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A bountiful spectrum of celebrations

December 10, 2009

December is a month of celebrations and holidays that span many different countries and cultures. Don't miss out on any of them. Here's a guide to what your colleagues and neighbors are up to this month.

Hannukah

The eight-day Jewish holiday begins this year at sundown the day before Dec. 12 (because the traditional Jewish calendar begins at sunset). Hannukah marks the rededication of the Temple of Jerusalem following the Jews' victory in 165 B.C.

According to the Talmud, the Jews had only enough olive oil to keep the eternal flame in the Temple burning for a single day -- but miraculously, the oil continued to burn for eight days, during which time the Jews were able to produce and consecrate fresh oil for the flame.

Hannukah is observed by the lighting of a nine-branched candelabrum, called a menorah. One candle is lit each of the eight nights, with a central candle lit each night to light the others.

Al Hijra

The Islamic new year observed on Dec. 18 -- the first day of the month of Muharram, when the prophet Muhhamad and his followers emigrated from Mecca to the city now known as Medina in the year 622.

Several years earlier, Muhammad had advised some Muslims to leave Mecca to escape persecution, but remained there himself until growing hostility prompted them to relocate.

Hijra means "migration" in Arabic, and is related to the Latin hegira, which also refers to a journey or migration. The Islamic new year is not marked by religious rituals or observances, but many Muslims use the occasion to reflect on the past and futures, as well as the original Hijra itself.

Christmas

This Christian holiday celebrates the birth of Jesus, sometime between the years 7 and 2 B.C. The word "Christmas" comes from "Christ's Mass," a phrase first recorded in old English as Cristes maesse in 1038.

Christmas began to be observed with feasts and celebrations in the Middle Ages. King Richard II of England hosted a Christmas feast in 1377, with 28 oxen and 300 sheep eaten.

The colonial Puritans of New England disapproved of Christmas celebrations, which were banned during the 17th century. But other colonists observed the day with Christmas trees and nativity scenes. President Ulysses S. Grant signed the law making Christmas a federal holiday in 1870.

Kwanzaa

A seven-day celebration of African heritage and culture observed from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1.  Kwanzaa was created in 1966 by activist Ron Karenga to provide African Americans with a holiday that emphasized their shared history and experience. The name Kwanzaa is derived from "matunda ya kwanza," a Swahili phrase meaning "first fruits."

Houses are decorated with African art and colorful cloth, and seven candles are placed in the kinara, a candleholder. The central candle in the kinara is black, with three red candles on the left and four green candles on the right.

The candles represent the Seven Principles of Kwanzaa, which are contemplated each day as one is lit:

  • Unity
  • Self-determination
  • Collective work and responsibility
  • Cooperative economics
  • Purpose
  • Creativity
  • Faith

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Source: First Draft, Lawrence Ragan Communications, Inc.