The holiday season is filled with joy, laughter and loved ones for many around the world. Many cultures and religions have traditional holiday celebrations. Some may be familiar to you, while others may feel entirely new. Learn about how others in your community might be celebrating this holiday season.
Christmas has been a federal holiday in the United States since 1870, but the history of the holiday goes as far back as ancient times.
The middle of winter is a time of celebration in many cultures around the world. In Scandinavia, the Norse would celebrate Yule from December 21st through January, lighting fires and wishing for prosperity in the New Year. In Germany, people honored the pagan god Oden to gain his good favor. In Rome, Saturnalia was a month-long celebration of food and drink where schools and businesses were also closed.
Christmas as we know it today was reimagined in the 19th century by authors like Washington Irving and Charles Dickens. Irving’s “The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, gent.” established Christmas as a peaceful, warm-hearted holiday bringing all people together. Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” emphasized the importance of charity and good will towards all people. These themes, along with traditions pulled from religious tradition, helped to create many of the Christmas traditions that we know today – decorating trees, sending holiday cards, and giving gifts to others.
Santa Claus also became a popular figure during this time from the Dutch tradition of honoring Saint Nicholas. The image of Santa Claus as a jolly old man in a bright red suit is credited to cartoonist Thomas Nast who began drawing Old Saint Nick for Harper’s Bazaar in 1863.
In the modern era, Christmas is a massive cultural phenomenon. From Hallmark movies to Macy’s Letters to Santa charity campaign, Christmas has become a huge part of American culture. Ice-skating, cookie decorating, movie watching, gift giving, hot chocolate drinking, craft making, charity fundraising, ugly sweater wearing, and card writing are just some traditions that many families have during the Christmas season. But the heart of the holiday, coming together and spreading good cheer, remains the same.
Check out some of these books about Christmas from the library this season.
This Sunday, December 18th, marks the first day of Hanukkah. The eight-day celebration commemorates the successful revolt of the Maccabees defending the Jewish people against Greek-Syrian oppressors. To celebrate their success, they light a menorah in the Second Temple in Jerusalem. Even though there was only enough oil to burn for a single night, the menorah burned for eight nights.
There are many different traditions for those who celebrate Hanukkah, most importantly the lighting of candles on the menorah each night. The menorah is typically placed in front of a window and a candle is lit each night and prayers are recited. Other traditions include playing dreidel, eating latkes (fried potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (jelly donuts), and giving gifts.
Check out some of these Hanukkah books from your local branch if you want to learn more.
Kwanzaa was first created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, professor and chairman of Black Studies at California State University, who sought to unite African Americans as a community in the face of race riots. The holiday is a celebration of African ancestry and draws inspiration from African harvest celebrations. This year, Kwanzaa takes place from December 26th to January 1st.
Kwanzaa has a lot of important symbolism. Each day is dedicated to one of seven important principles:
- Unity (umoja)
- Self-determination (kujichagulia)
- Collective responsibility (ujima)
- Cooperative economics (ujamaa)
- Purpose (nia)
- Creativity (kuumba)
- Faith (imani)
There also are seven symbols of Kwanzaa:
- Fruits, vegetables, and nuts
- A straw mat
- A candleholder (kinara)
- Ears of corn (maize)
- A communal cup signifying unity
- Seven candles in the African colors of red, green and black, symbolizing the seven principles.
Each day the family comes together to light a candle on the kinara and discuss the principle being recognized that day. Some celebrants wear traditional African clothing. Other traditions include a daily Karamu feast with foods from the African diaspora; expressing artistic creativity through dance, poetry and drumming, and giving gifts with cultural value to children to teach them about their African heritage.
Check out some of these great books if you want to learn more about Kwanzaa.
No matter what holiday you celebrate, this time of year is an opportunity to reflect on the gifts you have and to share them with others. Happy Holidays and a healthy New Year!
Alison Robles is a part-time clerk at the Crestwood Library. She is an avid reader with a passion for fantasy, history and science fiction. A Yonkers native, she graduated from Iona University in 2020 with a dual-degree in Marketing and Public Relations.