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With the holiday season in full swing, we’d like to acknowledge some traditions that seem to come along with the season. Below we take a look at some aspects of the Christian Christmas Tree, the Jewish Menorah, and the colors of Kwanzaa.

Please also take this as an opportunity to post your own traditions and family customs in our comments section of the blog. ALSO feel free to visit our Facebook Fan Page by clicking HERE and sharing your stories there, as well!

The Christmas Tree
Christmas is a Christian feast celebrated all over the planet. Observed every year on December 25th, the holiday is the religious celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. Secularly, it’s time for Santa Claus to bring toys to children all over the world while families reflect, eat, drink, sing and spend time together.

One of the most prolific symbols of the Christmas season is that of the ornamented Christmas tree. Given that Jesus was supposedly born in the desert of Israel, how did the icon of a decorated evergreen become related to this holiday?

According to Wikipedia.com, “The custom of erecting a Christmas tree can be historically traced to 15th century Livonia (present-day Estonia and Latvia) and 16th century Northern Germany… In the German Middle Ages, mystery plays at Christmas time within churches often featured an evergreen "Paradise tree" from which an apple was plucked. The first evidence of Christmas trees outside of a church is of the 16th century, with trees in guild halls decorated with sweets to be enjoyed by the apprentices and children.”

Families, businesses and organizations all over the world acquire and decorate Christmas trees to celebrate the season. Trees can be live or artificial, and are traditionally bedecked with tinsel, lights, ornaments and topped off with a star or other tree topper. Some trees feature nativity scenes at the base, while others have toy trains, presents or other items of the holiday beneath them. These days, two of the most famous Christmas tree displays include the trees at the White House and at the Rockefeller Center in New York City.

The Menorah
Also according to Wikipedia.com, the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah “celebrates the re-dedication of the Temple after the successful Jewish revolt against the Seleucid monarchy.” The menorah is important because during the revolt, there was only enough oil for one night of light, but the candles miraculously burned for eight. The 8-day celebration in December is one of prayer, family customs, Hanukkah gelt, games of dreidel, songs and gift giving.

Menorahs have eight branches, centered by a ninth candle called the shamash, which is used to light the other candles. More from Wikipedia.com tells us that “in addition to the shamash, on the first night one candle is placed in the holder on the far right, and is lit using either the shamash or a different candle or match. Each night afterwards for the next seven nights, one additional candle is kindled. The night's blessings are started over the newest candle. So the candles are placed in the Hanukkah menorah from right to left and kindled from left to right. The manner of lighting one additional candle each night follows the opinion of the House of Hillel, which was accepted as Jewish law. The House of Shammai disagreed; it held that eight candles should be kindled the first night, seven the second night, and so on down to one candle on the last night.”

Where is the world's largest menorah? You’ll need to travel all the way to Manado in Indonesia to find this 62-foot tall wonder. Another big menorah is in New York City – standing at 32 feet tall, it’s located at Fifth Avenue and 59th Street in Manhattan near Central Park.

Kwanzaa Colors
Again from Wikipedia.com, “Kwanzaa is a week long celebration held in the United States honoring universal African-American heritage and culture, observed from December 26 to January 1 each year. It features activities such as lighting a candle holder with seven candles and culminates in a feast and gift giving. It was created by Maulana Karenga and was first celebrated in 1966–1967.” Kwanzaa is a time of family, reflection, and celebration of the African spirit.

What is unique about the Kwanzaa candle colors? It is what the colors represent. Displayed in a holder called a Kinara (which looks a bit like the Jewish Menorah), the colors of red, black and green celebrate each of the Seven Principles, known as the Nguzo Saba.

– The one central black candle is lit first. It symbolizes unity, or Umoja. Black represents the people.
– The three red candles placed to the left represent self-determination, cooperative economics, and creativity, or Kujichagulia, Ujamaa and Kuumba. Red represents the struggle.
– The three green candles placed to the right represent collective work and responsibility, purpose, and faith, or Ujima, Nia and Imani. Green represents the future and hope.

What are YOUR traditions? Tell us in the comments section below, and share on our Facebook Fan Page (click here).

Photo courtesy of WikimediaCommons.org