Depending on where your ancestors come from your family celebrates different end of the year celebrations. Religions usually have a big influence on which one is celebrated in your home, and there are more mainstream popular traditions that have become normal for even the non-religious to celebrate. While every family has their own traditions, learning about the other holidays celebrated this time of year will help your children connect with their friends and neighbors who might not celebrate the same way they do.
Jesus is the Reason for the Season
Jesus is the reason for the season is a popular saying to remind people that this time of year is about more than paying attention to Santa and that spending money on gifts shouldn’t be our focus. The United States was founded during a time when most people who lived here practiced a Christian-based religion. Its logical then that this time of year they would celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on December 25th and some say that the idea of Santa giving gifts may one partly from the three wise men who gave gifts to Jesus.
It’s funny to admit this, but this morning as I was trying to figure out how to explain the Christmas story to my kids and I realized that neither of them knew the story. They both know a lot of the classic Christmas movies, but the birth of Jesus Christ hadn’t yet made it into the lineup. My daughter acutally assumed that by saying The Christmas Story I was talking about the movie with the pink bunny suit and the lamp that looks like a woman’s leg.
Definitely one of my biggest mom fails so far. Please forgive me for not checking that one off the list!
So, the Christian Christmas story goes that the Angel Gabriel tells Mary she will have a son. He will be the son of God and named Jesus.
The emperor of the time told them thy had to be counted in the census so her fiancé Joseph took Mary with him to Bethlehem. There are very famous paintings of her making this journey on the back of a donkey. The trip took many days to reach the town.
When they got there all the places to stay were full so they ended up sleeping in a stable. That night Jesus was born.
Another angel appeared to some Shepherds and told them that their savior was born. They spread the news of his birth.
Three wise men saw a bright star in the sky and followed it knowing that something amazing was at the end of their journey. They passed through the town where the king was and he told them to find Jesus and let him know where he was.
When they arrived they brought him gold, frankincense, and Muir. The night after they met him one of the Wiseman had a dream that told him not to go back the way they came. They avoided the city where King Harrod lived and saved Jesus from his hate.
The story shows us that great things can have small and humble beginnings.
The Legend of Santa
Did you know that the legend of Santa starts with the story of Saint Nicholas who lived around 280 AD in a city near Myra in modern day Turkey? The story goes that he gave up his worldly posessions and walked the world helping the sick and the poor. He eventually became the patron saint of children.
Over the years this story of giving spread and was first sighted in American in 1773 when Dutch immigrants were seen celebrating the day of his death in early December.
His name Santa Claus came from the Dutch nickname Sinter Klaas which was shorten from Sint Nikolaas (Dutch for Saint Nicholas). In 1804 a member of the New York Historical Society gave out woodcuts of his likeness which included images of stockings filled with toys over a fireplace.
As the American version of his story spread there were different versions of his likeness until 1841 when a Philadelphia shop used a model of a life-sized Santa to draw people to come shop in their store. Other stores followed this tradition and many would dress up unemployed men in Santa suits and send them onto the streets of New York to get donations for the Salvation Army
The most iconic of these Santa is seen in the movie “Miracle on 34th Street”. The Macy’s Santa has appeared at almost every Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade since it began in 1924.
The Festival of Lights
The Jewish Holiday of Hanukkah is an eight day Festival of Lights that is celebrated usually in December.
In 164 BCE, the Jewish people revolted against the Greeks in the Maccabean War. After their victory they cleansed the temple and re-dedicated it. There was an oil lamp there that only had one day of oil, but the lamp burned for 8 days while someone was off trying to get more oil for it. This is called the miracle of the oil and is where the 8 days of celebration comes from.
The menorah is a special candelabrum with 9 candles. Each day an additional candle is lit. The ninth candle is called a shamash. This candle is generally in the middle and set higher from the other 8 candles to separate it from the rest. It is the only candle that is supposed to be used for light.
So how is this celebrated?
Hanukkah candles are to be lit just before sunset after specific prayers are recited. They are lit in a certain order:
- On the first night, one candle is placed in the candle holder on the far right. The shamash (center candle) is lit and used to light the first candle.
- On the second night, another candle is added next to the first one, and both candles are lit from left to right. In other words, the newer candle is lit first.
- Each night, another candle is added to the menorah until, on the last night of the holiday, all eight candles and the shamash are lit.
The songs that are sung as the candles are lit are:
- Maoz Tzur (about the many times that God delivered the Jewish people from their enemies)
- Hanerot Halalu (which tells the Hanukkah story).
First Fruits Festival
Kwanzaa is the newest of these celebrations to be added to American culture. Like Hanukkah, it is a multi day celebration that this year will last from December 20th to January 1st.
Dr. Maulana Karenga, professor and chairman of Black Studies at California State University, Long Beach, created Kwanzaa in 1966. During this time in American history, there had been a lot of tension and negativity and Dr. Karenga searched for ways to bring African Americans together as a community. He researched and found that there were many African harvest (first fruit) celebrations. The Ashanti and Zulu tribes were the most well known. He based the celebration on these to form Kwanzaa.
The name Kwanzaa is derived from the phrase “matunda ya kwanza” which means “first fruits” in Swahili. Each family celebrates in their own way, but most include songs and dances, African drums, storytelling, poetry reading and usually a large traditional meal. On each of the seven nights the families light one of 7 candles on the Kinabalu (candleholder). Each light is based in a principle.
The 7 principles of Nguni Saba are:
- Unity — To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.
- Self determination — To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.
- Collective work and responsibility — To build and maintain our community together and make our brother’s and sister’s problems our problems and to solve them together.
- Cooperative economics —To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.
- Purpose — To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.
- 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.
- Faith — To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.
There are also 7 symbols:
- Mazao — the crops
- Mkeka — placemat
- Vibunzi — ear of corn
- Mishumaa Saba — the seven candles
- Kinrade — the candle holder
- Kikombe Cha Umoja — the unity cup
- Zawadi — Gifts
No matter how you celebrate this time of year it seems to be a common experience to spend time with families, give gifts and also be thankful for what we all have. After a long year of Covid-19 restrictions, I hope that no matter how you celebrate that you remember that every day is a gift and that the people around you are the most important things in your life.
I’d love to hear about how you celebrate these or any otherholidays!