Our holidays will be celebrated differently this year; yet they will be celebrated. Depending on your heritage, traditions and culture – the greeting may be Merry Christmas, Hanukkah sameach (Happy Hanukkah), Joyous Kwanzaa, or a more generic Happy Holidays. We may know a bit about our holiday traditions, but how much do we know about the others? Hopefully, this article will provide us some insight on them.
Let’s first explore Kwanzaa. It is an annual celebration of African American culture observed from December 26 to January 1. The traditional greeting to family and friends is “Habari gani” which is a Swahili phrase meaning “what is the news.” “Happy Kwanzaa” is also appropriate as a greeting. The holiday was created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga. In a 2013 interview he said, “The celebration of Kwanzaa is about embracing ethical principles and values, so the goodness of the world can be shared and enjoyed by us and everyone.” Karenga is a professor of Africana Studies at California State University in Long Beach. He is also an author and activist. As an activist he was involved in the Black Power movement of the 1960s and 1970s.
Kwanzaa celebrates seven values. Day one is Umoja, or Unity, especially as it relates to family, community, nation and race. The next day is self-determination or Kujichagulia, which is a principle that encourages folks to define and speak for themselves. Ujima, or collective work and responsibility, asks participants to build and maintain community, helping solve each other’s problems. Day four is Ujamaa or Cooperative Economics. Within this concept reside “shared wealth and work, economic self-reliance, and an obligation of generosity.” Nia, or purpose, follows. It also revolves around building and developing community. Kuumba, or creativity, is the next to last day. It means to leave your community more beautiful than before. The concluding day is Imani, or faith, reflecting on the faith in people, family and leaders. Like Hanukkah, a candle is lit for each day of the holiday.
Hanukkah has already been celebrated. It began this year on December 10 and ended on December 18. It falls on a different date every year because it’s a Jewish holiday and lasts slightly more than a week. The dates vary because the Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar based on the moon’s rotation around the earth. Although it falls between the end of November and mid-to-late December, it’s not the “Jewish Christmas.” It’s a holiday that commemorates a period of history, over 2,500 years ago, when the Jewish holy temple was seized by Syrian-Greek forces.
At that time, King Antiochus gave Jewish people a choice to either be sentenced to death or renounce their religion. They fought back and recaptured their temple. Every night of the festival, Hanukkah families light a candle on a special candelabra know as a “Menorah” so that at the end of the festival all eight are lit for the final night. During the eight days, participants meditate, concentrate, and contemplate on the historical incident that took place in their history but affects their lives even today. They recall the struggle, despair and the impossible choice given to their people and celebrate their courage for standing up to fight for life.
Christmas originated as a festival to celebrate the birth of Jesus. December 25 was first identified as his birth date by Sextus Julius Africanus in 221 AD and eventually became the universally accepted date. Since early in the 20th century, it has been observed by Christians and non-Christians alike. In the secular celebrations, the mythical figure named Santa Claus plays the pivotal role.
The traditional Christmas tree appears to have originated in Strasbourg, Germany in 1605. It was a fir tree decorated with apples. Candles also play a role for this holiday as well. The custom with roots in the 16th century, became an Advent wreath with four candles denoting the four Sundays of the Advent season. Toward the end of the 18th century, the practice of giving gifts to family members and friends became established. The practice of sending Christmas cards came from 19th century England.
In other parts of the world, Christmas largely remains a Christian holiday, but not always. For example, Japan which is a predominantly Shinto and Buddhist country, the secular aspects such as Christmas trees, decorations or songs are more widely observed. In India, the tree might be a mango or bamboo tree and houses are decorated with mango leaves and paper stars. In Brazil, Christmas is a summer festival not a December holiday.
Whatever your celebrations, beliefs, or holidays this December, may they be joyous and filled with lots of love and laughter. Happy Holidays!