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Celebrating Hanukkah, Kwanzaa

Classic values customs become local traditions

Published: Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Updated: Tuesday, December 17, 2013 15:12

Winter is an odd time of year. Every winter sees temperatures dropping and people being driven into their homes. The world becomes a much more gloomy place. Except, this is also the time of year everyone’s minds turn to celebration.

Winter is also called the holiday season. As the world turns dreary, people become merry and bright. Songs fly from people’s lips and people become more charitable. The only thing to do during this time is to celebrate and party.

There are three main winter holidays that happen in the United States: Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. Each holiday has its own traditions and means of celebration. Some holidays and traditions are ancient, while others came into existence more recently.

Though their ages, meanings and forms of celebration differ, each has a following, and each has a lesson they can teach not only those who practice them, but also the rest of society.


Christmas is the most visible of all the holidays in America. No matter what store one enters, this time of year Christmas will be right in his or her face.

The holiday is meant to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ — the man Christians believe was the Messiah. The story of the birth of Christ that Christians believe explains a large amount of the more commercialized imagery many may not understand, or may have forgotten the meaning behind the symbols.

Christians believe Jesus Christ was born to a virgin in Bethlehem, which would be located in what is today known as the West Bank, in Israel.

The story tells of a bright star, an angel which three shepherds known as wise men saw, and knew they must travel to see the birth of the savior of mankind. The three wise men brought gifts of gold, incense and myrrh to present to the little messiah.

These symbols persist today, in some fashion. Christmas trees are supposed to be topped with stars or angels, in order to symbolize the star that led the wise men to the manger the Messiah was born in. The gifts people exchange are supposed to be symbolic of the gifts the wise men presented to Christ.

Christmas is celebrated these days in a number of ways. People give gifts to family members around a pine tree in their living room. Colorful lights decorate the outside of peoples’ homes and wreaths adorn front doors across the nation. Christmas also becomes a time where many people give back. Charities such as Toys for Tots and Foster a Dream exist to help provide Christmas presents to children whose families do not have the means to provide a fun holiday for them, or do not have family of their own.

Christmas has evolved far past its religious roots, and has become a much more secular holiday. Public lightings of Christmas trees have become more popular than church services. The holiday is supposed to be a time of giving, but expensive electronics have replaced charity in the hearts of many that celebrate.


Hanukkah is the winter holiday that those of the Jewish faith celebrate.

Hanukkah is a celebration of the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Those of the Jewish faith take eight days to celebrate this rededication, which also marks the rebellion against the Seleucid Empire. In 176 BC, King Antiochus IV invaded Judea, and sacked the temple. The stories say that his soldiers thoroughly desecrated the temple, going as far to sacrifice pigs on its altars. The Jewish faith forbids the eating of pork, as the religion designates swine as an unclean animal.

Speech department Chairperson Sherry Diestler said, “Hanukkah is a celebration of freedom — freedom from being ruled by a hostile and disrespectful empire.”

The holiday is celebrated as a mostly intimate, family affair. Jewish families gather for eight days during this time of year and sing traditional Hebrew songs. They also eat traditional Hebrew foods such as latke, or potato pancakes.

Children spin a decorated top known as a dreidel, which has four characters printed on it. The four characters, when translated, mean, “a great miracle happened there,” where the “there” refers to Israel.

During Hanukkah, families get together and share meals fried in oil, symbolic of the oil that is revered as having been the case of the miracle of oil during Hanukkah.

One of the most iconic images of Hanukkah is the lighting of the menorah.

The Jewish faith tells of a miracle that occurred during the rebellion to retake their country from the Syrian empire. When the Jewish people, known as the Maccabees in that area, reached the temple, they had only enough oil to keep a fire burning for a single day, yet the fires stayed lit for eight.

“Passover and the day of atonement are the real big Jewish holidays,” Diestler said. “Hanukkah has just become more popular because it has to compete with Christmas at this time of year.”

Diestler said that the main theme of Hanukkah is a religious theme. Though it is a time where charity is on peoples’ minds, the main point of Hanukkah is to give thanks to God.

“Hanukkah is about freedom from oppression; it’s about sacrifice and redemption,” Diestler said. “It’s a joyous time. It’s a time to say: they tried to eradicate us, we survived, let’s eat.”


Kwanzaa is not a holiday steeped in ancient religious symbols, nor is it even an ancient holiday.

Kwanzaa is a holiday that was invented in 1966 by a professor of African-American studies named Maulana Karenga.

“It’s supposed to be a non-heroic, noncommercial holiday,” social sciences department Chairperson Manu Ampim said. “Kwanzaa is supposed to be a non-gluttonous holiday. It isn’t about families spending money they don’t have on gifts they don’t need.”

Kwanzaa is celebrated for seven days. It starts on Dec. 26 and ends on Jan. 1. Ampim explained that the dates were chosen because people were already in a festive mood during that time of year.

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