Holiday History

Holiday History
Posted on 12/06/2018

By Alyssa Bernal

December is full of holidays for many different cultures. Here is a breakdown of three major holidays celebrated during this month. 


Although Christmas is celebrated by many non-religious Americans, it originates from the Christianity traditions for the birth of Christ.

According to those traditions, on Dec. 25, Jesus, the savior sent from God, was born to a virgin woman, Mary. As the story is told, the birth was given near animals in a straw basket in Bethlehem, now known as Israel.

 Three wise men traveled from many miles away, following a star, to see the child being born. They carried gifts to the young; this is where the tradition of giving gifts began. Today, individuals buy sentimental presents to offer to important people in their life.

During this holiday season, families take their time to pick out the perfect Christmas pine tree to decorate. From red to green, bulb ornaments to fake polar bears, and from ribbon to beads, the Christmas tree is the time for anyone to be creative.

Christmas carolers use their best voices around the neighborhood to spread joy with amusing holiday songs. Some songs represent the Christian origin, such as Away in a Manger, and others are typical songs that promote the Coca-cola Santa Claus. An example of a non-religious song is Here Comes Santa Claus.

Santa Claus is an advertised figure for kids to enjoy. He is imagined to be fat with a white beard and wears a red hat and red suit with white trim. The folk tales tell children he has eight reindeer and a large sleigh. Along with his creative look, Santa is also known to visit houses during Christmas Eve to deliver gifts and eat cookies as the children sleep.

Many more preferred traditions such as hanging stockings, decorating the house, and gift giving games can be found in many different communities. For Christmas, the holiday is  celebrated according to the family.


Hanukkah, also known as Chanukah, is a well-known Jewish holiday that will be held through the Dec. 2-10. For the individuals that celebrate, it is Kislev 25th on the Hebrew calendar. 

In 171 BCE, a new Greek king came about in Israel. He was cruel and did not support the Jewish belief. Out of anger, the king destroyed the Jewish temple and converted it into a shrine for his Greek god, Zeus.

Mattathias, a Jewish man, stood up for his rights but soon died to old age. This caused for his son, Judah, to take over the fight for freedom. They defeated the king and his men then returned to the temple. Here they saw the statue of Zeus still standing so they tore it down and rebuilt the Jewish alter. This happened on 25 of Kislev.

When the men returned to the temple, they only had enough oil to burn in the lamps to last one day. However, the oil burned for eight days. Today, to celebrate the miracle, people often eat fried food such as latkes, potato pancakes, and sufganiyot, deep fried doughnuts with jelly filling.

Another tradition many follows is the lighting of the eight candles, also called hanukkiyah. This is done on a holder, called a menorah,  that holds nine candles; four on each side and one that stands high in the middle. The candle that stands in the middle is used to light all the other candles. Traditionally, the candles are lit from left to right, one on each day.

A famous game played on the holiday is dreidel. During this game, there is a four-sided spinner with Hebrew letters. To play, every player must put in a coin in the desired pot. Once the first player has spun, the letter the spinner has landed on determines what happens next. The player can either win the pot, win half the pot, put in another coin, or be skipped.

Other traditions such as gift giving and decorating can also be found in many Jewish homes during the eight days of celebration.


To represent the African culture, there is a seven-day festival named Kwanzaa held. The celebration is on Dec. 26- Jan. 1.

The festival was created in 1966 by an African doctor that wanted reunite the black culture in African Americans. It is used for people to get together and honor the joys in life. 

During Kwanzaa there are seven candles lit each day on a stand called a kinara. Three red candles stand on the left, three green on the right and one black candle stands tall in the middle. On the first night, the black is lit. On the following days, the red and green are alternating each day.

Each candle represents a principle in the culture. The symbols are unity, self-determinations, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.

Also, there is a greeting in Swihali that is used during the festival. It is habari gani. To respond to this special greeting, one must perform an act of the principal held on that day.

Information for this article courtesy of