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.
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
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
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.