BY: JULIE CHUNG, TAYLOR TAGUCHI and VIVAN GATICA
This sacred and religious holiday is observed on Dec. 25 to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, which originated from the old English, Christes maesse, meaning “Christ’s mass.” This is also one of the most highly commercialized holidays worldwide.
“[Christmas] is a holiday celebrated by almost 80 percent of Americans, so there’s bound to be some commercialization,” said Jong Soo Chung, a pastor of the Church of Christ the Light in Los Angeles. “A lot of people still know the history of Christmas and why we celebrate it, at least.”
Popular customs of Christmas celebrations include gift giving, attending church, decorating Christmas trees and stockings, singing carols, and handing out presents from under the tree on Christmas day. The tradition of exchanging gifts originated from St. Nicholas, or Santa Claus, who was born in Turkey and also had the reputation for helping the poor and giving gifts in secret to people in need.
The tradition of putting up stockings by the fireplace originated from the story of St. Nicholas as well. He allegedly dropped gold coins down the chimney of three sisters who were too poor to afford a dowry for marriage, which all landed in a stocking that was hung by the fireplace to dry.
“Surprisingly, not much has changed in terms of the essence, the love and the spirit that Christmas brings,” Chung said. “Putting up Christmas trees, sharing presents; all these traditions we know about have existed for over hundreds of years. It’s a holiday celebrated by most Americans and we’ve still managed to keep the core traditions of Christmas alive through the church.”
Chung added that although the church still practices religious traditions like reenacting the nativity story, one thing that has changed over the years is that Jesus Christ is no longer the core focus of Christmas celebrations.
This holiday is a religious observance nonetheless.
The three main colors of Christmas are red, green and gold. Green represents the life and birth of Jesus Christ, the red represents his blood, and gold represents the light and wealth.
Today, Christmas means cheesy holiday cards, big annual sales, decoration and gift shopping, and winter vacation. But it also means spending time with family and loved ones, expressing your gratitude for each other with gifts, and celebrating the holidays with old and new traditions.
“That’s really all we can do as followers of Christ,” Chung said. “Show your appreciation for one another and for God, and remember this is a time for sharing your love with others. That’s how we can keep the spirit of Christmas alive.”
The word “Hanukkah” is derived from the Hebrew verb meaning “to dedicate.” It can also be spelled as "Chanukah" or "Hanukkah." Hanukkah is known as the “Festival of Lights” and “Feast of Dedication.” According to the U.S. Census, there are more than 5 million people who celebrate the Jewish holiday. Worldwide, 14 million people celebrate Hanukkah.
It is a Jewish holiday that is comprised of eight days of commemoration, beginning on the 25th day of Kislev. This generally occurs from late November to early December.
Every community has their own way of celebrating Hanukkah, but there are several traditions that are practiced universally. The universal practices include the lighting of the menorah, spinning the dreidel and eating fried foods.
A candle is lit and each night the number of lights increase. It is seen that by lighting the menorah, also called the “Hanukiah,” it is the “illumination of the house without,” so that the outside world can be reminded of the miracle that is Hanukkah. At each lighting of the candles the hymn Ma’oz Tzur is sung. Psalms are also recited during the lighting of the Menorah.
Hanukkah is not about gift-giving holiday among Jews. The only traditional gift was the gelt but today children get gifts each night in the lighting of the menorah.
“Hanukkah is one of the most minor holidays on the Jewish calendar, and it's only become famous because it's the closest Jewish holiday to Christmas, so Jewish parents elevated it into a major gift-giving holiday so their children [don’t] feel left out when their friends are getting lots of presents,” said Jeff Blutinger, director of the Jewish studies program at CSULB.
istory and traditions make up many celebrations but there are also little known facts about Hanukkah. The date of Hanukkah is always different due to the Hebrew calendar. In Yemen, children go house to house to collect wicks for the menorah. In Germany the last night tends to be very special. All the leftover wicks and oil were lit in bonfires where people sang songs and danced around the fire.
“Preserving ancient customs and rituals transmits the richness of our distinctive identity to future generations,” Michael Mayersohn, rabbi at Temple Beth Torah in Granada Hills, said.
Hanukkah is a holiday that reflects the celebration of lights and rededication of having hope and faith for the future.
“The traditions of Chanukah that matter most are not the gifts or the latkes (potato pancakes) or playing a game with a dreidel,” Mayersohn said. “The importance of Chanukah is sustaining the joys of Jewish identity when it is so tempting to abandon the traditions and customs of our ancestors.”
Kwanzaa is unique. It is not a religious holiday, but a cultural one that aims to connect those from African descent to celebrate their roots, values and ideals.
Dr. Maulana Karenga, CSULB department chair of Africana Studies, developed Kwanzaa in 1966 while in college as an extension of the Black Freedom Movement in the United States. It is, therefore, an African American and Pan-African holiday celebrated from Dec. 26 to Jan.1.
“The struggle was to return to our history and culture as part of that Black Freedom Movement, to speak our own special culture true, and to make our own unique contributions to how this society was reconceived and reconstructed,” Karenga said. “I studied African culture, and I asked myself, ‘What is the social glue and cement that holds these societies together, gives them their humanistic character, and gives us a basis for organizing our communities in struggle?’”
This question inspired Kwanzaa’s creation to serve as a reaffirmation of African history, roots, community bonds, family and culture. Its celebrants follow what Karenga developed and named the Nguzo Saba, or seven principles, which includes Umoja (unity), Kujichagulia (self-determination), Ujima (collective work and responsibility), Ujamaa (cooperative economics), Nia (purpose), Kuumba (Creativity) and Imani (faith).
“[Kwanzaa] doesn't tell you what to do, but affirms who you are,” said Rev. Kelvin Sauls, senior pastor at Holman United Methodist Church in Los Angeles. “We affirm the fact that there are certain principles that we as a people originating from Africa need to hold fast on to be able to be successful.”
There are seven symbols along to commemorate the holiday. These are the mazao (crops), mkeka (mat), kinara (candle holder), muhindi (corn), mishumaa saba (seven candles), Kikombe cha Umoja (The Unity Cup) and zawadi (gifts). Supplemental symbols include the bendera (Kwanzaa flag) and Nguzo Saba poster.
According to Karenga, Kwanzaa is now celebrated by those of African heritage all over the world.
“I’m very happy with how people have embraced it,” he said. “In all cases I’ve seen them reaffirm the beauty, the integrity and expansive meaning of this holiday and I’m proud of that and I’m glad to see it flourish in my lifetime.”
Kwanzaa was established with core values, symbols and a practice meant to withstand the test of time. As newer generations choose to celebrate it its evolution is inevitable, but these traditions or the meaning of the holiday cannot change.
“Kwanzaa will always evolve but I see its basic core and principles remaining the same,” Sauls said. “I think there will always be opportunity to update and redefine it so it can remain relevant and meaningful for generations to come.”
This year’s theme centers on “sowings and harvesting seeds of good.” This is a good that Karenga continuously stresses throughout the holiday.
“The ultimate goal here is not only to heal and repair and advance ourselves...but also to repair and remake the world,” Karenga said. “Kwanzaa is a time for the celebration of the good...the good of living a full meaningful and beautiful life.”
For more information on Kwanzaa and its practices and traditions, visit www.officialkwanzaawebsite.org