Kwanzaa: A celebration of family, community and culture
Kwanzaa means the first fruits of the harvest in Swahili. It is a celebration honoring the culture of African heritage. The weeklong holiday takes place Dec. 26 to Jan. 1 every year. The holiday is celebrated by lighting the kinara (the candleholder used for the holiday), eating feasts and giving gifts.
Drake University sophomore Hannah Eubanks celebrates both Christmas and Kwanzaa with her family.
“For me, it is just the meaning of remembering African culture and giving back,” she said.
Kwanzaa was created by the African-American political activist, author and professor Ron Karenga. Karenga was an activist during the black movement of the 1960s and ’70s.
Eubanks’ grandmother started celebrating the holiday shortly after it was first observed in 1967.
“My favorite part of the holiday is the feast on Dec. 31,” Eubanks said. “It has dishes such as greens, fruit salad or coconut pie, jollof rice which is the main dish, koki which is a dish made from black-eyed peas, peanut soup and yams. There’s also green tea with mint; that’s the selected beverage, but we also have regular drinks as well.”
Kwanzaa is all about giving gifts, not receiving them, Eubanks said.
“Most people give presents of necessity rather than what they want,” she said. “We give things like jackets, shoes, food, etc. The traditional dress of Kwanzaa is African clothing, but you don’t have to wear it.”
Hanukkah: The festival of lights
So is it Hanukkah or Chanukah? There are at least 16 different ways to spell the Jewish holiday.
Hanukkah is a holiday commemorating the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem after the Maccabean Revolt during the second century BCE. The eight-day holiday starts on the 25th day of Kislev, according to the Hebrew calendar. Part of Hanukkah is to celebrate the miracle of the container of oil that lasted for eight nights
Laura Sigal, a sophomore at Drake and the vice president of Hillel, the foundation for Jewish life on campus, has celebrated the family tradition for years.
“My family has four menorahs, but we only light one,” she said. “After we light the candles we say the prayers. When I was little, my brother and I would fight about who would melt the candle into the stands so they won’t fall out.”
The ideal place for a menorah is in a window facing the street as a sign of honor and pride.
Latkes (potato pancakes) and doughnuts are common foods eaten during Hanukkah. It is also tradition to eat foods that are deep-fried to remember the oil that lasted eight days.
“My mother never made latkes in our house because the oil always made the house smell, but she always chaired the latkes dinner at our synagogue,” Sigal said.
Hanukkah is not the most important holiday of Judaism. Many believe it is because it is around the time other religions celebrate major holidays. Yom Kippur is actually considered the holiest day of the year in Judaism.
Christmas: Birth of Jesus
Every year around this time, Charlie Brown asks, “Isn’t there anyone out there who can tell me what Christmas is all about?” And every year, many people forget the meaning of Christmas while caught up in the hubbub of shopping, eating and celebrating.
Maggie Sutton, a junior at Drake, celebrates a modern-day Scandinavian Christmas.
“We really don’t have a traditional Scandinavian Christmas, we make all the food on Christmas Eve,” she said. “It consists of lutefisk, which I personally dislike, but it’s a type of pickled herring; boiled potatoes with dill; lefse, which is a flat crepe that’s about 8-10 inches in diameter made out of potatoes that we put sugar and butter in and roll up like a tortilla; and then sausage.”
The Christmas tree originated in Germany from Martin Luther, and it was inspired by the starry heavens one night. Luther expressed his love to his family by bringing a fir tree to his home and attaching lighted candles to the branches.
“We used to have a fake tree when I was younger every year, and then one year when I was around 8 or 9 my family randomly got a real tree, and it was actually kind of a big deal because I had never had one before,” Sutton said.
The exchanging of gifts is to honor the three wise men that brought gifts to baby Jesus.
“I’m the youngest in my family and since I went to college we started doing secret Santa at my house with just my immediate family,” she said. “We draw a name at Thanksgiving when my sister and I are both back home, and then everyone has to make a list so that we can have it when we leave back to school. We open our presents on Christmas eve, still youngest to oldest, just like we’ve always done.”
Saint Nicholas, Santa Claus or Kris Kringle all originated from a Dutch legend said to bring gifts to households of well-behaved children.