Jesus is the reason for the season, the old saying goes, but that’s only partially true. December is also a special time for people from other faith traditions, and those with none at all. For instance:
In the spectrum of Jewish observances, Hanukkah is a relatively minor event, says Rabbi Lynn Liberman of the Beth Jacob Congregation in Mendota Heights. The holiday has grown in prominence largely because of its proximity to that other big religious holiday that comes along at about the same time.
Hanukkah celebrates a “miraculous” victory of a small Jewish army over a large Greek Army and the rededication of the holy temple in Jerusalem during the 2nd century, said Sterna Kasowitz, formerly of Eagan. Her husband Rabbi Moisha Kasowitz is with the Eagan-based Inward Bound Jewish Tours group.
She said the significance of the menorah and the eight candles illuminating it throughout the festival is symbolic. After the small army reclaimed the Jerusalem temple there was enough olive oil to light the candelabra for one day, but that oil lasted for eight days.
“So each day we light one more candle than the day before,” she explained saying that notes how blessings and miracles grow and multiple. “We put the candelabra in the windows so we can illuminate the darkness … the holiday is meant to be a very visible celebration.”
Although gift giving is not part of the original tradition, Liberman says Hanukkah has been infused with some of the customs of the larger community. She says that while it’s lovely to receive gifts, as the director of congregational learning, she also tries inspiring people to give from their hearts.
Kasowitz said the tradition is to give money to children as an incentive and reward to learn the Jewish and Hebrew customs and put them into practice.
“It’s a holiday to educate and teach about the religion,” she said.
She also added though there are many celebrations happening throughout the month of December none should aim to take away from another.
“We want to celebrate and be proud of who we are,” she said. “We have the menorah (in public places) not to shove it in someone else’s face, but to share the miracle that happened and that continue to happen.”
In that spirit, the Beth Jacob Congregation will begin the season with a community celebration at 5 p.m. Dec. 20, at which members will bring canned goods that will be formed into the shape of a giant hanukiah as a symbol of their desire to bring the light of hope to the issue of hunger. At the end of the eight days, the food will be donated to hunger relief organizations.
Hanukkah, Chanukah, and other alternate spellings have evolved because the Hebrew word cannot be directly translated in to English.
Kwanzaa is an African American celebration of family, community, and culture. Beginning Dec. 26, this seven-day festival celebrates and reinforces a different value-based principle each day:
· Collective Work and Responsibility
· Cooperative Economics
According to a representative of the African Methodist Episcopal Church,
involvement in Kwanzaa activities is left up to the discretion of individual
The Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year in terms of daylight hours,
occurs Dec. 22.
According to August Berkshire, president of Minnesota Atheists, solstice celebrations were originally pagan rituals and “all the fun things about Christmas”—gifts, lights, feasts, etc.—were taken from pagan origins.
This year, as in previous years, Minnesota Atheists, in collaboration with the Humanists of Minnesota, is sponsoring the 12th Annual Freethinkers Winter Solstice Celebration.
Berkshire, who says it’s really just an excuse to have a big party, added that the public is invited and there are still tickets available for the event ,which includes cocktails, dinner, and a “rather irreligious” program of music and skits called the Freethought Follies.
The event takes place at the Hilton Doubletree Park Place Hotel in St. Louis Park.
Fans of the old “Jerry Seinfeld” TV show will recall that Dec. 23 is the date of Festivus, a secular celebration “for the rest of us.”
According to Wikipedia, Festivus was created in 1996 by screenwriter Dan O’Keefe to combat the commercialization surrounding Christmas. In a case of life imitating art, the occasion has grown in popularity since the 1997 Seinfeld episode.
Festivus traditions include an unadorned Festivus Pole, a Festivus dinner
consisting of either meatloaf or spaghetti, an airing of grievances, and feats
of strength (such as arm wrestling).
Locally, the Nomad World Pub in Minneapolis is hosting a Festivus celebration a day early, on Dec. 22.