The history of our Holiday Seasons |

The history of our Holiday Seasons

Geraldine Haldner

Holidays come in many faiths and with a variety of traditions rooted in historical events. Here we trace the three most dominant winter holidays celebrated in the United States ” Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa.

Christmas is a Christian holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, although the exact birthday of Christ remains subject to debate.

Many Christians observe the four weeks of Advent leading up to Christmas Eve and Christmas Day (Dec. 24 and 25) by decorating the inside and outside their homes, lighting candles in wreaths and evergreen trees.

The first mention of Christmas (Christes maesse ” early English for Mass of Christ) dates back to 336 A.D. in early Roman history.

The date likely corresponded with pagan harvest festivals held at the time. In the late 300s, Christianity became the dominant religion of the Roman Empire and by 1100, Christmas had grown into the most important religious festival in Europe.

Although Christmas suffered temporary setbacks during the Reformation movement in the 16th century, the customs of feasting, decorating and gift giving took a permanent hold in Europe and America by the 17th and 18th centuries.

The word “Xmas” ” though often mistaken as modern slang ” is actually rooted in the early Christian church. In Greek, the letter X is the first letter of Christ’s name and was used as a holy symbol equal to the cross.

Hanukkah is the Jewish Feast of Lights or Feast of Dedication. The Hebrew word Hanukkah (also written as Hannuka or Chanukah) means dedication and refers to eight days of the Hebrew month of Kislev (roughly December) when Jews exchange gifts and make charitable contributions to the poor.

One candle is lighted in a special eight-branched candelabrum, called a menorah or hanukkiyah, every night until eight candles are burning on the last evening.

The history of Hanukkah is told in the two books of the Maccabees in the Apocrypha. According to it, the Jews in Judea defeated the Syrian tyrant Antiochus IV after a three-year struggle in 165 B.C. They held festivities in the Temple in Jerusalem dedicating their victory to God.

Kwanzaa is a holiday based on the traditional African festival of the harvest of the first crops. It begins on Dec. 26 and lasts for seven days. The word Kwanzaa comes from Swahili, an East African language, and means “first fruits.”

The holiday was first introduced in the United States in 1966 by Maulana Karenga, a professor of Pan-African studies. It combines traditional African practices with black aspirations and ideals.

The holiday centers on the Nguzo Saba, the seven principles of black culture. The principles are unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.

Each day of Kwanzaa is dedicated to one principle as families light one of seven candles in a special candleholder and discuss the principle of the day.

Gifts are exchanged and toward the end of the seven days, communities come together in a larger celebration that typically includes food, ceremonies honoring ancestors, musical performances and dance.

Source –

Vail Daily, Vail Colorado CO

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