Come December each year, people of different faiths and cultures celebrate the winter holidays in many different ways. Let’s take a look at three holidays to see how they’re different… and what they have in common.
Jewish people celebrate Hanukkah, sometimes called “The Festival of Lights,” an eight-day holiday that marks the rededication of the temple and the “miracle of the oil.”
According to tradition, the Maccabees only had enough holy oil to light the eternal flame for one night when they entered the temple. Miraculously, that small bit of oil burned for eight days — the exact amount of time it took to press and consecrate more oil.
The menorah, a candelabrum that holds nine candles, features prominently in Hanukkah celebrations. On each of the eight nights of Hanukkah, a candle is lit.
The ninth candle, called the “Shamash” (servant candle), is typically placed in the middle and higher than the other candles. The Shamash is used to light the other candles.
Based on ancient African festivals, Kwanzaa is a seven-day celebration created as a time for African-Americans to think about their heritage.
Kwanzaa means “first fruits” in Swahili, and the holiday focuses on seven principles: unity, self-determination, responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith. There are seven Kwanzaa symbols: a straw mat (called a “mkeka”), a candleholder, seven candles, a unity cup, crops, corn and gifts.
The kinara, a candleholder that sits on top of the mkeka, holds seven candles: three red candles on the right (representing the struggles of the past and present), three green candles on the left (representing a hopeful future) and one black candle in the middle (representing the skin color of people of African descent). The seven candles also represent the seven principles of Kwanzaa.
The black candle is lit on the first night. Each subsequent night of Kwanzaa, one of the other candles is lit, alternating from left to right. On the final night, all seven candles are lit, and children receive gifts.
Christians celebrate Advent, which begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. During Advent, Christians wait and prepare for the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.
The Advent wreath, a horizontal evergreen wreath with four candles, symbolizes Advent. Beginning on the fourth Sunday before Christmas, a candle is lit.
Each Sunday thereafter, another candle is lit. Many Advent wreaths also include a fifth candle, called a “Christ candle,” to be lit on Christmas.