Winter Holiday Traditions

by Marissa Mahoney

During this time of the year, many holidays are celebrated, which means many different customs and traditions. 

Christmas is one of the most popular holidays in the United States. Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. There are many different traditions that are celebrated during this holiday including decorating Christmas trees, exchanging gifts, going to church, and being visited by Santa Claus.

About 30-35 million real Christmas trees are sold in the United States each year, according to the National Christmas Tree Association. Part of this is due to the tradition of getting and decorating one for Christmas, which dates back to the sixteenth century in Germany. Displaying a tree in your home was a Pagan tradition, symbolizing life in the dark winter nights. Now, many people will have a tree full of ornaments in their home during the Christmas season.

Giving and receiving gifts is a tradition of Christmas, symbolizing the gifts the Three Wise Men gave Jesus when he was born.

Another Christmas tradition is Santa Claus visiting homes to give gifts to children on Christmas Eve. This tradition started with the monk, Saint Nicholas. Saint Nicholas would give away all of what he owned and would travel to aid the poor and the sick. Saint Nicholas then became known as the protector of children. After the saint passed away, Dutch families would gather to honor his death. They can to know him as “Sint Nicolaas” or “Sinter Klaas,” which is where the abbreviation, “Santa Claus” came from. Saint Nicholas became more popular in the eighteenth century, bringing joy to many people, even through darker times.

Hanukkah is an eight day celebration of the reaffirmation of the ideals of Judaism. The Jewish holiday holds special traditions like lighting candles of the menorah, playing dreidel, and eating traditional foods.

During the eight day celebration of Hanukkah, a menorah is lit. A menorah is a type of candelabra consisting of a shamash (the center candle) and eight different branches. On the first night of Hanukkah, two candles are lit: the shamash and the first branch. For the next seven nights of the holiday, one candle is lit each night using the candle from the shamash.

Another tradition of Hanukkah is playing Dreidel. Dreidel is a game using a four-sided spinning top with one Hebrew letter on each side. The winner depends on which side the dreidel lands on. “Gelt” is the rewards or winnings, which is usually real money or chocolate coins.

Food is also another part of Hanukkah. Some traditional foods of Hanukkah are, latkes, sufganiyah, challah bread, and briskets. A latke is a type of potato pancake, and a sufganiyah is a round jelly doughnut fried in oil that is filled with jelly and sprinkled with powdered sugar on top. Challah is a braided bread, loved by many. Brisket is a type of meat, made in a Dutch oven.

Kwanzaa is an African-American celebration of life. Kwanzaa was introduced to the United States in 1966 as a ritual to invite the harvests to homes. Some traditions of Kwanzaa include: having a Kwanzaa display, reflecting on the principle of the day, and sharing talents.

Many people display decorations during Kwanzaa. Before displaying the decorations, a mat is put down for the rest to be placed atop. The mat represents laying a foundation for one’s abilities and potentials. On top of the mat is a candle holder that can hold seven candles, one candle for each principle of the celebration. Another decoration is a unity cup. Crops may also be displayed, representing the historical roots of African-American agriculture and rewards for hard work. The decor of Kwanzaa has much of a deeper meaning than what comes to mind.

There are seven main principles that are reflected upon, one for each day. They are unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith. Each night, a candle is lit, and one of the values is discussed. Those that celebrate Kwanzaa take the principles into deep consideration.

Those that celebrate Kwanzaa honor their ancestors during the holiday and share their talents. People dance, sing, play music, and make crafts. Kwanzaa is similar to Thanksgiving in the sense that it is also celebrating thanks. 

There are many holiday traditions from each culture, each having its own meaning to every individual.

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