Kwanzaa

 

Kwanzaa

 

Kwanzaa is a holiday created in 1966 by Maulana Karenga to show respect and appreciation for the history and of people of African ancestry and to also celebrate family and community.  It is celebrated for a week from December 26 to January 1st.  The name comes from the phrase “matunda ya kwanza” which means “first fruits” in Swahili.  First fruits celebrations date back to ancient Egypt and Nubia and pertain to the harvest. The holiday is considered a cultural instead of religious holiday and any one can celebrate regardless of their faith.

The history of Kwanzaa dates back to the Civil Rights and Black Freedom movements of the 1960’s. The principles are in the Swahili language since it is the most widely used African language.

According to the Huffington Post, “the colors black, red, and green are part of Kwanzaa celebrations due to their special significance. Black represents the people, red is for the blood uniting all those with African ancestry, as well as the blood shed during slavery and the civil rights movement, and green is for the lush land of Africa. These colors also reflect the Pan-African movement itself.”

Kwanzaa Stamp


Kwanzaa has seven principles, one celebrated on each day of the holiday and known collectively as Nguzo Saba. They are African values which are named in both Swahili with English translations.

    • Umoja: Unity
    • Kujichagulia: Self-determination
    • Ujima: Collective Work and Responsibility
    • Ujamaa: Cooperative Economics
    • Nia: Purpose
    • Kuumba: Creativity
    •   Imani: Faith

Some of the traditions celebrated during Kwanzaa include songs such as the Black National Anthem and lighting the kinara.  A black candle from the center is used to light the candles from left to right.  There is a candle to represent each one of  the seven principles.Together, the candles are called the mishuuma saba. The kikombe cha umoja, or Unity Cup is another important tradition.

 

Christmas Traditions Around The World

Christians all over the world celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on December 25th each year but the Christmas traditions around the world can vary widely throughout other countries. In the USA the familiarity with our traditions of Christmas trees, indoor and outside lights are very common as are also advent wreaths, Christmas stockings, and Nativity scenes depicting the birth of Jesus Christ. Santa Claus is also a well celebrated figure for the tradition of bringing gifts to children, but is tied more to the commercial aspect of the holiday.  Christmas greetings in the form of cards is also a common practice but has declined some in recent years with the more common use of email and the cost of postage increasing.  Good wishes can also now be sent digitally very quickly and less expensive.

 

In Japan, Christmas is popular because it is encourage by commerce.  Gifts are sometimes exchanged, but it is not a national holiday.

Christmas in Japan
Malaysia does celebrate Christmas as national holiday, but it is not overly religious and mostly commercial in nature.  In the Philippines, which is one of two predominately Catholic countries in southeast Asia, Christmas is widely celebrated as a religious holiday. Their celebration is known for being the longest Christmas season which begins September 1 with Christmas carols.

In Lebanon, Christmas is an official holiday and is celebrated on December 25, except for the Armenian Lebanese which celebrate it as an official holiday on January 6, the Epiphany.  Santa Claus is known by the French and gifts are usually dropped off at church by Papa Noel or by a personal appearance to the home.

The Czech republic and Slovakia celebrate on Christmas eve, Dec. 24 and it is known as “Generous Day” because presents are given in the evening. Traditional holiday foods consist of fish soup, breaded roasted carp, and potato salad.  Holiday greetings are shared after sharing a piece of Christmas wafer made with honey and walnuts.

Twelve dish Christmas eve supper

 

In Russia as in some other Eastern Orthodox countries,  Christmas is celebrated on January 7. Christmas is mainly a religious event in Russia. On January 6, Christmas Eve there are several  long services and then families return home for the traditional Holy Supper for Christmas Eve.  This consists of 12 different dishes which are to symbolize one for each of the Twelve Apostles.  Sometimes devout families return to church that night and again the next morning on Christmas Day. Christmas became a national holiday in Russia in 1992 and remains as a ten day holiday celebration at the start of every new year.

 

 

 

The History of Hanukkah

Menorah
Menorah

 

The history of Hanukkah dates back the year 164 B.C.E. The history can be found in books 1 and 2 Maccabee but these books are not part of the Jewish canon of the Hebrew Bible.

The story of how Hanukkah came to be is contained in the books of 1 and 2 Maccabees, which are not part of the Jewish canon of the Hebrew Bible.  According to myjewishlearning.com, “These books tell the story of the Maccabees, a small band of Jewish fighters who liberated the Land of Israel from the Syrian Greeks who occupied it. Under the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the Syrian Greeks sought to impose their Hellenistic culture, which many Jews found attractive. By 167 B.C.E, Antiochus intensified his campaign by defiling the Temple in Jerusalem and banning Jewish practice. The Maccabees–led by the five sons of the priest Mattathias, especially Judah–waged a three-year campaign that culminated in the cleaning and rededication of the temple.”

Star of David
Star of David

It was decided since they were not able to celebrate the holiday of Sukkot at its proper time in the early Fall that would instead would celebrate it on the date the Temple was rededicated which was on the 25th of the month of Kislev in the year 164 B.C.E.

According to tradition as recorded in the Talmud, at the time of the rededication, there was very little oil left that had not been defiled by the Greeks. Oil was needed for the menorah (candelabrum) in the Temple, which was supposed to burn throughout the night every night. There was only enough oil to burn for one day, yet miraculously, it burned for eight days, the time needed to prepare a fresh supply of oil for the menorah. An eight day festival was declared to commemorate this miracle. Note that the holiday commemorates the miracle of the oil, not the military victory: Jews do not glorify war.”

The first-century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus  wrote his historical summary of the holiday some 250 years later but referred to it as the “Festival of Lights” and not as Hanukkah.  This refers to the lighting of the menorah that holds nine candles.  A candle is lit each night  placing it at the far right.  The Shammus candle is lit and three blessings are recited:  l’hadlik neir (a general prayer over candles), she-asah nisim (a prayer thanking G-d for performing miracles for our ancestors at this time), and she-hekhianu (a general prayer thanking G-d for allowing us to reach this time of year.

Latkes
Latkes

One of the other Jewish customs enjoyed for Hanukkah is a special dish called latkes which is like a potato pancake made of shredded potatoes, onions, and matza flour. Playing with a dreidel is also a poplar custom. The dreidel (a square top) is spun and small chocolate coins.pennies, match sticks or M&M’s are given as prizes.

Dreidel

Hanukkah is probably the most well know of the Jewish holidays but is of the least religious significance as compared to Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Passover, and Shavu’ot.