I don’t know all of the winter holidays around the world, but I do appreciate the three holidays that affect millions in America, and many around the world. Those three are Hanukah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa. I discovered much of this from Wikipedia, so take what I am sharing with a little salt!
This year, December 24, 2016, Hanukkah (sometimes transliterated Chanukkah, or spelled Hanukah) is a Jewish holiday custom based on facts, celebrated for eight days and nights, beginning on the 25th of the Jewish month of Kislev. This year, Hanukah begins tomorrow, on Christmas Eve. The Jewish word “Hanukah” means “dedication,” and is a reminder to commemorate the re-dedication of the holy Temple in Jerusalem following the Jewish victory over the Syrian-Greeks in 165 B.C.E. The Syrian-Greek emperor Antiochus wanted to kill any Jews who observed Judaism. To enforce the new religious law over Jews, a high-ranking occupation officer ame to a village to enforce rules that Jews needed to worship Greek gods, and to eat the flesh of a pig. The residing high priest stood his ground and refused, but another villager told the officer he would speak on behalf of the village and would obey.
This residing priest, Mattathias, killed that villager, killed the high-ranking officer, and his five sons and other resistant villagers helped to kill all of the other officers and soldiers of this occupation military. When the Greek army invaded and retaliated, the high priest, his sons, and others went into hiding, but trained all who were tired and wanted to take back their land. They eventually won their war, took back their land, and became known as the Maccabees, or Hasmoneans. When they went to purify their temple that had been desecrated by the invaders who also worshiped pigs in the temple, they discovered it might be impossible to follow the ritual of burning oil in the Temple’s menorah for eight days. There was only enough oil for one day, but miraculously, the oil burned for the required eight days, leading to the celebration of lighting one candle in a menorah each night for eight nights, lighting one candle the first night, two the second night, and adding a candle each night until all eight candles have been lit. Although there are many different types of menorahs, and from seven branches to nine branches, and many parents give their children gifts so they don’t feel left out of the Christmas cultural holiday time around many of them. Much of the material for this came from these web sites: http://judaism.about.com/od/holidays/a/hanukkah.htm, and from Hanukah’s videos from http://www.history.com.
The second holiday, Christmas, officially beginning on December 25th (but may be celebrated by merchants right after Halloween, or before Thanksgiving) is based on more fiction than facts. This holiday, or holy day, was started by the Catholic Church, and is now spread over much of the Western world, and even celebrated in some form in many eastern countries. The real (?) story began when a somewhat thin, tall, dark-skinned wealthy priest, Nicholas, would go around at night on a horse being led by a somewhat short, chubby fair-skinned servant. Born in 280 AD, in a place called Patara, which is a city of Lycia in Asia Minor (now Turkey). This amazing man was known as the gift giver of Myra. He is also the patron saint of children, sailors, Russia, and Greece as his influence spread from Asia to Europe.
When Nicholas heard of three sisters unable to marry due to the low economic standard of their father, he arranged to get into their house and dropped bags of gold into their stockings that were hanging up by the fireplace to dry. When the sisters awoke and found the gold, they now had a dowry so they could be married. As this story was told across the globe, children became glad to get to bed early so that Saint Nicholas (later made a Bishop) would bring them a present (which became a family tradition for families to buy or make gifts for children, then for each other, and later, for others).
The name “Nicholas” became pronounced “Sinter Klass” by the Dutch who brought their traditions to New York (earlier known as Amsterdam). Such a pronunciation morphed into Santa Klass, and then became Santa Claus. The clothes of Bishop Nicholas morphed from mitre, jeweled gloves and crozier into a red suit which we see now. There is more history on how an emperor wanted him worshiped as a god, but Bishop Nicholas rejected the idea and went to prison for several years. When he was released by Constantine, the new emperor, and power controlled by the Catholic Church, Bishop Nicholas continued his former work of giving to others; the Eastern Catholic Church recognized him as a saint in 800; France made December 6 a day of celebration in the 1200s; and by the end of the 1400s, Bishop Nicholas was the most beloved holy figure after Mary and Jesus with over 2,000 chapels and monasteries named after him. However, the English people stopped seeing Bishop Nicholas as their saint and chose to give more loyalty to Father Christmas, ignoring the Catholic tradition that Christmas means “the Mass of Christ.” It was also at this time that the Catholic Church used artists to create drawings, statues, and all art to depict biblical characters that looked more like them. The Lutherans followed deceptions in their art, as did the Swiss Christians, the English Christians, the American Christians, and even the original Santa Claus (Saint Nicholas) morphed from brown and black and other pigmentations of the Asians, Africans and others into colors that matched those who were more European-looking. Thus, Christmas and much of modern Christianity is based on some facts, mixed with legends and fiction, which is covering most of the world. [based on information from several web sites, including Wikipedia]
The history of Kwanza, celebrated on December 26th is based on the travels and research of a former African American militant from the 1960s— Dr. Maulana Ndabezitha Karenga (born Ronald McKinley Everett), July 14, 1941, the 14th child and the 7th son of Baptist preacher. After helping his father with sharecropping duties, Ron later moved to Los Angles to join an older brother who was a teacher. Ron attended Los Angeles City College (LACC) where he was active in several African American groups, becoming very interested in Black Studies and African History, connecting with Jamaican anthropologist and Negritudist Councill Taylor who contested the Eurocentric view of alien cultures as primitive. Ron was soon named the first African American student president of LACC, earned BA and MA degrees at UCLA. While in college and active with several African American and African organizations, Ron took the name Karenga (Swahili for “keeper of tradition”) and the title Maulana (Swahili-Arabic for “master teacher”). He was awarded his first PhD in 1976 from United States International University (now known as Alliant International University) for a 170-page dissertation entitled “Afro-American Nationalism: Social Strategy and Struggle for Community,” and a second Ph.D., in social ethics, from the University of Southern California (USC), for an 803-page dissertation entitled “Maat, the moral ideal in ancient Egypt: A study in classical African ethics.”
Dr. Karenga verbalized a set of principles called Kawaida, a Swahili term for normal, and called on African Americans to adopt his secular humanism and reject other practices, including Christianity, as mythical. He fell in disfavor with the Black Panther Party, but was a champion of the sayings and work of Malcolm X. He was imprisoned for what he felt were injustices based on lies told by other African Americans, but was pardoned after four years of a ten-year sentence.
Dr. Karenga created Kwanzaa in 1966 as America’s first pan-African holiday. Looking at Christmas, his goal was to “give Blacks an alternative to the existing holiday and give Blacks an opportunity to celebrate themselves and their history, rather than simply imitate the practice of the dominant society.” However, one might find some similarity between Kwanzaa and Hanukah. Kwanzaa is inspired by African “first fruit” traditions, a name from the name for the Swahili first fruit celebration, “matunda ya kwanza.” The ceremonies of the holiday promote African traditions and Nguzo Saba, the “seven principles of African Heritage” that Karenga described as “a communitarian African philosophy”:
- Umoja (unity)—To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.
- Kujichagulia (self-determination)—To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.
- Ujima (collective work and responsibility)—To build and maintain our community together and make our brother’s and sister’s problems our problems and to solve them together.
- Ujamaa (cooperative economics)—To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.
- Nia (purpose)—To make our collective vocation the building and development of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.
- Kuumba (creativity)—To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.
- Imani (faith)—To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.
Dr. Karenga is the Chair of the Africana Studies Department at California State University, Long Beach. He is the director of the Kawaida Institute for Pan African Studies and the author of several books, including his “Introduction to Black Studies”, a comprehensive Black/African Studies textbook now in its fourth edition. He is also known for having co-hosted, in 1984, a conference that gave rise to the Association for the Study of Classical African Civilizations, and in 1995, he sat on the organizing committee and authored the mission statement of the Million Man March. In 2002, scholar Molefi Kete Asante listed Maulana Karenga on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans.
This is the only holiday of the three where the founder is still very much alive, and can be contacted directly. Dr. Karenga still speaks at various functions and is available as a special speaker on things involving African history. [based on various web sites, including Wikipedia, and my own personal knowledge of this holiday.]