December’s other holidays


December is a special time of year. Bright snowy days and nights full of twinkling lights surround us as the holidays draw near.

For many in the SDSU community, it’s Christmas time, but Christmas is only one of three major holidays celebrated in the month of December. Members of the Jewish community celebrate Hanukkah and many African American families celebrate the non-religious holiday of Kwanzaa.

Hanukkah and Kwanzaa are celebrated across America but are often over-looked in light of the Christmas season. To the people who celebrate them, though, their history and traditions are no less meaningful.


In Hebrew, the word “Hanukkah” means “dedication.” Hanukkah commemorates the rededicacation of the Temple in Jerusalem after the Jewish people defeated the Hellenist Syrians in 165 B.C.E.

The fighting began when Greek soldiers ordered Jewish villagers to bow to a Greek idol and eat the flesh of a pig. Mattathias, a Jewish high priest, refused to take part. When another villager offered to do it instead, Mattathias drew his sword and killed him and the Greek officer. Other villagers, along with his five sons killed the remaining soldiers.

A year after the rebellion began; Mattathias died and left the growing army in the care of his son, Judah Maccabee. Two years later, the Jews defeated the Greek army even though they were largely outnumbered.

Judah and his soldiers found that many items in the Temple were either missing or broken including the golden menorah.

The Maccabees repaired the Temple and decided to hold a large rededication ceremony in which they would light the golden menorah. After searching, they could only find a single flask of oil, enough to light the menorah for one night. By some miracle, the oil lasted eight full days.

Today, Hanukkah lasts eight days, celebrated by lighting the menorah each night to commemorate the eight day miracle.

Candles are placed in the menorah from right to left, but lit left to right. The Highest candle, known as the Shamash, is used to light the other candles. Each night, blessings are recited before the candles are lit.


Kwanzaa is a non-religious African American holiday celebrating family, community and culture. It is celebrated for 7 days, from Dec. 26 until Jan. 1. The holiday was created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, a professor and chairman of Black Studies at California State University, Long Beach.

Following the Watts riots in Los Angeles, Karenga wanted to find away to bring the African-American community together. After founding the cultural organization US, he began researching African “first fruit” celebrations. Kerenga then combined aspects of several different harvest celebrations to form the basis of Kwanzaa.

Today’s celebrations can include storytelling, poetry readings, African drums and dancing as well as a large traditional meal. Each family is different, though, and may celebrate in its own way.

On each of the seven nights, a child lights one of the candles on the kinara which is a candleholder and is often unique to a family. The family then discusses one of the seven principles of Kwanzaa. The center candle on the kinara is black, symbolizing Umoja (unity), and is lit first. Three green candles are placed on the right representing Nia, Ujima, and Imani. On the left, three red candles are placed representing Kujichagulia, Ujamaa, and Kuumba.

The candle lighting ceremony gives people a chance to come together and discuss the meaning of Kwanzaa.

#1.885527:3533996121.jpg:Kwanzaa.jpg:African American families across the country gather together for the seven days of Kwanzaa: