The period between Thanksgiving and New Year's presents us with a festival of holidays in America. Each holiday is unique to a culture and celebrates tradition, family, food and optimism. We have nearly a dozen religious or cultural observances. Here are some of the rituals celebrated in America leading up to New Year's Eve: Diwali/Deepavali, The Prophet's Birthday, Advent, St Nicholas' Day, Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Hanukkah, Winter Solstice/Yuletide, Christmas Eve/Day and Kwanzaa.
Christmas is perhaps the most notable of the holidays and celebrated worldwide on Dec. 24-25 every year. Based in Christianity, this holiday is the observance of the birth of Jesus Christ. Advent, St Nicholas' Day, Feast of the Immaculate Conception and the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe are related events leading up to Christmas. Christmastide is celebrated for 12 days through Jan. 6, 2018. Today lights adorn Christmas trees, homes and various displays in deference to the birth of Christ when it was said that "HIS birth brought light into the world". Advent represents the countdown to Christmas using special daily calendars or a round wreath with four candles each representing a preceding Sunday before Christmas. Other symbols of the holiday include Nativity scenes, Christmas trees, Santa, reindeer and ornaments.
Hanukkah is celebrated on the 25 of Kislev, (Jewish calendar) which parallels December 13 this year in the Gregorian calendar. Called the "Festival of Lights," it lasts for eight days and commemorates a miracle. After a victorious battle between the Maccabees and the Syrians, they entered their temple to find that the Syrians had allowed their holy light to go out; there was only enough oil to re-light the lamp for one day. A messenger was sent to get more oil, incredulously the oil that was there burnt for eight days until the messenger returned and the oil was replenished. Hanukkah means "rededication" in Hebrew and represents the Jews rededicating their temple. Today Jewish families light a nine-candle Menorah, eight candles for each night of the festival and one candle to light the others, some menorahs shine from the glow of oil and wick instead of wax candles.
Unlike Christmas and Hanukkah, Kwanzaa is not a religious observance and can be celebrated in lieu of or with any other holiday. Kwanzaa is an African-American and Pan-African holiday and brings a cultural message emphasizing the values of family and humanity. Beginning on Dec. 26, Kwanzaa ends Jan. 1, 2018. Seven candles adorn the kinara, a candelabra. There are three red candles, one black and three green, and each represents one of the seven principles, Nguzo Saba. The principles the candles reflect are unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith. Coinciding with the fall harvest in Africa, Kwanzaa was developed in America; the name Kwanzaa is derived from the Swahili phrase "matunda ya kwanzaa," meaning of which means "first fruits of the harvest."
There are many similarities between the celebrations of each holiday, and some may seem more pronounced than others. Whether it's Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, each holiday highlights light and illumination, which foretells of promise and hope. Children's stories are told with each of the holidays to entertain and teach vital principals. Each of the holidays also brings family (and friends) together over feasts of delicacies such as lamb kabobs or chicken, dishes made with oil like fried potato latkes and jelly donuts, or baked ham and bread pudding. Although the decorations and food selection may be different, in each case large groups of family traditionally gather around the dinner table.
The retail industry loves this time of year, when hordes of shoppers look for gifts to their loved ones. Commercialism has led to a sometimes overindulgence of gift shopping and buying instead of the more symbolic gifts. Each of the December holidays is laden with gifts under the tree, around the Menorah and table top with the kinara. It's an exciting time for children and parents alike as gleeful faces eye gaily wrapped presents, there has been more emphasis in recent years to return to a simpler approach to holiday shopping.
The November/December holiday season is a time for family, traditions and enjoyable memories for a lifetime.