Hanukkah/Chanukah: Hanukkah, which means “dedication” in Hebrew and is often referred to as the Festival of Lights. The holiday is celebrated with the lighting of the menorah, traditional foods, games and gifts. This year Hanukkah started on November 28 and will end December 6. The date of Hanukah changes every year because the Jewish calendar is lunisolar. Typically, it falls around late November and early December, four days before the new moon.
As tradition goes, the Jews had risen up against their Greek-Syrian oppressors in the Maccabean Revolt. After the Revolt, there was a call to come and cleanse the Second Temple, a holy temple in Jerusalem, and to help rebuild the alter. On the alter was a menorah but there was only enough oil for it to stay lit for one day. However, the menorah stayed lit for eight days and eight nights. This is what is now called the Hanukkah miracle. The Hanukkah celebration revolves around the lighting of a nine branched menorah, known in Hebrew as the hanukiah. On each of the holiday’s eight nights, another candle is added to the menorah after sundown. The ninth candle, called the shamash (“helper”), is used to light the others. During the lighting the of menorah there are typically blessings and the menorah in displayed in a window as a reminder to others of the miracle that inspired the holiday.
Since the Hanukkah miracle is related to oil, traditional Hanukkah foods are fried in oil. Potato pancakes (known as latkes) and jam-filled donuts (sufganiyot) are particularly popular in many Jewish households. Other Hanukkah customs include playing with four-sided spinning tops called dreidels and exchanging gifts.
St. Lucia Day: Celebrated by Scandinavian families on December 13. St. Lucia Day is known as the festival of lights and is traditionally celebrated in Sweden, Norway and some areas of Finland. The celebration is in honour of St. Lucia who was killed by the Romans in 304 CE making her one of the earliest known Christian martyrs. In Scandinavian countries each town elects its own St. Lucia to lead a procession through the town. The festival begins as the chosen St. Lucia starts the parade. She’s followed by young girls dressed in white, wearing lighted wreaths on their heads and boys dressed in white dress (most the articles I read described the dress as pyjama-like) singing traditional songs. The festival marks the beginning of the Christmas season in Scandinavia. The intention behind the St. Lucia Day is to bring hope and light during the darkest time of the year. Typically a daughter or the oldest female cousin will dress in white and serve coffee and baked goods, such as saffron bread (lussekatter) and ginger biscuits, to the other members of the family.
Winter Solstice: The winter solstice is the shortest day and longest night of the year and marks the start of winter.
In the Northern Hemisphere, it takes place usually on December 21, depending on the year. (The opposite occurs in the Southern Hemisphere, where the shortest day of the year occurs in June, *shout out our sister company The Scoliosis Collective in Australia* ). Cultures all around the world have held feasts and used fire and light as a symbol of the winter solstice for centuries.
After the winter solstice, days start becoming longer and nights shorter as spring approaches. Historians believe that the winter solstice has been celebrated early as Neolithic period (the last part of the Stone Age, beginning about 10,200 BC).
Neolithic monuments, such as Newgrange in Ireland and Maeshowe in Scotland, are aligned with sunrise on the winter solstice.
Dong Zhi: The Chinese celebration of the winter solstice, Dong Zhi (which means “Winter Arrives”) welcomes the return of longer days and the corresponding increase in positive energy in the year to come.
It is believed that celebrations of the solstice had begun as a harvest festival, when farmers and fisherman took time off to celebrate with their families.
Today, it remains an occasion for families to join together to celebrate the year that has passed and share good wishes for the year to come.
The most traditional food for this celebration in southern China is the rice balls known as tang yuan, often brightly coloured and cooked in sweet or savoury broth and plain or meat-stuffed dumplings.
Toji: In Japan, the winter solstice is a traditional practice centered on starting the new year with health and good luck. It’s a particularly sacred time of the year for farmers, who welcome the return of a sun that will nurture their crops after the long, cold winter. People light bonfires to encourage the sun’s return . A widespread practice during the winter solstice is to take warm baths scented with yuzu, a citrus fruit, which is said to ward off colds and promote good health. Many public baths and hot springs throw yuzu in the water during the winter solstice. To promote good luck in the up coming year Japanese people also eat kabocha squash on the solstice.
Christmas: Christmas is celebrated each year on December 25. While Christmas is traditionally a religious holiday, many non-religious people acknowledge Christmas as well. Christians celebrate Christmas as of the birthday of Jesus, who was a spiritual leader whose teachings form the basis of their religion. Popular customs include exchanging gifts, decorating Christmas trees (traditionally topped with a star or angel), attending church, sharing meals with family and friends and of course, waiting for Santa Claus to arrive.
The legend of Santa Claus can be traced back to a monk named St. Nicholas who was born in Turkey around 280 A.D. St. Nicholas gave away all his inherited wealth and traveled the countryside helping the poor and sick. St. Nicholas first entered American popular culture in the late 18th century in New York, when Dutch families gathered to honour the anniversary of the death of “Sint Nikolaas” or “Sinter Klaas” for short.
Kwanzaa: Kwanzaa is celebrated from December 26 until January 1.
Dr. Maulana Karenga, professor of Black Studies at the University of California created Kwanzaa in 1966. After the Watt Riots in Los Angeles, Dr. Karenga thought of ways to bring African Americans together as a community.
Kwanzaa comes from the phrase “matunda ya kwanza” which means “first fruits” in Swahili. Each family celebrates Kwanzaa a little differently, but celebrations often include songs and dances, African drums, storytelling, poetry reading and a large traditional meal.
On each of the seven nights, the family gathers and a child lights one of the candles on the Kinara (candleholder) and then one of the seven principles is discussed.
The Nguzo Saba (seven principles in Swahili) are values of African culture which contribute to building and reinforcing community.
1. Unity: Umoja (oo-MO-jah)
To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.
2. Self-determination: Kujichagulia (koo-gee-cha-goo-LEE-yah)
To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.
3. Collective Work and Responsibility: Ujima (oo-GEE-mah)
To build and maintain our community together and make our brother’s and sister’s problems our problems and to solve them together.
4. Cooperative Economics: Ujamma (oo-JAH-mah)
To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.
5. Purpose: Nia (nee-YAH)
To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness
6. Creativity: Kuumba (koo-OOM-bah)
To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.
7. Faith: Imani (ee-MAH-nee)
To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.
Have a wonderful December celebrating and relaxing during the holidays that mean most to you and your family!