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Managing Principals by Julia Kramer Decemberfest

You know the date for the office holiday party. But do you know the dates for Hanukkah or Kwanzaa? Understanding your workers' different December holidays is more than just remembering the dates.

By  Julia Kramer

As a child, December was magical, particularly Christmastime. I looked forward to the 25th just as I looked forward to any birthday party, complete with presents, decorations and singing. I never questioned any of this, not even why we had a cedar tree in the living room festooned with cranberry strings to celebrate the birth of a child from balmy Bethlehem, an area where olive trees are the norm. I didn’t try to reconcile my Bible stories with the elusive and annual appearance of Santa Claus who made his home in the frigid North Pole.

I am still a voracious lover and celebrator of all things Christmas, but after marrying my first husband and having children, I now enjoy participating in the festival of Hanukkah—a celebration also borne of a miracle and steeped in tradition—that also typically falls in December.

In 1966, the holiday Kwanzaa entered the December landscape, but it’s one that hasn’t figured prominently in my life. So, in the spirit of the “Decemberfest” season, I set out to better understand and gain an appreciation of this holiday.

The result of my holiday research, summarized alphabetically below, was a better understanding of the basis of each of these December celebrations and the many leaps of faith and/or human interventions that exist in the development, promulgation and protection of these holidays.

Christmas is the day Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. The days from December 25th through January 6th are a time of great joy, thanksgiving and religious celebration for believers all over the world. Most consider it, next to Easter, the most significant and important event in the Christian religion.

While the reason to celebrate is agreed upon by churchgoers and leaders, and December 25th is the day to celebrate, it is not the day Christ was born. The Bible does not mention the actual date of Christ’s birth, and scholars and theologians are all over the map. However, there is a historical basis that the Roman Catholic Church selected December 25th to counter the drunkenness and lasciviousness of Saturnalia, a pagan celebration of the winter solstice in December.

Today, Christmas is celebrated by decorating and lighting a Christmas tree, offering special charity to the poor, and attending religious and other festivities. Many families attend church services and gather together. They exchange gifts, play games, eat feasts, sing songs and tell stories.

Hanukkah falls on a different day each year, but it is always the 25th day of Kislev, the ninth month of the Jewish calendar. This year, Hanukkah begins at sundown on December 4th and ends eight days later. Like Christmas and Kwanzaa, Hanukkah is a week for celebration and thanksgiving. However, Hanukkah is not considered a major religious holiday.

Hanukkah has its roots in a victorious battle and a legendary miracle. In battle against a powerful opponent, a small group of Jewish fighters fought for and regained the freedom to practice their religion, reclaimed their homeland and restored their temple. Since this victory was “within the human realm” in the minds of the rabbis at the time, it was not enough to declare an official holiday. Yet legend tells us that at the rededication of the temple, an oil lamp with only enough oil for one day burned for eight: thus the miracle and the foundation for the official holiday.

Today Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, is celebrated by lighting one candle each night for eight nights. Many families gather together. They exchange gifts, play games, eat feasts, sing songs and tell stories.

Kwanzaa begins on December 26th and ends January 1st. Many detractors dismiss Kwanzaa as a “made up holiday” without understanding the significance and importance of the celebration.

According to the official Kwanzaa Web site (www.officialkwanzaawebsite.org), Dr. Maulana Karenga, a distinguished professor in the Department of Black Studies at California State University, Long Beach, created the holiday to unify the African-American and Pan-African communities through the understanding, preservation and revitalization of the African-American culture. Kwanzaa is neither a religion nor a religious holiday. It is expected that religious peoples will continue to practice their own religion and religious customs, in addition to observing Kwanzaa.

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