of the blessings they have received. They also commemorate the past and honor their ancestors. Kwanzaa is also a time for people to recommit to supreme cultural ideals. Finally, it is an occasion for the celebration of good in life, family, community, and culture.

A third major holiday celebrated during this time of year is Hanukkah. According to the Jew- ish Outreach Institute, Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, is a holiday that celebrates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem during the Maccabean Revolt. Hanuk- kah begins on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev. It usually occurs in the month of December, close to Christmas.

The story of Hanukkah begins when the Israelites were ordered by foreign rulers to bow down to a statue of Antiochus. This was in violation of the law of God, so the Maccabees, a small group of Jews, rebelled. The Maccabees won, but the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. The Jews restored the Temple and rededicated it to God. They relit the menorah, a candelabrum that symbolizes the everlasting covenant between God and the Jewish people. However, there was only enough olive oil to light the menorah for one night. Legend says that this one-day supply of oil lasted for eight days and nights. This miracle is the reason why Hanukkah is an eight-day celebration. On each night of Hanukkah, another candle is lit while prayers are recited.

Young children usually receive a little gift for each day of Hanukkah. People play games and with toys like the dreidel, a spinning top. Traditional meals include foods cooked in oil, such as latkes, which are potato pancakes.

Throughout the world, people of many faiths and ethnic backgrounds are celebrating this holiday season.

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