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Celebrate the Holidays!

November 27, 2013

Hey everyone! I thought it would be a good idea to talk about some of the holiday traditions that are coming up soon so we can be a little more knowledgeable about the people around us. I’ll start with the closest ones and move chronologically.

Hanukkah — November 28 through December 5

A Jewish holiday, “Hanukkah” is Hebrew for “dedication,” which refers to the miracle that happened in the temple on Jerusalem’s Mount Moriah after the Maccabees (a group of Jewish warriors) defeated the Greek-Syrians. After being victorious, the Maccabees went to rededicate the temple but did not have enough oil and only had one candle. The candle, however, lasted for eight days and thus the re-dedication was a success. Hanukkah lasts for eight days and nights — with a gift given each day — and ends with Zot Hanukkah (the day it is believed the oil miracle happened). Dreidels are of particular importance, and foods are typically cooked in oil, as a reference to the miracle.

In Jewish law, Hanukkah is a lesser important holiday, but because of its proximity to Christmas in the US, it has become better known publicly.

Yule/Winter Solstice — December 21 and 22

Called the Winter Solstice, or Yule by modern pagans, this is the time of the year when the night is at its longest — about 14-15 hours long in the US and about 17 hours in Britain. In (Celtic) pagan lore, this is the day when the Holly King is defeated by the Oak King, when the night reaches its peak and starts to be overcome by the day. This is also when the Sun, or God, is born again (He had previously “died” on Samhain, or Halloween, when the day “lost” to the night).

The origins of Yule are traced to many different cultures around the world, going back many millenia. For instance, yule logs, evergreen tree decorating, and wassailing can be traced back to the Norse, whereas gift-giving and feasting can be traced to ancient Romans.

Christmas Eve/Day — December 24 and 25

A Christian holiday, Christmas is the combination of “Christ” and “mass” and represents Catholic tradition of attending mass through the evening of December 24th until midnight on the 25th. From the above link, “Christmas is the fourth most important Christian date after EasterPentecost, and Epiphany, a feast held January 6 to commemorate the manifestation of the divinity of Jesus.” Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth to the maiden Mary and her husband Joseph. I am sure many of you are familiar with the religious lore, since the majority of English speaking countries are predominately Christian.

However, it hasn’t always been celebrated, even here in America:

In the American colonies, Puritans, Baptists, Quakers, and Presbyterians opposed the festivities, while Catholics, Anglicans (Episcopalians), Dutch Reformed, and Lutherans approved.

It should be noted that not all Christians celebrate this holiday even to this day. Christmas became publicly popular in the 19th century, thanks to Dutch settlers (who brought over Saint Nicolas and lore), Clement Clarke Moore’s “The Night Before Christmas,” Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and several others from the 1800s.

Kwanzaa — December 26 through January 1

Kwanzaa isn’t actually a religious holiday, but is a celebration of African American roots and culture. First established by Dr. Maulana “Ron” Karenga in 1966, it is based on year-end harvests in Africa. The name is from a Swahili phrase “matunda ya kwanza” meaning “first fruits (of the harvest).” The celebration is seven days long, with each day relating to a different quality of character: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, a sense of purpose, creativity, and faith. On December 30, there is a huge gathering and feast with traditional African foods.

The colors of Kwanzaa are green (symbolizing the fertility of Africa), black (representing the color of the skin), and red (symbolizing blood shed to fight for freedom).

Boxing Day — December 26

A secular holiday, Boxing Day is believed to traditionally be the day when employers give a box of gifts to their employees and is also believed to reference the old European tradition of putting out boxes to collect donations for the poor and needy.  For people in Britain, Canada, and some states in Australia, Boxing Day has become what Black Friday is for Americans: a day of shopping when companies slash prices.

Horse racing is strongly associated with this day, and many great football (soccer?) teams play on this day as well. In the past, Boxing Day would be a day for fox hunting, but THANKfully, fox hunting is now banned. In Ireland, the day is know as St. Stephen’s Day, and in the past “Wren Boys” would go and stone wrens to death and parade their bodies around town. Luckily, that too is banned. Instead the boys go around town collecting money for charity.

New Year’s Eve/Day — December 31 and January 1

Everyone knows about New Year’s Day, and practically everyone celebrates their particular calender’s roll over. Those of us who use the Gregorian calendar, this date falls on January 1. Interestingly, observance of New Year can be traced back to Babylon, some 4,000 years ago, and was celebrated on the first new moon following the vernal equinox. The modern New Year’s Day was placed on January 1 in 46 BCE by Julius Caesar, but was later temporarily moved by the Church in medieval times. The Pope reestablished the January 1 date in 1582.

Also interestingly, the tradition of making resolutions can be traced to Babylon again, when people would make promises to the gods to gain favor. They would reportedly vow to pay off debts and return borrowed farm equipment.

I hope that you have a wonderful holiday season, and I urge you to remember those in this world who are different than you. May joy and good wished spread through your coming year.

Kitsune Yokai

One Comment leave one →
  1. Rija permalink
    November 27, 2013 10:21 am

    Nice post, thanks for putting it together!

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