Winter Holidays

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The winter holidays are different in different countries, religions, and cultures. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or any other winter event, they obviously all have one thing in common: they all take place in winter (obviously!) Here are some brief descriptions of three different holidays around the world. Note that this is not all of the winter holidays, and if the holiday you celebrate isn’t on this list, tell me about it in the comments below! I would love to hear about it!

Christmas: This is probably the most celebrated winter holiday in the United States. Christmas originated as a Christian holiday which celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. Christmas Eve is on December 24 and Christmas Day is on December 25. The story can be found in the books of the Bible, Matthew and Luke. The story is about Jesus’ mother, Mary,  and earthly father, Joseph, traveling to the city of Bethlehem to be accounted for in the land wide census. While they were there, Mary went into labor. All of the rooms were taken, so they stayed in a stable. There Jesus was born. After his birth, angels from Heaven visited some shepherds in the fields and took them to see the baby, Jesus. Angels sang, shepherds praised, wise men gave gifts to Jesus two years later (it was a VERY long journey). It was also a very eventful night. In modern times, Christmas is not limited to just Christians, and the meaning has changed too. Children hang stockings for Santa Claus to fill (the story of St. Nicholas and how he became Santa Claus is here), Christmas trees are decorated, and gifts are given and received. But, if you look around, you will see a certain nativity set thrown in among all of the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season. Now the next time you see this manger scene, you’ll know what it means and where it came from.

Hanukkah: Also known as the Festival of Lights, Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday originating in Jerusalem. Hanukkah is an eight-day holiday and the dates vary by the year. This year, the days of Hanukkah are December 12 through December 20. Every night Jews light one of eight candles on a special candleholder called a menorah. Hanukkah celebrates when a band of Jews won a battle against the Syrian-Greeks or the Seleucids and took back the Temple in Jerusalem. The story says that after the battle, they went into the Temple to light the Menorah, they found only one cruse of oil to use to light it. The Miracle of the Cruse of Oil states that the oil was used to light the menorah for eight days when it should only have been enough for a couple.  By the time it ran out, new oil had gone through the rituals that made it pure and worthy of the temple and of lighting the menorah. Jews celebrate Hanukkah by eating foods like potato pancakes (latkes), and doughnuts (sufganiyot). They also spin tops or dreidels that have the Jewish letters nun, gimel, hei, shin, which stand for “a great miracle happened here.”

Kwanzaa: Kwanzaa celebrates African culture. It was started in 1966 in the United States as a holiday for African Americans. Kwanzaa lasts seven days (December 26 through January 1), and it celebrates life. The colors of Kwanzaa have different meanings. According to The Official Kwanzaa Website, black means “the people,” red means “the struggle of the people,” and green means “the future and hope after their struggle.” During Kwanzaa, families sing songs, dance, beat African drums, tell stories, read poems, and eat a large meal (according to, although every family celebrates Kwanzaa differently. Every night a child lights one of the seven candles on a special candleholder called a Kinara. There are seven candles, one black, three green, and three red. The first candle lit is the middle black one. After they light the candle of the day, the family discusses one of the seven principles or the Nguzo Saba. According to, there are also seven symbols that “represent values and concepts reflective of African culture.” In the same article, it says that “an African feast, called a Karamu, is held on December 31.”  Items like the mazao or the crops, two ears of corn, the Unity Cup or kikombe cha umoja, books and art objects about the African culture, and gifts are all placed on a special mat called the mkeka. According to the official Kwanzaa website, these objects represent the people’s “commitment to heritage and learning.”  The word “Kwanzaa” came from the Swahili phrase, “matunda ya kwanza” which means “first fruits.”

Some additional winter holidays that I couldn’t discuss are St. Lucia Day (Sweden), New Year, Chinese New Year (China), Mardi Gras, Eid Al Adha (Muslim), Three Kings Day (Spain), Winter Solstice, Omisoka (Japan), and Yule (Pagan). There are many more, and I couldn’t put much about these holidays listed, so as said earlier, feel free to tell about a holiday you celebrate in the comments!  

Thank you for reading! I hope this article has broadened your perspective on the winter holidays! Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!

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