Winter Holiday Traditions

Moira Sisco

Hanukkah (Chanukka)

    Also recognized as “The Festival of Lights”, Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday celebrated for eight days during the early weeks of December. It represents how during the 2nd century BCE, a small group of Jews were able to defeat a mighty army and reclaim the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. They found a single pot of olive oil and used it to light the Temple’s Menorah. The oil, expected to last a single day, lasted for eight full days.

    Due to the miraculous long-lasting oil, traditional Chanukka foods include the fried potato latke and jelly-filled donuts. Another tradition is to play with a dreidel. Each dreidel bares Hebrew letters that are an acronym for “נס גדול היה שם” (nes gadol hayah sham) meaning “A great miracle happened there.” Finally, you have the Hanukkah gelt. People would give gifts of money to children who had good behavior. It gave them the opportunity to do good and donate to charity.  



    Starting on December 26, Kwanzaa originally comes from the Swahili term “first fruits.” The holiday focuses on the traditions and culture of African-American communities. This holiday was founded by Dr. Maulana Karenga in 1966. The non-religious festivities last for seven days and celebrate important aspects of African-American lives. For each day, a candle is lit on a kinara, illustrating the seven principles of Kwanzaa.

  1. Umoja (unity)
  2. Kujichagulia (self-determination)
  3. Ujima (collective work and responsibility)
  4. Ujamaa (cooperative economics)
  5. Nia (purpose)
  6. Kuumba (creativity)
  7. Imani (faith)

    There are three green candles on one side, three red candles on the other, and one black candle in the middle. On the 31 of December, a feast (Karamu), takes place. Some traditional dishes eaten during Kwanzaa are usually made with jollof rice, collard greens, grits, rice, and okra. An ear of corn is also placed under the kinara for each child in the household.