December celebrates more than just Christmas!

While we put the finishing touches on our present wrapping, tree trimming and food preparations, many of our friends & neighbours may be celebrating something other than Christmas!  We uncovered some great history behind Hanukah & Kwanzaa that we wanted to share.

Hanukah is a relatively new, minor Jewish holiday, getting started more than 2000 years ago, celebrating the miracle of a small jug of pure olive oil that kept the golden menorah glowing in the holy Temple for 8 days when there was only enough for one day. It is a time to recall a historical event more than 2100 years ago when a small Jewish army, led by five brothers known as the Maccabees, defeated a huge Assyrian-Greek army complete with elephants and led by an intolerant King name Antiochus.

  • Hanukah is an 8 day long Festival of Light which starts on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev (this year Hanukah starts Dec. 20th)
  • Hanukah was instituted after the Torah (sacred texts) was completed
  • A family centered holiday celebrated mostly at home
  • Children receive coins (real or chocolate) for playing dreidle, a spinning top with letters on each of its four sides that provide directions for a game as well as the sentence, “A great miracle happened there…”
  • Hanukah is celebrated by eating food cooked in oil, singing, telling stories and reciting special blessings over the Hanukah menorah
  • Hanukah is not to be considered the Jewish Christmas
  • Gift giving is not traditional during Hanukah, though due to the influence of Christmas children may receive a small gift each night such as a book or toy.
  • In Israel, the dreidles say, “A great miracle happened here.” (the dreidles we have here say, ” A great miracle happened there”)
  • Dreidles were once used as decoys. When Rome conquered Jerusalem and forbade the study of the Hebrew Torah, Jews who wanted to study anyway hid their books and took out dreidles whenever the Roman soldiers came around. That way the scholars could say to the centurions that they were just playing a game, not studying!
  • Menorahs should be placed in a window to share the miracle  & celebration with passers by
  • The candles used for lighting the menorah are supposed to burn for at least 1/2 hour after the stars come out
  • It takes 44 candles all together to observe the eight days of Hanukah
  • The most popular foods eaten during Hanukah include Latkes (potato pancakes – my personal favorite), Sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts), Hanukah Bimuelos or Loukoumades (fried honey puffs) & Cheese Gelt Coins – a cheddar cheese cracker

To our friends celebrating, we wish you a very Happy Hanukah!  To my friend Shoshana Litman (an amazing storyteller) I thank you for your help with this blog!

Kwanzaa was created by Maulana Karenga, a professor of black studies at California State University in 1966. It is a nonreligious celebration of  the first harvest of the crops, families, social values, culture & traditions of African origin.

  • Kwanzaa is celebrated daily from Dec. 26 – Jan. 1st
  • Kwanzaa is Swahili for “Fresh fruits”
  • The karamu, or feast is held on December 31st
  • Families celebrating Kwanzaa decorate their households with objects of art & colorful African cloth.
  • Gifts are given to children mainly, they must include a book and a heritage symbol.
  • The colors of Kwanzaa are black, red & green
  • Some choose to fast, eating only after sunset
  • Lighting ceremonies are performed by the youth. They light the Mshumaa for each day
  • The seven principles for Kwanzaa are Unity, Self-determination, Collective work & responsibility, Cooperative Economics, Purpose, Creativity & Faith
  • Traditional African foods are served & enjoyed such as collard greens, roast pork, corn, okra, tomatoes and sweet potato patties

To our friends celebrating, we wish you a Joyous Kwanzaa!

Whatever your holiday traditions may be, enjoy time with your friends & family!