Written by: Paula Romero and Alesha Kadiri
December 3, 2018
Have you ever wondered how other cultures celebrate Christmas? Or if they celebrate it at all? Culture and holidays are important aspects of identity and it is always great to learn about them. Two prominent holidays that are celebrated around Christmas time include Hanukkah and Kwanzaa.
Hanukkah is a Jewish celebration that lasts eight days. The celebration of this holiday started around 200 B.C., when Judea (the Land of Israel), came under the control of Antiochus III, the Seleucid king of Syria. Antiochus allowed Jews who lived in his kingdom to continue practicing Judaism; to celebrate, they participated in a re-dedication of the “Second Temple”, which involved lighting menorah candles. Judah Maccabee and the other Jews who took part in this re-dedication believed they were witnessing a miracle: even though there was only enough untainted olive oil to keep the menorah candles burning for a single day, the flames continued flickering for eight nights, leaving them time to find a fresh supply.
This wondrous event inspired the Jewish sages to proclaim a yearly eight-day festival, which revolves around a nine branch menorah, or lampstand, called a Hanukkah. On each of the eight nights of the holiday a new candle is added to the menorah after sundown. During the ritual they typically recite blessings as a reminder of the miracle that inspired the holiday. They also serve ritual food, like latkes or jam-filled donuts; participate in activities with a four-sided spinning top, known as dreidels; and exchange gifts.
Along with Hanukkah, many people celebrate Kwanzaa, an African-American celebration about life. It starts on December 26 and ends on January 1. Kwanzaa was created by Dr. Maulana Karenga as a ritual to welcome first harvests because it was a commercialism to Christmas. Kwanzaa is a seven day celebration in which there are five common sets of values: gathering, reverence, commemoration, recommitment, and celebration. The seven candles used for the ceremony signify unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith. During the ceremony, gifts are exchanged. On December 31 the people celebrate with a banquet of food from different African foods. They greet each other in Kiswahili, saying “how are you/ how’s the news with you?”.
No matter the celebration or holiday we can conclude that each religious holiday contains hope which they share through getting together, sharing food and exchanging gifts.