A time of year to rejoice, reflect, shareDecember is a time when the chilly air is filled with voices of joy and laughter. This month is a special period set aside for sharing, giving and loving.
Streets are bathed in Christmas decorations, with tree after tree adorned with lights and colorful ornaments. Couples cuddle and kiss under the mistletoe, swaying to the sounds of the season’s music. Such scenes are found everywhere around the world.
What we call the holiday season is celebrated in different ways -- and for different reasons. Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus. Jews celebrate Hanukkah, the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem. The Russian Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas in January. African-Americans dedicate this time of the year to Kwanzaa, a recognition of family, community and culture. Adding to the universality of this time of year, Muslims recently concluded Ramadan, a time of reflection and spiritual renewal.
Kwanzaa affirms the need for a strong community
Kwanzaa has been celebrated for nearly 40 years by members of the African-American community to commemorate their heritage.
Kwanzaa comes from the Swahili phrase, “matunda ya kwanzaa,” which means, “first fruit.”
Kwanzaa was first established by Dr. Maulana Karenga, a politician and cultural scientist.
In Africa, each tribe or community joins a festival, feasting and dancing in celebration of the harvest of the first fruits and vegetables.
This festival in Africa dates back to ancient Egypt. The celebration has become the basis for Kwanzaa.
Kwanzaa was created to reaffirm and restore African culture, and it was also seen as a way to strengthen bonds among the African American community.
Similar to the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah, Kwanzaa is a cultural holiday and not a religious practice. Kwanzaa is celebrated for seven days, beginning the day after Christmas.
Each day has a unique meaning and, much like Hanukkah, a candle is lit every night during this period.
There are seven principles that help to define Kwanzaa: Umoja (unity), Kujichaguila (self-determination), Ujima (collective work and responsibility), Ujamaa (cooperative economics), Nia (purpose) Kuumba (creativity) and Imani (faith). On the night of Dec. 31, family and friends gather to enjoy a feast.
During Kwanzaa, the greetings are in Swahili. When asked, “Habari gani?” the reply is the principle for that day. On the first day the reply would be Umoja and on the next day, Kujichaguila.
Children receive presents during this holiday, but they are usually books instead of the latest toy, as Kwanzaa emphasizes heritage and tradition as well as history.
Kwanzaa may be a relatively new celebration, but it is one of great importance.
Christmas takes on variety of faces, but all are joyous
While much of the world celebrates Christmas on the 25th of December, the Russian Orthodox Church celebrates this holiday thirteen days later, on Jan. 7.
This tradition can be attributed to the Julian calendar, which the Russians followed until the 1900s, long after the rest of the world had adopted the Gregorian calendar. The dates may be different but both celebrations are equally joyous and solemn.
The Russian Orthodox Church has its own distinct approach to celebrating the birth of Jesus. On Christmas Eve, the entire family gathers and shares kutya, a type of porridge whose ingredients vary by family. No meat is found on the table on this night, though wine is served. The evening’s cuisine comprises 12 different dishes symbolic of the 12 Apostles of the New Testament.
Lenten bread, known as pagach, which is made from flour, water and yeast, is one of the 12 dishes served on this night.
Instead of the familiar Santa Claus, there is Ded Moroz, or Grandfather Frost. The origins of this figure date to Russia’s 75-year period of religious suppression under the communists, beginning in 1917. Ded Moroz took up the role of Saint Nicholas of Myra, a Turkish bishop who later was known as Santa Claus. Like Santa, Ded Moroz hands out gifts; but instead of being assisted by elves in green tights, this tall, thin, white-bearded man is accompanied by Snyegurochka, an irresistibly beautiful snow maiden.
According to Russian Orthodox legend, the three wise men, following the star leading to the baby Jesus, stop at the cottage of a babuskhka, who gives them shelter and food. The men ask the old woman to follow them, but she declines, saying she must clean the cottage, pick out a dress and select a gift before setting out. By the time she is on her way the star has disappeared and she gets lost in the dark. From that time, babushkas have traveled from door to door leaving gifts in children's stockings, searching for the baby Jesus.
Jews around globe celebrate ‘miracle’ of the oil lamp
Hanukkah, a festival celebrated by Jews, begins on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev.
The festival’s arrival varies every year when calculated by the Western calendar; therefore, it is sometimes celebrated in November.
This year Hanukkah began at sundown last Friday with the lighting of the first of eight menorah candles and concludes eight days later. It is a cultural celebration commemorating the rededication of the Temple by the Macabees after their victory over the Syrians, an event that occurred more than 2,300 years ago in what is today Israel.
According to Hebrew scriptures, Hanukkah originated when Judah the Maccabee and his four brothers formed an army that defeated the Syrian king, Antiochus, who had forced the Jewish people to convert to Greek gods and abandon their customs.
After driving the Syrians from the land of Judea, which is now Israel, and reclaiming the Temple, the Maccabees wanted to light the N’er Tamid, the eternal light, but did not have enough oil. The lamp they did light with the oil was expected to burn just one day. The lamp burned eight days. Hanukkah commemorates that event.
During this holiday, Jews normally eat oily foods, including latkes, or fried potato pancakes and sufganiot, or oil-soaked jelly donuts. Cheese blintzes is another treat popular during the traditional festival.
During the holidays, Jewish children customarily receive one or more small presents each night, though traditionally parents gave out coins. Children play a game using a four-sided top called a dreidel. Each side bears one of the Hebrew letter, nun, gimel, heh and peh, that stands for a certain wish. The four letters correspond to the phrase, “nes gadol haya po,” or “a great miracle that happened here.” Additionally, the four letters in mystical Kabbalah teachings stand for the four empires, Babylonia, Persia, Greece and Rome, which were in constant conflict with the Jews.
by Lee Ho-jeong