December is the most festive and joyous season in all 12 months with celebrations across various cultures around the world. Here in the US the celebrations begin with Hanukkah, followed by the Solstice, then comes Christmas and it’s followed by Kwanza. The celebrations are cultural and religious, involving gatherings of family, enjoyment of food and Gratitude.
In 2022 Hanukkah began on December 18 and it continues through the 26th. The holiday is celebrated in Israel and in Jewish communities across the US and worldwide. It commemorates the re-dedication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. Referred to as the Festival of Lights, it takes place over eight days. The dates vary as the holiday is based upon the Hebrew calendar.
The holiday customs and practices include lighting the Menorah (a nine-branched candelabra) for eight nights, playing dreidel, giving gifts, celebrating with Hanukkah music. Families gather and eat delicious foods including fried potato latkes and jelly donuts (sufganiyot). Hanukkah has begun and will be celebrated through Solstice and Christmas, ending on December 26th.
Winter Solstice comes next, and although it is not celebrated with meals and gifts in the US, it is recognized as a very significant day and celebrated by many cultures around the world. December 21 marks the longest night of the year, and the shortest day in the Northern Hemisphere. The Winter season begins and the light also begins to return.
The word solstice comes from the Latin word sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still). At the solstice, the sun appears to pause and stand still in its daily path (as seen from Earth) before reversing direction. In some ancient cultures this day has been celebrated for thousands of years. China and Iran are two examples. In the US the longest running celebration is the Hopi Soyal Ceremony. Hopi people of Northern Arizona celebrate the Kachinas (Hopi spirit messengers) returning the sun to the world.
Christmas, on December 25th, is one of the world’s most important holidays and a major celebration in the Christian calendar. For many, Christmas is a holy day, honoring the birth of the infant Jesus, recognized as a light unto the world. Religious events take place on Christmas eve and Christmas day, and non-religious events as well, celebrating friends and family and gift-giving in many American households.
Christmas is a much-loved holiday across the US with people traveling, giving gifts, hanging up decorations, getting together with family, cooking all kinds of holiday food, playing Christmas music, and celebrating love and appreciation for life and family. It is celebrated in many different ways in different cultures, but suffice it to say this is the time for giving joy to one another. It is worth noting that, while most people think of Christmas Day as December 25th, for some 260 million orthodox Christians, they mark the birth of Christ on January 7th in line with the Julian calendar.
Kwanzaa celebrations begin on December 26, and continue for seven days, through January 1. Kwanzaa is a relatively new festival, created by Dr. Maulana Karenga in 1966. The holiday celebrates family, culture, and African American heritage. Modeled after the first harvest celebrations in Africa, Kwanzaa is an alternative to traditional Christmas festivities. It allows the African American community to celebrate its own rich history and cultural practices.
The name Kwanzaa comes from a Swahili phrase meaning “first fruits.” The lighting of seven candles is significant to the celebration, recognizing Kwanzaa’s seven guiding principles: unity, self-determination, collective responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith. During the holiday period, people enjoy family, African culture in songs and poetry, and gathering together for food and companionship.