Each December brings a month filled with holidays, celebrations, and school vacations.
Christmas is aligned with the story of the birth and resurrection of Jesus and the lively St. Nicholas who became known as Santa Claus. After Emperor Constantine made Christianity the official religion of Rome, the people began to use trees, holly leaves, and Yule logs to celebrate the arrival of God’s hope to a world of spiritual darkness. St. Nicholas was born around 280 A.D. in modern-day Turkey. It is said he gave away all of his inherited wealth and traveled the country helping the poor and sick. The name Santa Claus evolved from his Dutch nickname, Sinter Klass, a shortened form of Sins Nikolass (Dutch for Saint Nicholas). Christmas became widely celebrated in 1840. December 25th was declared a holiday in the US in 1870. Since then, Christmas has become a steadily celebrated holiday.
This is a secondary Jewish holiday, relatively less important than Passover and Yom Kippur. But because it coincides with the weeks before Christmas, it has achieved the status of an alternative to Christmas in many 20th century Jewish households. Hanukkah dates back to about 167 B.C. A Jewish army, led by Judah the Maccabee, recaptured Jerusalem and relit the menorah. Legend has it that there was only enough oil to keep the menorah lit for one day. But the light stayed lit for 8 days. The miracle of the oil because the central focus of Hanukkah celebrations. Families light one candle on each of nine consecutive nights, remembering a different aspect of the holiday and of Jewish traditions.
The name means “first fruits” in Swahili. It was started by Dr. Maulana Ron Karenga in 1966. Dr. Karenga wanted a holiday specifically for African-Americans to focus on the heritage and strengths of black families. Each night during the week between Christmas and New Year’s, families light candles on in-home shrines in the colors of “black” for the people, “red” for their struggle, and “green” for the future. Kwanzaa has been embraced across cultural and racial divides to become not only a wonderful celebration of family and culture, but also a fabulous example of how holidays develop through the creative combines of historical circumstances, cultural antecedents, and creative thinking.