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December 1, 2008 - Sunny Day
The twelfth and last month of the Gregorian Calendar and one of seven of its months with 31 days. It is the month of the year with the shortest daylight hours in the Northern Hemisphere and the longest daylight hours in the Southern Hemisphere. It is also a month of holiday merriment and rejoicing. No less than three religious or cultural holidays take place during December and are celebrated world-wide – Christmas & Hanukkah, both religious celebration days and Kwanzaa a cultural celebration.
Christmas has been observed for centuries and date of December 25th is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ in the Christian faith. The date is fraught with suggestions of inaccuracy, but remains the traditional date to celebrate the birth of the Christians’ savior.
In more recent days the holiday has taken on a less religious and more secular veneer with the giving of gifts - something that even non-religious people perform at this time of year. Santa Claus and an assortment of similar figures dominate the stage from Thanksgiving through the 25th of December. We have embraced the added characters of elves that make toys, Mrs. Claus, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman and any number of cute characters ready to help us give, give, give.
Christmas trees have replaced the old custom of evergreens used to freshen homes and these are being decorated with lights and ornaments.
Christians celebrate the birth of their savior and they too give gifts. The giving of Christmas gifts celebrates the gift that the Christ child brought to mankind.
Hanukkah or the Festival of Lights or the Festival of Dedication is an eight day Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. It is observed for eight nights starting on the 25th day of Kislev according to the Hebrew calendar and may occur from late November to late December on the Gregorian calendar.
The festival is observed by the lighting of candles on a special candelabrum, the Menorah or Hanukiah. One light is lit on each night of the holiday until all are lit. An extra light called a shamash is also lit each night and is usually placed higher or lower than the others and is used to light the other lights. This holiday commemorates the “miracle of the container of oil”. The Talmud tells us that at the rededication of the Temple, there was only enough consecrated olive oil to fuel the eternal flame in the Temple for one day. It was discovered that almost all of the ritual olive oil had been profaned. They found only a single container that was still sealed by the High Priest. In it was enough oil to keep the menorah in the Temple lit for just a single day. Miraculously, the oil burned for eight days, which was the length of time it took to press, prepare and consecrate fresh olive oil.
Hanukkah is celebrated by rituals performed every day for the eight days, some celebrated with family and some with the community. There is no obligation to refrain from activities that are forbidden on the Sabbath. People go to work as usual but may leave early to be home to kindle the lights at nightfall. Many families exchange gifts each night too. The reason for the Hanukkah lights is not for the lighting of the house within, but rather for the illumination of the house without so that people seeing it would be reminded of the of holiday’s miracle, therefore the menorah is placed in a window or near the door leading to the street.
In North America Hanukkah gained importance with many secular Jews who wanted a Jewish alternative to the Christmas celebrations that overlap Hanukkah. It was traditional to give coins to children during this holiday and in many families this has changed to gifts. Hanukkah has taken a place with Passover as a symbol of Jewish identity.
Kwanzaa is a cultural holiday first celebrated from December 26, 1966 to January 1, 1967 and was created by Maulana Karenga, an African-American scholar and social activist. He created it in 1966 as the first African-American holiday and his goal was to “give Blacks an alternative to the existing holiday and give Blacks an opportunity celebrate themselves and history rather than simply imitate the practice of the dominate society.” The name translates as “first fruits”.
The roots of Kwanzaa is in the black nationalist movement of the 1960s and was established to help African-Americans reconnect with their African cultural and historical heritage by uniting in meditation and studying “African traditions and “common humanist principles.”
Karenga called the tenants of Kwanzaa “The Seven Principles of Kwanzaa” which he said is ”the best of African thought and practice in constant exchange with the world”.
Each of the seven days of Kwanzaa is dedicated to one of seven principles: Unity, Self-Determination, Collective Work and Responsibility, Cooperative Economics, Purpose, Creativity and Faith. Each principle is defined for edification.
Those who celebrate Kwanzaa decorate their homes with art, colorful African cloth and fresh fruits. A ceremony during Kwanzaa may include drums and music, libations, reading of the African pledge, reflection on the Pan-African colors, discussion of the principle of the day, candle-lighting, artistic performance and a feast. Today, many African-American families celebrate Kwanzaa along with Christmas and New Years and may have both Christmas trees and Kinaras (the traditional candle holder) sharing space.
To these people, Kwanzaa is an opportunity to incorporate elements of their particular ethnic heritage into holiday observances and Christmas celebrations.
In 1997, Kwanzaa’s founder stated that it can be celebrated by people of any race just as other people participate in cinco de mayo, Chinese new year and Native American pow wows. Kwanzaa was not created to give people an alternative to their own religion or religious holiday. It is not an alternative to people’s religion or faith but a common ground of African culture…Kwanzaa is not a reaction or substitute for anything.
And the founder’s most recent interpretation emphasizes that while every people have their various holiday traditions, all people can share in the celebration of our common humanity: “Any particular message that is good for a particular people, if it is human in its content and ethical in its grounding, speaks not just to that people, it speaks to the world.”
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