Christmas as a holiday and celebration has very deep roots. You can read more about it here. But to make a long story short, Europeans have long had celebrations in the middle of winter and around the winter solstice. Historically, and arguably even today, Easter is the most important Christian holiday and the birth of Jesus (which is what is celebrated at Christmas) wasn’t even celebrated until Pope Julius I decided it fell on December 25.
Some think this holiday was chosen around the time of winter solstice because pagans were celebrating then anyway and it would be an easier way to make inroads as a relatively new religion at the time. Arguably, Jesus was likely born in the spring. The word Christmas comes from old English for Christ + mass.
Hannukkah means ‘dedication’ in Hebrew. And Hannukkah is a celebration over 8 days that commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in the second century BC. This happened according to legend after the successful Jewish Maccabean Revolt against the Greek-Syrian occupiers and oppressors of Judea. Also known as the Festival of Lights it is celebrated with gifts, traditional foods, games and the lighting of the menorah (a candelabrum) over 8 days.
The menorah holds 9 candles, so you might wonder why only 8 candles are lit. The ninth candle is known as the ‘shamash’, servant or helper and it is used to light the other 8. The 8 candles of the menorah represent the Hannukkah miracle where legend has it that oil enough for only one day burned for 8 days during the rededication. You can read more about it here.
The most recent holiday at this time of year, Kwanzaa was created by Dr. Karenga by combining several different aspects of traditional African harvest festivals such as those of the Zulu and Ashanti people of Africa. It was created after the Watts Riots in 1966 to try and bring African Americans together as a community.
Kwanzaa takes place over 7 days and each day a candle is lit and one of the seven principles or ‘Nguzo Saba’ (Swahili) are discussed. These 7 principles were developed by Dr. Karenga. Kwanzaa is celebrated with a traditional meal, African drumming, poetry, singing and dancing. Though there are no set rules. Kwanzaa comes from the Swahili phrase ‘matunda ya kwanza’ which means ‘first fruits’. You can read more here.
Yule is a much older pagan tradition that was celebrated around winter solstice by Nordic and Germanic people. Various scholars have associated it with the Wild Hunt (European folk myth with hunters being elves, fairies or the dead), the god Odin (widely revered god of old associated with a variety of dichotomies, eg. healing and death etc.) and the Anglo-Saxon Mōdraniht (Night of the Mothers possibly associated with Germanic sacrificial festival).
I wish you Happy Holidays filled with good food, happy family and friends and continued peace and joy.
Have some holiday gifs to spread some Christmas cheer!