By Kiera Ford, volunteer contributor, American Red Cross
With the holiday season now being thrust into full throttle, it is easy to forget all the reasons why we celebrate during this time of the year. Well, your reason for the season may differ from others depending on your faith or cultural beliefs. So, let’s take some time (however long it takes you to read this article), to learn all about the many holidays that make up this love-filled and joyous season and how you can safely celebrate them.
Hanukkah (Dec. 6-14)
Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday that celebrates two great miracles: a great Jewish military victory and an astonishing supply of oil for The Temple. Although there are a lot of details and facts about why we celebrate Hanukkah, I will give you a very brief lesson…
In the year 165 B.C.E. King Antiochus and his Greek/Syrian army sought to forcefully impose their pagan beliefs on the Jewish people. They took over their Temple, defiling it and placing a pagan idol, Zeus, on the alter. They forced many of the Jewish people to assimilate into their pagan culture, eat non-kosher food, and disobey the teaching of the Bible. Finally, a group of devout Jewish followers decided enough was enough. They reminded their brethren of the teachings of the Bible and that they must remain steadfast in their faith. So, led by a man named Mattathias, a Jewish militant group called the Maccabees rose up against King Antiochus’ forces and on the 25th day of Kislev, they had regained authority over their Temple. Because of this victory, this miracle, Hanukkah begins on the 25th day of Kislev, on the Jewish calendar.
After regaining control over The Temple, the Maccabees rededicated it, which is where Hanukkah comes from; it means rededication. In The Temple, an eternal flame is lit to symbolize the presence of God. When the Maccabees went to light the flame, they realized they only had enough oil to last one full day and it would take eight days to get more oil. Rather than waiting until there was more oil, they put their trust in God and lit the flame anyway…and a miracle happened. The oil lasted the full eight days it took to get more. Because of this miracle, Hanukkah is also called The Festival of Lights and is celebrated for eight days. Hanukkah is celebrated on the 25th day of Kislev, therefore the days of the holiday changes on a universal calendar. This year, Hanukkah begins on December 6th.
Christmas (Dec. 25)
Christmas, celebrated on December 25th, is a Christian holiday celebrating the birth of the son of God, Jesus Christ. For those of you who may not know the story behind the birth of Christ, I will give you the best and shortest version possible.
During the 4th century, it was decided by Roman bishops that December 25 be the day that Christians would celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Although no one knows the exact day Jesus was born, Roman bishops sought to celebrate his birth during the winter solstice in an attempt to Christianize the pagan celebrations popular at the time. Regardless of the reasoning behind Christmas being in December, it is a time to spread love and joy as well as praise God for the birth of His son.
Christmas commemorates the birth of God’s son, Jesus Christ, from the Virgin Mary. God sent an angel unto Mary to inform her that she would bear a child, the son of the Most High. At the same time, Mary was betrothed to Joseph and they were forced to travel to his birth place in accordance to a decree placed by Caesar Augustus for a national census. They traveled to the town of David in Bethlehem and it was during this time that Mary gave birth to a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger because there was no room for them in any of the inns in the city. And it was there, among the animals and hay, that the son of God entered the world and rested.
During Christmas, Christians spread the love, joy and light that is associated with the birth of God’s son, who would eventually sacrifice his life for us. Gifts are given and bonds are formed during this time of togetherness as well as houses and building being decorated with Christmas trees and lights.
Kwanzaa (Dec. 26-Jan 1)
Kwanzaa is the celebration of African heritage and culture by people all across the world from December 26-January 1.
Although Kwanzaa is not a spiritual holiday, it has become a very important holiday in commemorating tradition and cultural understanding. Kwanzaa is a time to gather with loved ones and restore or create bonds, gives thanks and pay respect to the creator and all that you have around you, and a time to celebrate the good—good in life, spreading good around the world, and within everyone.
During Kwanzaa, seven principles; Unity, Self-Determination, Collective Work and Responsibility, Cooperative Economics, Purpose, and Creativity, are taught throughout the celebration. These principles promote Kwanzaa’s concern for values and shed light on African thought and cultural exchange. These principles are also rooted in the reasoning for the length of the holiday, seven days. On the last day of Kwanzaa, the Day of Meditation, is a time to reflect and think about things that have been done and things that need to be done.
Homes celebrating Kwanzaa are typically decorated in the celebration colors of red, green and black. They light seven candles, representing the seven days of Kwanzaa and the seven principles. Each day seeks to enlighten and spread education and wisdom through tradition and cultural awareness.
Safety (All Season Long)
When celebrating Hanukkah, Christmas and Kwanzaa, it is important to remember to practice safety when following the traditional holiday proceedings. These celebrations use the lighting of candles one on each day, as part of their tradition. Therefore, it is important to remember safety when using candles. Here are some tips on candle safety to make sure you know how to keep you and your family safe when lighting your Menorah, Kinara or Advent candles.
Holiday Candle Safety:
- Never use lighted candles to decorate a tree or any other evergreen.
- Be sure to always use non-flammable candleholders.
- Keep candles away from others decorations and paper products.
- Place candles in a secure location where they cannot be knocked over.
- Keep candles, matches and lighters out of the reach of children.
- Always blow out candles before leaving the house or going to bed.
During this time, we urge you to practice holiday safety by making sure all of your lights are off before leaving or heading to bed. Along with those awesome candle tips, remember to make sure you are practicing appropriate safety measures when decorating your house with holiday lights.
Holiday Light Safety:
- Only use lights that have been tested for safety. You can find the safety verification on the label attached to the lights or on the packaging.
- Be sure to check each set of lights for broken or cracked sockets, loose connections or bare wires, especially on old sets of lights. Throw away any broken sets of lights! (Unless you have experience in fixing electrical wiring.)
- Use no more than 3 sets of standard lights per extension cord. Any more could result in a fire hazard!
- Remember to turn off all lights (inside and outside) before going to bed or leaving the house. Extended use could cause overheating or shortage, which could lead to a fire.
No matter what holiday you celebrate this season, remember it as a time to spread love, wisdom and kindness. We hope you have a very safe and joy-filled season. Happy Holidays from the American Red Cross!