….. Hanukkah-Candlemas-Ramadan-Solstice-Christmas-Kwanzaa-New Year-Boxing Day-Epiphany !
“The Holidays” are many. This year’s celebrations run from Hanukah in early December to mid-January for Epiphany or Theophany [also known as Three Kings’ Day, or in Greek, The day of the Lights). As the blog title indicates, our western culture celebrates in diverse ways, with different names. What and how we celebrate are similar. But also have important differences So I thought I’d be writing to you about a crucial concept – the ability to see multiple perspectives…. in the many holidays we celebrate, and the parallel differences in ourselves.
MULTIPLE PERSPECTIVES. Many of us have a hard time seeing another person’s perspective. If you are separated, or divorced, the issue of seeing, then acknowledging, even appreciating your partner’s viewpoint, when it differed from yours, may have been a contributing factor to your splitting up. Frequent fights are often fueled by how we manage [or don’t] those “irreconcilable differences’. When I work as a Psychologist, or as a Divorce Consultant/Mediator, I find myself often saying that seeing, acknowledging, appreciating another’s viewpoint does not mean submitting to it, or agreeing with it. But noting it, knowing it, to the other is an important step in communication and caring.
Having these thoughts about the important of seeing, noting, alas tolerating, multiple perspectives led me to wonder how we tolerate one another’s differences in what and how we celebrate. So I started to research the purpose and history of three popular Western holidays – Hanukah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa — and I was surprised to find that the details about each revealed more similarities than differences. So if we can see and tolerate one another’s differences in how and what we celebrate,
If we look more deeply, we may discover similarities inside our deeper viewpoints and differences.
So I propose, that by looking at differences among the three celebrations, Hanukah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa, some of their similarities will naturally emerge.
3 WESTERN HOLIDAYS: DIFFERENCES
HANUKAH. celebrates two aspects of Jewish history: a religious and political fight for freedom and a “miracle.” First, it celebrates how the Maccabee family, Mattathias the Hasmonean, a rural Jewish priest, and his 5 sons, led a successful revolt 167-160 BCE to overthrow the Seleucid Empire and regain control of Jerusalem.
THE MIRACLE. When the victorious Jews reclaimed and purified the Holy [Second] Temple, there was only enough sacred oil for the wicks of the menorah to burn for one day’s lighting. Miraculously, the story goes, the wicks burned for 8 days. Hence, the name “Hanukah”means in Hebrew “to dedicate.” It’s become known as the Feast of Dedication, or the Festival of Lights.
CHRISTMAS’ evolution is deeply embedded in political social cultural history, mostly in Europe. So the darkest coldest days of mid-winter was a typical time to celebrate light and birth: especially after the winter solstice [December in the Northern Hemisphere].
The worship of the Sun (Sol) [necessary for growing crops] was indigenous to the Romans, since the 8th century BC. The upper Roman classes celebrated the birthday of MIRTHA, the god of the “unconquerable sun” [Sol Invictus]. In Scandinavia, the Norse celebrated YULE, where sparks from their huge log fires heralded soon-to-be-born pigs and calves. The Germans honored the pagan god ODEN, who flew through the night sky to observe his people and decide who would live well and who would die. The SATURNALIA festival in Rome, honoring Saturn, the god of agriculture marked the end of the planting season in December.
THE MIRACLE: Both Matthew 1:18 and Luke 1:26 and 2:40 describe how Jesus was born to the Virgin Mary, assisted by her husband Joseph, but no date is mentioned. The “Chronography of 354AD,” an illustrated manuscript/calendar is the first literary reference to connect the pagan feast of Sol Invictus to Jesus’ birth on December 25 feast day. Its Part 6 notes: “Birthday of the unconquered, games ordered, thirty races”…”Birth of Christ in Bethlehem, Judea.” The December 25th date may have been chosen to correspond to the day nine months after early Christians believe Jesus was miraculously conceived. Or possibly some sources say, Pope Julius I in the 4thc. chose December 25th to integrate Christian observances with the traditional pagan Saturnalia Festival. By the middle ages, Christianity basically replaced pagan religious practices.
KWANZAA. Jump ahead several centuries, and to the USA. Maulana Karenga in 1965 created a specifically African-American holiday , Kwanzaa, Swahili for “matunda ya kwanza,” meaning “first fruits of the harvest.” At first, he suggested Kwanzaa as a “oppositional alternative” to Christmas. But, by 1977, he integrated its celebration with Christmas.
The goal is to celebrate “Kawaida”, Swahili for tradition and reason, of the “best of African thought and practice” expressed through 7 principles [Nguzu Saba]. Celebrated on each of 7 days, they highlight self-determination in maintaining unity in the family, community, nation, and race; “To believe with all our hearts in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.”
3 WESTERN HOLIDAYS: SIMILARITIES
It’s striking that all three celebrations emerged from a basic human need: to survive, physically and spiritually, even in the face of struggle and hardship. The sun, planting, and harvesting are central for human life and development. An important reminder of this is celebrated in December, during the dark cold days of Northern Hemisphere winters.
Another important theme is light, shedding light, literally and figuratively, as learning, knowing one’s history and passing it on to our children. Struggle, and resistance to oppression, is mentioned or inferred in descriptions of all three holidays. A great man stepped forward to lead at a crucial point. There is also the “miracle“ of the Temple’s sacred oil lasting for 8 nights, and the “miracle“ of Jesus’ conception. A fundamental teaching is that all people are created in God’s image and deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.
And finally, values and principles either motivated, or are the offspring, of celebrating in a way that highlights family and community. We depend upon one another and are crucial in one another’s lives, in spite of our differences.
HOLIDAYS AND YOU, DIVORCED OR SEPARATED
Thus, we can see how celebrations emerged throughout history to be thankful for survival and to strengthen relationships in our communities. I’ve been reminded in writing this blog that the similarities in our holidays are greater than our differences. The same holds true in our relationships with people. The similarities indeed may be stronger than our differences. If we just looked for them. So, you can choose to celebrate both differences and similarities. Enjoy however you choose to celebrate your Holidays.