The traditional day to celebrate Christ’s birth is December 25. It was not until after the 4th century A.D. that the tradition of celebrating Jesus’ birth became associated with the winter solstice festivities. The Romans celebrated a feast dedicated to the Sun on December 25. The tradition of the 12 days of Christmas replaced the winter solstice celebrations that were observed between December 25 and January 6. Gift giving probably began sometime during the Middle Ages and was inspired by the account of the Magi who following the star to Bethlehem bearing gifts for the Christ child.
Every year it seems as though the Christmas rush begins earlier and becomes more frantic. If you would like to avoid the pitfalls of the last minute rush make a plan and stick to it. Instead of twelve shopping days of Christmas try adopting some less stressful and more meaningful traditions. Pick a special Christmas event such as attending a performance of Handel’s “Messiah” or the Nutcracker Suite ballet by Tchaikovsky. Recycle old Christmas cards and wrapping paper and make your own Christmas tree decorations. Tape a homemade performance of the family singing Christmas carols and send it to friends and relatives instead of ringing up the balance on your credit cards.
Another way to remove the temptation of commercialism this year is to come up with a theme such as the Twelve Days of Christmas and a partridge in a pear tree and find ways of expressing the lyrics of the songs by creating gifts that symbolize a verse. Or if you are really brave tell your friends and family that you are planning to make a donation to a particular worthy cause in lieu of exchanging gifts this year. And give in their name. Sights, sound, smells and touch can provide a much more satisfying experience than another tie for Dad or another toy that will soon be forgotten. The true meaning of the season is love spread some around instead of rushing around.
Kwansaa December 26 through New Year’ Day
This is a cultural observance for black Americans or others of African descent. Mr. Maulana Karenga, a college professor, created the idea in the 1960’s. Kwanzaa is Swahili and is translated to mean the first fruits of harvest. To celebrate Kwanzaa the family members gather together each day to discuss one of seven principles and for the lighting of a candle. A Kinara, which is a seven branched candleholder, symbolizes the continent and the peoples of Africa is used for this ceremony.
The seven principles which are the focus of this holiday are unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith. These principles are elaborated by Mr. Karenga and are worthy ideals to practice not only for African Americans but people of all ethnic backgrounds. Simple observations of Kwanzaa include intimate family celebrations as well as community activities. The next to the last day of the holiday is marked by a feast, the Kwanzaa Karamu. This feast has a format of suggested activities including cultural expression through song, music, dance and unity circles and then moving into a more reflective stage referred to as Remembering. There is usually a guest speaker who makes a few remarks regarding reassessment and recommitment followed by a time of rejoicing. The festivities often continue late into the night.
A fun activity for young and old alike that can be used to celebrate Kuumba or creativity is to make some beads. Beads have long been a part of the African cultural heritage and their designs, patterns and colors often were expressions of a society’s religion, social positions and politics. Beads are worn by a diverse spectrum of peoples throughout the African continent.
A simple mixture consisting of 2 cups flour, 1 cup of salt and 1 cup of water measure to make up the substance with which to form the beads. In addition you will need a large mixing bowl, measuring cup, toothpicks a cookie sheet and acrylic paints. You will also need shellac, paint brushes and string. Primary colors as well as white brown and black will be a good start. To form the beads make small balls out of the flour and salt and water mixture and take a toothpick and pierce a hole through the center of the ball. The beads should be kept about 1/2” to 1” in diameter. Place beads on a cookie sheet an put into a 325 degree oven and bake until they are lightly brown. Remove from the oven and allow the beads to cool completely. Then paint them with the acrylic paints and let them dry overnight. Paint on shellac and allow to dry. The final step is to string the beads onto string thereby creating a necklace.
December Festival of Lights.
Hanukkah usually falls sometime during the month of December
Hanukkah, a Jewish festival, was first celebrated in the second century B.C.E. by Judah the Maccabee and his followers to mark to reconsecration of the Temple in Jerusalem after its recapture from the Syrian Greeks. This festival is held over eight days and nights to commemorate the miracle of the oil recorded in the Talmud regarding the rekindling of the Eternal Light in the temple. Jews celebrate by lighting candles each evening of the eight day festival beginning with one, then two and so on. The candles are arranged from right to left and a Menorah, a special candelabra, is used to hold the eight candles with an additional candle called the Shamash. The eight candles represent faith, freedom, courage, love, charity, integrity, knowledge and peace.
This holiday provides an excellent opportunity to learn a few Hebrew phrases and learn a little Hebrew language. Make a game out of learning the meanings of the Hebrew alphabet.
The most popular Hanukkah game is known as the dreidel, which is a four sided top with a Hebrew letter on each side. Tradition says that when the Jews were forbidden to study the Torah under the Syrian Greek occupation the four-sided Greek top was used as decoy whenever the Syrian soldiers approached. It would appear that the gathering of the students was nothing more than a gathering over a game and not the studying the Torah.
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