By: Hannah Newcamp
The winter season is filled with time spent with family and friends. This time spent with loved ones can include participating in new and old traditions surrounding the holidays. While regionally, Christmas is the most common holiday celebrated during the winter season, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa are also celebrated this time of year. The Squire consulted Msnnews.com, southerngeorgia.com, Purewow.com, and Oprahdaily.com to learn more about the origin of Christmas traditions and what traditions are still celebrated today. The Squire also sat down with Eisenhower math teacher, Mrs. Joncas, to learn about her family’s Christmas traditions
This year, Hanukkah began on November 28 and ended on December 6. Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday that celebrates the revolt led by the Maccabees against the Syrian-Greek oppressors, and the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. The temple only had enough oil for one nightly ritual of lighting the menorah; however, a miracle from God took the small amount of oil and made it last for eight days. This allowed for the Jewish worshipers to obtain more oil. The most known Hanukkah tradition is the lighting of the menorah, a nine-branched candelabra, that represents those original eight nights. The menorah is lit from left to right while a blessing is said among the family. Another common tradition to celebrate Hanukkah is playing dreidel. A dreidel is a small spinning top that is inscribed with Hebrew letters on all four sides. The letters represent whether a player can take nothing, everything, or only half of the pot of coins, or stash of gelt. The other letter means that the player must put a coin back into the pot. According to the article “6 Hanukkah Traditions to Celebrate the Festival of Lights” by Emma Singer, during Hanukkah, fried food like jelly donuts and potato latkes are eaten to celebrate the oil from the original eight nights. Similar to Christmas, giving gifts and holiday music are also part of the celebration.
When you think of the Christmas season, you probably think of Christmas trees, gift giving, and the colors red and green, but the origins of these traditions might not be as well known. Originally, evergreen trees were brought inside to decorate in the winter months as a reminder to the ancient Egyptians and Romans that other green plants would return in the spring. It is not known for sure where the tradition of decorating the Christmas trees came from, but one idea is that in the 1500’s Martin Luther saw stars among evergreen trees, he wanted to recreate the magical sight for his family. Gift giving at Christmas originates back to the Pagans in ancient Europe and the Middle East. The Pagans gave out presents during the winter months at festivals to honor Saturn, the god of agriculture. According to the article “A Brief History of the Christmas Present,” years later Christians would phase out these festivals and replace them with the celebration of Christmas and Jesus’s birth. The colors red and green are synonymous with Christmas because many years ago in England when winter would come, all plant life would die. Families would hang up holly and mistletoe to remind them that the winter would end, and spring would bring back plant life.
Taking place from December 26 to January 1, Kwanzaa is an African holiday that invites individuals to contemplate what has been, what is, and what can become in the lives of those with African roots. An arrangement of seven symbols acts as the centerpiece of Kwanzaa. In the center is a candleholder, Kinara, that holds seven candles that represent the seven principles of Kwanzaa, along with a unity cup. Surrounding the Kinara includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, and often times presents for children. The candles are black, red, and green representing the colors of the Pan-African flag. The black candle represents the people themselves. On the second day, the red candle is lit representing the blood shed in the past. Then, on the third day, the green candle is lit to represent the earth and what the future holds. This pattern is then repeated for the rest of the days. The rest of the holiday is spent remembering ancestors, sharing talents, and honoring the African community. Similar to Hanukkah and Christmas, preparing food and sharing gifts are also big parts of the Kwanzaa holiday.
With so many ways to celebrate the holiday season, The Squire interviewed Mrs. Joncas to learn how she celebrates with her family. She explained that on Christmas morning her immediate family opens gifts and stockings together. She later exchanges gifts with her husband’s parents, her niece, and her sister’s family. When asked what holiday traditions she grew up with Mrs. Joncas said, “When I was growing up, we had to finish chores in the morning before we could open gifts. Trust me when I say, the chores got done quicker on Christmas morning than any other day of the year. Then, we would have dinner and could not open gifts until everyone was done eating.” Mrs. Joncas’s current family traditions follow the traditions of her husband’s childhood. Overall, the most important thing about Christmas for Mrs. Joncas is spending time with her family.
No matter what holiday you celebrate during the winter season, traditions are everywhere. From specific traditions, like lighting the menorah or the Kinara, to the most common tradition of spending time with family, there are many different origin stories that go along with these traditions. This holiday season, take some time to ask where your family traditions have come from, and maybe even start some new ones. The Squire wishes everyone a Happy Hannukah, Happy Kwanzaa and a Merry Christmas!