Celebrate the Stories Behind the Holidays


Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa — many of the big  holidays celebrated this season — started with a story. This holiday season CAWLM takes a look at the stories of three holiday traditions and how members of the Lansing community celebrate them.

Hanukkah — Festival of Lights

In 165 B.C., the Greeks and Syrians ruled Jerusalem and would not let the Jews worship in the Jewish Holy Temple. A small group of Jews fought the Greek army and won. The Jews could then rededicate the temple. They lit the temple’s Menorah (or oil lamp) but there was only enough oil for one day. But the Menorah lights kept burning for eight days, and the Jews believed God had performed a miracle. It was then that Hanukkah was born. Hanukkah is also known as Chanukah which is Hebrew for “dedication.” Today’s Hanukkah festivities begin on the 25th day of Kislev and continue for eight days and nights. This year, the first night of Hanukkah begins on Wednesday, Dec. 1 and families celebrate in their homes by lighting candles on a Menorah. The evening progresses with a meal of traditional foods — like potato latkes (pancakes) and jellied donuts — and activities including games — like “dreidel,”—, singing and the exchange of gifts. “This year on Friday, Dec. 3, we will be celebrating Chanukah with a special Shabbat (Sabbath) and Chanukah service,” explained Rabbi Amy Bigman of the Congregation Shaarey Zedek in East Lansing. “Our youngest religious school students will sing a few songs during the service and a local band, the Heartland Klezmorim, will be providing the music along with our cantor.” And there will be a celebration for the greater Lansing Jewish community, too. “The Greater Lansing Jewish Welfare Federation, in conjunction with Congregation Kehillat Israel, Congregation Shaarey Zedek, and Chabad, will be sponsoring “Chanukah on Ice” on Monday, Dec. 6,” Bigman said. “It will take place at Munn Ice Arena and will include food for Chanukah, as well as lighting the Chanukah candles, and, of course, ice skating.”

The Christmas Story – Celebrating the Birth of Christ(ianity)

More than 2,000 years ago, a baby named Jesus was born in a stable in Bethlehem. He was like no other baby; he was proclaimed the Son of God by an angel. During his life, Jesus had many followers and his teachings formed a new religion called Christianity. Christians celebrate this holiday on Dec. 25 and they honor this as a season of peace and goodwill. Many Christian Churches, including All Saints Episcopal Church in East Lansing, prepare for the holiday throughout the month of December. “At All Saints, we do not spend the entire month of December celebrating Christmas,” said Kit Carlson, Rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in East Lansing. “Instead, we observe the season of Advent, a time of prayerful preparation for the birth of the Christ Child.” They do not sing Christmas Carols or decorate the church until Christmas. Celebrating begins on Friday, Dec. 24 when Carlson leads two services. “The first, a family friendly service is at 5 p.m.,” said Carlson. “The second, a formal candlelight liturgy with choir and organ, is held at 9 p.m. “

On Christmas Day, there is a quiet service at 10 a.m.

The silence is broken as the congregation continues to celebrate Christmas for 12 days, between Dec. 24 and Jan. 6. “On Sunday, Dec. 26, our service will be the traditional Christmas lessons and carols at 10 a.m.,” she said. Popular secular customs of the holiday including exchanging gifts, singing Christmas carols, sending greeting cards, feasting on a special meal and displaying various decorations.

The Story of Kwanzaa — First Fruits of Harvest

Kwanzaa was created in 1966 at the height of the American Civil Rights movement by Maulana Ron Karenga, a professor at California State University, Long Beach, and executive director of the African American Cultural Center in Los Angeles. The holiday is based on African harvest festivals that celebrate ideals such as family life and unity and encourage people to learn about and celebrate their African roots. Based on ancient African harvest festivals, this holiday celebrates African-American people, their culture and their values. Today, Kwanzaa (matunda ya kwanza, Swahili for “first fruits”) is a seven-day holiday that begins Dec. 26 and continues through Jan. 1. For seven days every December, millions of African-Americans celebrate their African heritage, family and community. The Seven Principles of Kwanzaa are unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith. The Seven Symbols of Kwanzaa are fruits, nuts, and vegetables, a place mat, an ear of corn, seven candles, a candle holder, the unity cup and gifts. This year, MSU’s African American and African Studies (AAAS) program will mark Kwanzaa with an end of the year event scheduled on Dec. 10 from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.  at the International Center on the MSU campus. “Our Kwanzaa intellectual-fest will engage the community in this African American heritage tradition,” said Salandra Bowman, Adjunct Professor. Whether you’re celebrating Kwanzaa, Christmas or Hanukkah, this holiday season take some time to retell the original stories of the holidays while you enjoy the modern-day festivities.

Tags: christmas, hanukkah, holiday traditions, kwanzaa

Ann Cool

Ann Cool, MPS, is a freelance writer who lives in Mason with her husband Bob.

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