Jesus is the reason for the season, the old saying goes, but that’s only partially true. December is also a special time for people from other faith traditions, and those with none at all.
In the spectrum of Jewish observances, Hanukkah is a relatively minor event, says Rabbi Lynn Liberman of the Beth Jacob Congregation in Mendota Heights. The holiday has grown in prominence largely because of its proximity to that other big religious holiday that comes along at about the same time.
Hanukkah celebrates a military victory and the rededication of the holy temple in Jerusalem during the 2nd century BCE.
During this eight-day festival of lights, a special candelabrum, called a hanukiah, is used and a new candle is lit on the evening of each of those days.
Although gift giving is not part of the original tradition, Liberman says Hanukkah has been infused with some of the customs of the larger community. She says that while it’s lovely to receive gifts, as the director of congregational learning, she also tries inspiring people to give from their hearts.
In that spirit, the Beth Jacob Congregation will begin the season with a community celebration at 5 p.m. Dec. 20, at which members will bring canned goods that will be formed into the shape of a giant hanukiah as a symbol of their desire to bring the light of hope to the issue of hunger. At the end of the eight days, the food will be donated to hunger relief organizations.
Hanukkah, Chanukah and other alternate spellings have evolved because the Hebrew word cannot be directly translated in to English.
Kwanzaa is an African American celebration of family, community and culture. Beginning Dec. 26, this seven-day festival celebrates and reinforces a different value-based principle each day:
- Collective Work and Responsibility
- Cooperative Economics
The Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year in terms of daylight hours, occurs Dec. 22.
According to August Berkshire, president of Minnesota Atheists, solstice celebrations were originally pagan rituals and “all the fun things about Christmas”—gifts, lights, feasts, etc.—were taken from pagan origins.
Berkshire, who says it’s really just an excuse to have a big party, added that the public is invited and there are still tickets available for the event ,which includes cocktails, dinner, and a “rather irreligious” program of music and skits called the Freethought Follies.
According to Wikipedia, Festivus was created in 1996 by screenwriter Dan O’Keefe to combat the commercialization surrounding Christmas. In a case of life imitating art, the occasion has grown in popularity since the 1997 Seinfeld episode. Festivus traditions include an unadorned Festivus Pole, a Festivus dinner consisting of either meatloaf or spaghetti, an airing of grievances, and feats of strength (such as arm wrestling).