The year’s end is here again and the holidays are upon us once more. Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa are but a few celebrations in the month but December is also the winter solstice. Man has been marking the first day of winter (the point when the days’ start getting longer, not shorter) long before the birth of Jesus and even before the events that led to the Festival of Lights in the Jewish religion. Many other events have sprung up as well such as Newtonmas (for Atheists) and Festivus (for the rest of us) so that everyone, regardless of religion, can celebrate something this month, which is not a bad thing! Whatever you happen to celebrate, it is great that you are celebrating and spending time with your family and/or friends. We think it’s an excellent time to raise your glass in cheer and to savor why we are alive—something that we should do throughout the year as well.
Christmas, as we know it today, marks the day of Jesus’ birth, but the rest of the reasons for the traditions of the holiday have been lost by many. Christmas trees, for example, were a German tradition that didn’t really make its way to our shores until the 1830’s. I think many would be surprised to learn that the early Puritans in New England thought of things like Christmas carols and decorated trees as a mockery of a very sacred event. People were fined for even hanging decorations at that time. It wasn’t until the mid- to late-19th century when the practice of decorated trees even gained popular acceptance here, not even 200 years ago.
The term Yuletide, or Yule, is more Germanic or Norse in origin, and it’s actually more closely related to paganism than Christianity. While there was, in fact, a Saint Nicholas, a Greek Christian bishop from Myra who famously gave presents, many of us would not recognize him as the Santa Clause we know today. The Santa we know is seemingly closely tied to Germanic Yule traditions and legends than Christianity. The figure we recognize today was more a figment of the advertising staff of the Coca-Cola Company in the 1930’s, and then from traditional texts and legends. Mistletoe was used by Druid priests for what they felt was its magical properties, in their winter celebrations hundreds of years before the birth of Christ as well. Poinsettias are actually native to Mexico and South America and their red ‘flowers’ are really leaves of the plant. Its association with Christmas began in the 16th century with a story of a young girl too poor to bring a Christmas offering to church. Candy canes and Christmas cards also did not appear until the mid-19th century.
Hanukkah is a much older celebration which marks the successful Jewish (second century B.C.) Maccabean revolt for religious freedom and their rededication of their Holy temple afterwards. The Festival of Lights, as it is also known, begins on the 25th day of Kislev (which is the ninth month on the Hebrew calendar) and that date may fall from late November to Late December on our Gregorian calendar. The celebration last for 8 days because after the original revolt they could only find one small jug of oil that was uncontaminated, expected to be only enough to light their sacred lamp of the temple for one day. Miraculously, the oil sustained the lamp for 8 days, until more could be secured. The menorah and the festival today represent those 8 days the lamp burned.
Kwanzaa, which is celebrated from December 26 to January 1, is a California creation from the mid 1960’s. Maulana Karenga, a professor at Cal State Long Beach at the time, is credited with its creation to celebrate and remember the African-American culture. It is also marked with gift giving and a traditional feast much as Christmas is. While originally created as an alternative to Christmas, many now celebrate both.
Sir Isaac Newton’s birthday is on December 25th as well, albeit on the Julian Calendar. Atheists invoke this man of science’s name when they created Newtonmas (also celebrated on December 25) to give them an alternate to Christmas. We think they just wanted to get in on party without feeling they were supportive of religion.
Those fans of Seinfeld will also recognize Festivus: “A Festivus for the rest of us!” This was a tradition created by the family of one of the show’s writers, and entered popular culture via the show. It has now caught on more as a parody of the commercialism of Christmas but how can you not like an event that features both feats of strength AND the airing of grievances?!
Many other nationalities and religions celebrate holy days and festivals during the month of December. We would encourage you to do the same. Embrace the traditions of your family or friends or create new ones to celebrate. We at Local Happenings are big fans of both family and friends and they play a significant part in our lives. We would hope that all of you have someone, or a group of someone’s, consisting of family and friends that you gather together with to celebrate … something. The point of this little story is not to tell you what to celebrate but to show you that men and women have been celebrating for thousands of years in the month we now know as December, and those celebrations and traditions have changed over time to be what they are today. Enjoy the month with your celebration of choice. Cheers!
Robert Briseño – Likes to celebrate Christmas and all the holidays with his wife, his three wonderful children and as many of his family & friends as possible and hopes that he will be able to do so for decades to come.