December Celebrations

The month of December is host to many holidays, both religious and secular. Some emphasize triumphs over persecution. Others focus on community or celebrate ringing  in the new year.

Hanukkah is one such example. It's an eight day, Jewish holiday, that happens on the twenty-fifth day of Kislev, the same time every year according to the Hebrew calendar.  It commemorates the triumph of the Jewish people over religious persecution, and revolves around the lighting of a seven lamp, six-branched menorah. Each night, after sun down, a candle is added to the menorah , blessings are said, and it's usually displayed in a window as a reminder of the miracle that inspired the holiday. There are other traditions as well. Most food eaten is fried in oil, and family members spin a dreidel to exchange gifts.

Kwanzaa is another holiday in December.  Primarily African Americans observe this seven day festival to commemorate African culture and history, and it takes place  from December twenty six to January first. Maulana Karenga devised this festivity in 1966 to help strengthen community ties between African Americans in this country. Unlike Hanukkah, Kwanzaa is a secular holiday, and celebrations often include storytelling , songs, dances, and a large meal. Tradition ally, a child lights a candle in the Kinara during each of the seven nights of Kwanzaa. Each candle represents one of the “Nguzo Saba” which is Swahili for seven principles. The seven principles are: unity (Umoja), self determination (Kujichagulia), collective work and responsibility (Umija), cooperative economics ( Ujamaa), purpose (Nia), creativity (Kuumba), and faith (Imani). These seven symbols also represent each day:  crops (Mazao), a place mat (Mkeka), an ear of corn (Vibunzi), the seven candles (Mishumaa Saba), the candle holder (Kinara), the unity cup (Kikombe Cha Umoja), and gifts (Zawadi).

Omisoka is the Japanese New Year ceremony celebrated on December 31, much like our own New Year. Traditionally people clean their houses from top to bottom to start the year with a "clean slate" called “Osoji.” Families eat a huge feast, and then at 11 PM, they have one last meal of Toshikoshi-Soba (noodles). Then at midnight, people visit Shinto Shrine temples to ring massive cast iron bells symbolizing the 108 earthly wants that created human suffering. A bell is also rung to bring in the New Near, and for the next three days, no one cooks because it is considered unlucky. In fact, most businesses close in honor of this special time.

There are many other holiday observances , as well as more specific family traditions to help make these occasions more memorable.  But no matter what your beliefs or culture,  don't forget to spend quality time with friends and relatives.

~Shawnee Cranfill

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