Today begins the first of many religious and cultural festivals during December.

December is a month packed with holidays for many religious and cultural traditions. To remind us of some of these traditional celebrations one of our staffers, Kambra, has put together this wonderful summary of some of the larger celebrations that begin in December.

History of Hanukkah: Sundown Dec. 20th – Dec. 28th

The events that inspired the Hanukkah holiday took place during a particularly turbulent period of Jewish history. Ancient sources recount that Antiochus IV, the Seleucid king of Syria, outlawed the Jewish religion and ordered the Jews to worship Greek gods. In 168 B.C., his soldiers descended upon Jerusalem, massacring thousands of people and desecrating the city’s holy Second Temple by erecting an altar to Zeus and sacrificing pigs within its sacred walls.

A large-scale rebellion broke out against Antiochus and the Seleucid monarchy. Eventually the Jews successfully drove the Syrians out of Jerusalem. The Jews then set out to cleanse the Second Temple, rebuild its altar and light its menorah—the gold candelabrum whose seven branches represented knowledge and creation and were meant to be kept burning every night.

The Hanukkah “Miracle”
According to the Talmud, one of Judaism’s central texts, Judah Maccabee and the other Jews who took part in the re-dedication of the Second Temple witnessed what they believed to be a miracle. Even though there was only enough untainted olive oil to keep the menorah’s 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 leaders to proclaim a yearly eight-day festival.

Interesting Facts about Hanukkah

  • Traditional Hanukkah food is cooked during the festival with oil as the key ingredient. Jelly donuts, fried potatoes, pancakes and deep fried puffs are the most common foods served during the festival.
  • Gift giving is another popular Hanukkah tradition. The Jewish children receive small gifts from their elder family members on Hanukkah.

History of Christmas: December 25

Christmas is an annual holiday celebrated on December 25th by billions of people around the world. It is a Christian feast that commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ. Christians believe that an angel appeared before a virgin (Mary) and foretold her conceiving a son, not from her fiance’ Joseph, but conceived of the Holy Spirit (God). The angel told her she was to name the boy Jesus. Jesus would come to be called the son of God. Jesus’ story is detailed in the Bible recounting many miracles he preformed from healing people with diseases, feeding 5,000 people with only 2 fish and 5 loaves of bread and even raising the dead.

One cannot talk about the history of Christmas without mentioning Santa Claus. Bishop Nicholas of Smyrna, who lived in the 4th century A.D. in what is known today as Turkey, was a very wealthy and generous man, who especially loved children. He was known to throw gifts into the houses of poor children in order to brighten their spirits. He was later titled Saint Nicholas, and became the patron saint of children and seafarers. From his story evolved into the legend of Santa Claus – the jolly man who brings gifts to children all over the world on Christmas Eve.

Fun Facts about Christmas:

  • Most of Santa’s reindeer have male-sounding names, such as Blitzer, Comet, and Cupid. However, male reindeer shed their antlers around Christmas, so the reindeer pulling Santa’s sleigh are likely not male, but female.
  • Christmas trees have been sold in the U.S. since 1850, the trees are usually grown for about 15 years before they are sold.
  • Mistletoe (Viscum album) is from the Anglo-Saxon word misteltan, which means “little dung twig” because the plant spreads though bird droppings.

History of Kwanzaa: December 26- January 1

Kwanzaa is a fairly new holiday that was first celebrated in December 1966 in the midst of the Black Freedom Movement and thus reflects its concern for cultural preservation. Kwanzaa was created by Dr. Maulana Karenga, professor of Africana Studies at California State University, Long Beach until 2002. He is an author and scholar-activist who stresses the indispensable need to preserve, continually revitalize and promote African American culture.

The name for Kwanzaa comes from a Swahili phrase meaning first fruits. The first-fruits celebrations are recorded in African history as far back as ancient Egypt and Nubia. Kwanzaa builds on the five fundamental activities of Continental African “first fruit” celebrations: in gathering; reverence; commemoration; re-commitment; and celebration.

There are seven values that are emphasized during Kwanzaa, they are: Unity, Self-determination, Collective Work and Responsibility, Cooperative Economics, Purpose, Creativity and Faith. Kwanzaa culminates in a big feast on the last evening of the holiday, on December 31 called Karamu; it is celebrated with festive songs, dance, toasts, prayers, and a feast of foods.

Interesting facts about Kwanzaa

  • The colors of Kwanzaa are black, red and green as noted above and can be utilized in decorations for Kwanzaa. Also decorations should include traditional African items, i.e., African baskets, cloth patterns, art objects, harvest symbols, etc.
  • Kwanzaa can be celebrated by anyone. Kwanzaa is the holiday to remember African-American cultures.
  • Gifts are given mainly to children, but must always include a book and a heritage symbol.

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