In our last blog in this series, we covered three December holidays that may be unfamiliar to many readers. One of the great benefits of cherishing diversity is that we come to know each other. With knowledge comes understanding and with understanding comes respect and appreciation.
This week we’ll cover two celebrations that are familiar to many of us, Chanukah, and Las Posadas, and one we simply experience by being here in the Northern Hemisphere – Solstice. Chanukah begins on December 8th and Las Posadas on December 16th. Solstice is the night of the 21st. We will continue with our glimpses into these celebrations, hopefully answering what is the celebration, why is it important and how is it celebrated.
Chanukah (also spelled Hanukkah)
We’ll begin with Chanukah, which starts at nightfall on December 7th. The celebration will end with nightfall on December 15th. For information on this celebration, we went to the Chabad.org website.
“Chanukah (also spelled Hanukkah) is an 8-day Jewish festival marking the miraculous victory of the Maccabees, Jewish freedom fighters, over the Seleucidian Greek occupiers in the year 139 BCE. After recapturing Jerusalem’s Holy Temple, which had been converted into a place of idol worship, they searched for pure oil with which to light the Temple menorah. They found just enough to burn for one day, but miraculously it burned for eight days until more oil could be brought.”
This holiday is about a miracle – enough oil for one day burned for eight days, and this allowed the people to keep the Temple menorah lit until more oil was found. To celebrate this miracle, Jewish celebrants light special menorahs, adding another flame each night until on the eighth night all of the flames are burning, and the menorah is fully lit. This is done in people’s homes, perhaps near a window so it can be enjoyed by others. After each lighting a blessing is recited.
More traditions have to do with a children’s toy, a small wooden spinning ‘top’ with four Hebrew letters written on it, and special foods that are eaten during the celebration. The foods include potato pancakes called latkes, and it is also customary to consume dairy. According to the article, this has meaning too: “It is also customary to eat dairy on Chanukah, recalling how the brave Yehudit served cheese and wine to a Greek general before defeating him.”
Chanukah’s message is not only the miracle, but the triumph of light over darkness and the freedom to worship. Read more about the celebration [HERE].
Las Posadas (the Inns)
Las Posadas is another religious festival, celebrated by Mexicans, Mexican Americans, and people in parts of Latin America. The word ‘posada’ refers to lodging. The celebration takes us to the part of the Christmas story where Joseph and Mary were making their way from Nazareth to Bethlehem, seeking a safe haven for Mary to give birth. As we know, they were unable to find accommodation and she gave birth in a stable.
We found some interesting historical information at Wikipedia as follows: “In Mexico, the winter solstice festival was one of the most important celebrations of the year that came on December 12 according to the Julian calendar used by the Spanish until 1582. According to the Aztec calendar, Tonantzin (the mother of the gods) was celebrated on the winter solstice, and she is still feted on December 12, while their most important deity, the sun god Huitzilopochtli, was born during the month of December (panquetzaliztli). The parallel in time between this native celebration and the celebration of Christmas lent itself to an almost-seamless merging of the two holidays.”
To celebrate Las Posadas, the journey of Joseph and Mary is reenacted. Starting on December 16th, and continuing for nine days, ending on the 24th, celebrants walk to a different home until, at the last house, they share food and drinks and commence with a very enjoyable celebration. At the end of the journey Christmas carols are sung, children break open star-shaped piñatas, and everyone sits for a feast.
Wikipedia describes the dramatization of the story: “Two people dress up as Mary and Joseph and certain houses are designated to be “inns”; the head of the procession carries a candle inside a paper shade. The actors travel to one house each night for nine nights. At each house, the resident responds by singing a song and the pair are recognized and allowed to enter; the group of guests come into the home and kneel around the Nativity scene to pray. The final location may be a church instead of a home.” Read more about Las Posadas [HERE].
December 21st is the shortest day and the longest night of the year, and it is the natural world’s signal that the light will be returning. In ancient times it was celebrated with rituals and traditions. The Christmas tree does have its origin in these traditions, decorated with candles and ornaments symbolizing the sun, moon and stars as well as remembrances of loved ones. The pine wreath and pinecone decorations with candles also began as Solstice traditions.
At Brittanica.com we read about present day celebrations of Solstice in Arizona, in the Hopi Indian culture: “Soyal is the winter solstice celebration of the Hopi Indians of northern Arizona. Ceremonies and rituals include purification, dancing, and sometimes gift-giving. At the time of the solstice, Hopi welcome the kachinas, protective spirits from the mountains. Prayer sticks are crafted and used for various blessings and other rituals.”
The article also mentions the Persian festival of Yalda. It is described as having ancient origins, celebrating the victory of light over dark. Families eat special foods like nuts and pomegranates and some stay awake all night to welcome the sun. Also we read the following about Solstice in China: “Dong Zhi, the ‘arrival of winter,’ is an important festival in China. It is a time for family to get together and celebrate the year they have had. Based on the traditional Chinese celestial calendar, the holiday generally falls between the 21st and 23rd of December.” Read more about Solstice [HERE].
Solstice is a night for us all, containing the promise of light and warmth to come as we enter the Winter season.
If you celebrate Chanukah, Las Posadas or Solstice, we hope you have a wonderful celebration!
We have just glimpsed three beautiful celebrations, religious and spiritual, historic and natural. The celebrations in Series #2 reveal a flow of grace when the soul is challenged with difficult circumstances. As readers may recall, previously we saw the beauty and divinity of giving, generously, to those who are in need, as well as the value of an enlightened mind.
What treasures we find in cultures and holiday celebrations practiced in our diverse world. Our next blog in the series will cover Christmas, Kwanzaa and Three Kings Day, taking us into the New Year! More to come.