It’s a wonderful time of the year! It’s the holiday season! Depending on your roots, you may be celebrating one of several holidays this time of year – Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa. Sometimes we don’t even know much about the holidays outside our own faith or cultural roots. Let’s learn just a little about each of them so we better understand each other.

kwanzaa_logoKwanzaa is the newest holiday celebration. It’s a week-long celebration held in the United States and Canada that honors African-American heritage and culture observed December 26 to January 1 each year.  Kwanzaa was created in 1966 by Maulana Karenga as an alternative for African Americans to celebrate their unique culture and history. The name comes from a Swahili phrase meaning “first fruits of the harvest.”

Each of the seven days of Kwanzaa is dedicated to seven principles of African heritage: Unity, Self-Determination, Collective Work and Responsibility, Cooperative Economics, Purpose, Creativity and Faith. Families celebrating Kwanzaa decorate their households with objects of colorful African art and fresh fruit.  Candle-lighting, music, artistic performance, a feast and gift-giving of heritage symbols such as books are usually key components of the Kwanzaa celebration.

HanukkahHanukkah is the oldest holiday celebration. It is also know as the Festival of Lights, an eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the second temple in Jerusalem after the time of the Maccabean Revolt and Jewish victory over the Syrian-Greeks in 165 BC. Since this celebration is based on the Hebrew calendar, it may occur at any time from late November to late December in our most commonly used Gregorian calendar. This year, Hanukkah is December 8-16.

The Festival of Lights is observed by sequentially lighting each of the nine-branched candelabrum, called a Menorah, over the eight day period. In addition to lighting the candles, the 8-day Hanukkah holiday is celebrated by telling the historical stories of how one-day’s worth of oil miraculously kept a menorah burning for 8 days, prayers of blessings, reciting of Psalms, singing songs and traditional foods like potato pancakes, there will be gift-giving for children and playing with the dreidel—a four-sided spinning top.

ChristmasChristmas is undoubtedly the most popular holiday of the season. The word literally means Christ’s Mass and is an annual celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, generally on December 25. Now days, it is celebrated both as a religious and cultural holiday by billions of people around the world. The popular celebratory customs with Christmas have an eclectic mix of pre-Christian, Christian and secular themes and origins.

Christmas will be celebrated with decorated trees, elaborate light displays, nativity scenes, mistletoe, holly, Santa Claus, reindeer, Christmas music and caroling. Because gift-giving is a central part of the celebration, the heightened commercial activity among both Christians and others has become a significant event and an economic engine for retailers and businesses. Of course, like the other holiday celebrations, there will be family gatherings, lots of food, compassionate actions toward the less fortunate and for some, very deep and meaningful worship of the baby that changed the world.

The common theme in all three holiday traditions is gift-giving and taking time to connect with family and friends in an environment of celebration. Whether you are Jewish, Christian or an African-American celebrating Kwanzaa, don’t miss out on the blessings of being generous or the joy of connecting with family and friends. Use the season to celebrate every chance you get. Reach out to your neighbors. Care for the less fortunate. Understand your heritage and culture better. And, go deeper in your faith.

QUESTION: What do you love most about the holiday you celebrate at this time of year? Share your comments below.

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