Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Winter Holidays

 I always try to be ecumenical. This is certainly a time of year which demands that when writing a public blog. In the United States we have three big holidays at this time of year during which three large and very different communities celebrate.

     Of course, we all know about Christmas in this country. But, of course, for you readers in other parts of the world, it might be that your exposure does not make Christmas an ubiquitous almost annoying, overwhelming holiday. For you I include some words about past Christmas traditions that I recall from my childhood. Please regard these comments as a Christmas greeting that will recall the warmth of Christmases past for you.

   Many Americans think that the real meaning of Christmas, that is to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem, has disappeared in the materialistic culture in which we live. The Christmas story is told in the New Testament in the 4 Gospels. It includes the child being born in a manger, because there was no room at local inns.  Local shepherds learned of the birth from angels and come to worship the child. A star supposedly led wise men from afar to pay their tributes to the child. In the present, the Christmas holiday is one for family and friends to gather together and recall the family traditions, to feast, to give gifts, and to attend religious services. Most of what we all feel around this time of year has its origins in the traditions that we have grown up with. Every family has its own traditions that recall for them the warm feelings of family and community. Many of our American traditions have their origin in the Victorian Era in England. When Queen Victoria married her first cousin Prince Albert from Coburg, Germany, he brought the ideas of putting up a Christmas tree, the hanging of greens in the home, and the use of mistletoe to prompt shows of affection, as well as a transformation of holiday celebrations centered in  the family. Since that time decorating the home has become a large part of the holiday traditions as well. The decorations all around, inside and out, even on the streetlamps all remind us of this festive season. And now foremost in every one's plans are the festive gatherings. In many cases these gatherings take place in order to help the less fortunate. Sending gifts to the Armed Services or to areas of greatest need have become a larger part of the Christmas season. Whatever the traditions, they become a very important part of the household and family and are carried forward through  future generations.

Advent December 2-23. Christmas Eve December 24. Christmas Day December 25

     The Jews in the United States often celebrate Hanukkah and sometimes quite dramatically. This is because the Jewish religion needs to supply a holiday that can somehow withstand the overwhelming nature of Christmas in the United States. Hanukkah can provide some of that balance. It has nightly gifts for the children, and it is the Festival of Lights. The warm glow of 8 candles burning in the Menorah can make a home atmosphere that can compete with a lighted Christmas tree. The holiday has its special foods -- latkes, and it has its special games and songs -- dreidel game. The Hanukkah menorah and the dreidel provide nice symbols for representing the holiday. But what does Hanukkah really mean? Since my husband is an Israeli I know that in Israel which is a Jewish state, and where there is little celebration of Christmas, -- just some Christmas Eve religious rituals by the various Christian churches in Bethlehem and Nazareth, Hanukkah is a relatively minor holiday. It stands for freedom. It celebrates the victory of  the Judah Maccabees in retaking the Great Temple from the Seleucid rulers. Because the Temple had been filled with Greek gods, there was no holy oil to fill the lamps to light the Sabbath lights. A very small amount of oil was found and it lasted a full 8 nights until new oil could be produced. The 8 nights of candles represent that miracle. This year Hanukkah is quite unique in that the first day of the 8 day holiday is on Thanksgiving.

Hanukkah November 28 to December 5th.

Photo from
   I would venture to say that most of the Caucasian world doesn't know what Kwanzaa is. I didn't know. So come along and learn with me. Our African American neighbors may celebrate this holiday and we need to know about it. Like the other two holidays of this season, it celebrates various values that are universal and responsible for happiness and success in a people. Kwanzaa was created in 1966 at the University of California, Long Beach, by Dr. Maulana Karenga, professor of African Studies. He felt that the black American community needed a holiday of its own at this season so that people of the African diaspora would not be forced into celebrations of Christmas or Hanukkah which originally had no meaning to these peoples from Africa. The word means "first fruits of the harvest," in Swahili. Symbols are colorful African  kente cloth, fruits, a cup to share libations, and the kinara, a seven candle candelabra providing the lighting. The seven principles of Kwanzaa are: Unity, Self-determination, Collective Work and Responsibility, Cooperative Economics, Purpose, Creativity, and Faith. This holiday was certainly created in response and to further Black Pride and Black Power. A postage stamp was first made for Kwanzaa in 1997. In recent years, the celebration of the holiday may have dwindled somewhat but most holiday communities still include it at this time of year. To some degree the holiday has become recognized in other parts of the world as well.

Kwanzaa  December 26 to Jan 1.

     Whatever your tradition at this time of year, whatever your religion, whatever your beliefs -- all of these holidays have a similar meaning which is to be with friends and families and to provide some sort of spiritual expression that recalls these shared moments from year to year. Giving of gifts and of your time have become deeply involved in the celebrations as well. Sometimes this gift giving has been carried to extreme. It may be more meaningful to give self made gifts or to give of your time instead of the large things or objects which require a lot of money expenditure.

     And of course before we even begin any of these three holidays, we have one we all celebrate: Thanksgiving. Just remember to call to attention everything we are grateful for while at the Feast Day table.  My best wishes at this time of year to all my readers from all over the world. I know that some of you celebrate none of these holidays and have very spiritual occasions at other times of the year. Allow me to extend Best Wishes to you all and to hope that our diversity however maintained provides a message of unity that can bring peace and happiness to a world widely troubled right now.

     Happy Holidays to you all as we draw near the end of 2013. And a very Happy New Year!

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