There’s a chill in the air, and darkness comes early. Fortunately, there are many celebrations to brighten things up this time of year. From Christmas to Kwanzaa, from Hanukkah to Chinese New Year, these festivities warm up the season and fill it with color and light!
Las Posadas Fills Streets with Candles, Songs
Children carry candles and walk through the streets singing, seeking shelter for the night. Some may be dressed like angels. Two people may dress as Mary and Joseph, or a group might carry figures of the Holy couple as they reenact the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem.
This traditional procession is called “Las Posadas,” and it takes place from Dec. 16 until Noche Buena, the Holy Night, on Dec. 24. Children normally lead the procession, with musicians and others joining in the group.
Posada is the Spanish word for inn. Houses in a neighborhood act as inns, and the innkeepers turn away the pilgrims, or peregrinos, until finally one grants them admittance. The children sing traditional carols to ask for shelter, and the residents of the homes RESPOND in song. When Mary and Joseph finally find a resting place, everyone is invited in for a party with more music and a piñata.
The tradition of Las Posadas began in Mexico in the 1500s. In some communities, the procession occurs for nine nights until Mary and Joseph find lodging on Dec. 24. In other places, communities may choose one night to reenact the journey. Presents are not usually given in December, but are exchanged on Jan. 6 on the Day of the Holy Kings or Three Kings’ Day.
What Is Kwanzaa?
Kwanzaa means “first fruits” in Swahili, the common language of East Africa. But the celebration started here in the United States!
After the terribly destructive Watts riots in Los Angeles in August of 1965, Professor Maulana Karenga of Cal State University created Kwanzaa to bring the African-American community together.
Celebrated Dec. 26 through Jan. 1, Kwanzaa is a time to renew community ties, to celebrate family unity and to reconnect with African heritage. Songs, dances, drums, storytelling, and poetry make this time special. A candleholder called the Kinara displays three red candles, three green candles and a black candle in the middle. A child usually lights the candles, marking the days.
Each day of Kwanzaa stands for a different principle: Unity, Self-determination, Collective Work and Responsibility, Cooperative Economics, Purpose, Creativity and Faith. On the final day, celebrants put on a community-wide feast called Karamu, during which children receive gifts and elders are honored.
This year’s theme is “Living Kwanzaa and the Seven Principles: An All-Seasons Celebration and Practice of the Good.”
8 Candles for Hanukkah!
Hanukkah is an eight-day Jewish festival that usually occurs in December but sometimes falls in late November. The holiday dates back to 162 B.C., when the Syrian King Antiochus IV ordered an altar to be placed in the Temple of Jerusalem. He was trying to get the Jewish people to make sacrifices to his gods.
Judah Maccabee and his sons led a successful rebellion. The Temple was cleansed and a new altar was dedicated. According to Judaic history, only a limited amount of oil was available for relighting the perpetual lamp. Miraculously, it lasted for eight days. Hanukkah came to be known as the Feast of Lights and the Feast of Dedication.
A menorah (eight-branched candlestick) is lighted— one candle on the first evening, and then one each night of the festival. This year it begins on Dec. 22.
Hanukkah is celebrated with gifts, plays, games and meals featuring latkes (potato pancakes). Hanukkah begins on the 25th day of Kislev, the third month of the lunar year, near the winter solstice.
Gung Hay Fat Choi!
Wishing You Great Happiness & Prosperity (for the Chinese New Year)
Also called the Spring Festival, Chinese New Year is the most important of traditional Chinese celebrations. And celebrate the Chinese do (along with many neighboring countries) with bright decorations, presents, festive food, new clothing, fireworks and even a dragon or lion dance.
The new year is determined according to the Chinese Lunar Calendar and is marked by the second new moon after the winter solstice. For 2020, Chinese New Year starts on Jan. 25, and it is going to be the Year of the Rat!
The celebrations start on the first day and continue for 15 days. It’s a time to forget old grudges and to wish everyone a happy and PROSPEROUS year. Red is the color associated with good fortune, and adults give kids money in small red envelopes for the new year.
Families also do a thorough house cleaning to sweep out the bad luck and make room for the good luck the new year will bring. People hang red paper decorations and positive words around doors and windows. Celebrations end on the 15th day with what’s called the Lantern Festival, during which children visit the temples with paper lanterns and try to solve riddles written on the lanterns.
Light the Lamps for Diwali
Thousands of candles, lamps and tiny lights ADORN roofs and windows. Houses are sparkling clean. Children are up early (at 3 a.m.!), bathed and dressed in their best clothes. It must be Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights!
On this day, celebrated in India, Nepal and many other places, Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, enters homes that are bright and pure bringing with her good fortune. It is also the celebration of the victory of good over evil (light over dark). Different stories are told, but one of the most important is that of Prince Rama’s defeat of Ravana, the 10-headed king of Lanka. Rama rescues his wife, Sita, from the clutches of the demon king and brings her home to Ayodhya, where the people welcome them by decorating the city with tiny “diyas” or lamps.
Diwali (short for the Sanskrit word “Deepavali,” meaning row of lights) falls on a new moon in October or November. This year it was Oct. 27. It will be on Nov. 14 in 2020.