A Note from the Editors:
THE HOLIDAY COUNTDOWN
Ramadan: Nov. 27 - Dec. 25
Hanukkah: Dec. 21 - 29
Christmas: Dec. 25
Kwanzaa: Dec. 26 - Jan. 1
Immigrants to the US have brought a wide variety of religious and cultural practices. The traditions that are enjoyed during the holiday season today were invented by blending together customs from many different countries in what many consider to be an American holiday. Despite the variety of faith traditions in the US, there is a common theme to holiday celebrations promoting the idealized sense of communal good will. Whatever your religious practice throughout the year, the holiday season is a time to wake up our spiritual selves. Americans have a unique opportunity to celebrate festivals of the world side by side. Here is a brief look at the upcoming holidays:
Although there are almost as many meanings of Ramadan as there are Muslims, most Muslims believe that Ramadan is a time for inner reflection, devotion to God and self-control. Ramadan is the ninth month of the Muslim calendar and is believed to be the month that the Holy Quran was sent down from heaven. During the entire month of Ramadan Muslims are not allowed to eat or drink during the daylight hours. On the 27th day of the month Muslims celebrate "Laylat-al-Qadr" (Night of Power). Many believe that this is the night Muhammad received the revelation of the Holy Quran and it is a time when God determines the course of the world for the following year. The end of the month is marked by the three-day celebration of "Eid-ul-Fitr" (Feast of Fast Breaking) during which families pray, feast together and exchange gifts.
Hanukkah or Chanukah is the Jewish Feast of Lights as well as the Feast of Dedication. The holiday lasts for eight days and begins on the twenty-fifth day of the Hebrew month of Kislev, which usually falls in December. Since Hanukkah is a religious holiday and a holiday for which Jews exchange gifts, this combination has resulted in the misperception that Hanukkah is "the Jewish Christmas."
An important part of the observance of Hanukkah is the lighting of the menorah. On the first night of Hanukkah, a blessing is recited and one light is lit. On each successive night another light is added until the eighth night when all the lights are kindled. The menorah is lit to commemorate the miracle that occurred after the Jews victory over the Syrian armies. When Jews came to rededicate the Temple, which had been defiled by the Syrians, they found only one small flask of lamp oil. This flask contained enough oil to last for just one day, yet the lamp miraculously burned for eight days.
In America, Christmas is both a holiday and a holy day. As a religious holiday, Christmas is a Christian festival celebrated on December 25, which commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ. Most of the Christmas story is told in the Bible, in the gospels of Saint Luke and Saint Matthew. Seeking shelter from a storm, Mary and Joseph entered the town of Bethlehem. The innkeeper, having no rooms, let them stay in the stable with the animals where Christ (the annointed one) was then born. After the birth of Christ, a star appeared over the stable and led people to the baby Jesus. Twelve days after the birth, the Magi or Three Kings, arrived carrying gifts for the baby.
How Christmas came to be celebrated on the 25th of December remains unclear but is most likely tied to Roman New Year's traditions and Germanic pagan traditions of the winter solstice. As these civilizations spread so did the traditions of feasting, exchanging gifts, lighting Yule logs, decorating with greenery, fir trees, and lights which marked these holidays in ancient times as they do Christmas today. In many countries, including the US, gifts are exchanged in the name of Saint Nicholas, or "Santa Claus," the patron saint of family and children.
Kwanzaa is a non-religious African American holiday that celebrates family, community and culture. The holiday was founded in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga. Kwanzaa is celebrated from December 26th to January 1st. The set of rituals and ceremonies during Kwanzaa reflect African social and cultural experiences. The festival is not meant to be a political or religious holiday, nor is it meant to be a substitute for Christmas. Each day of Kwanzaa focuses on one of seven principles: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith. The Kwanzaa Feast (Karamu) is traditionally held on December 31st and is meant to be a celebration to give thanks for the past year's achievements.