Marjorie JamesI have focused on Christmas during this holiday season, but there are two other celebrations to explore, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. I am going to discuss these in a question/answer format, but see if you can give the correct answer on your own before reading on.


Hanukkah is an ancient, important celebration, known as the Festival of Lights, for Jews. It celebrates a time of God’s blessing in the midst of great trial and conflict.

What is the name of the central symbol of Hanukkah? The symbol associated with Hanukkah is the menorah, a ceremonial “candelabra.”

How many candles are on the menorah, and what do they represent? There are eight ceremonial lights on the Menorah, celebrating the purification of the second Temple by the Maccabees. Antiochus Epiphanes, the Syrian king, desecrated the Jewish Temple in the 2nd Century BCE by introducing the worship of foreign gods and the sacrificing of pigs. Led by Jonah Maccabee, Antiochus was run out of Jerusalem, and the Jews purified the Temple by cleansing it, rebuilding the altar, and lighting the Temple Menorah. There was only enough sacred oil to light the candles, which were to be continuously lit, for one day. However, the Jews celebrate the fact that the candles miraculously burned for eight days, allowing time for more oil to be found.

How is the Menorah incorporated in the Hanukkah celebration? Special festival songs are sung and prayers are recited as the candles are lit. Also, eating, playing with the dreidel, and giving gifts each day are part of the celebration.

What is unique about this Hanukkah season? The timing of Hanukkah is according to the Hebrew calendar, so the dates changes year by year, usually occurring close to Christmas. This year, Hanukkah started on Thanksgiving.



Kwanzaa is celebrated during the Christmas season. It is the first specifically African-American holiday.

In what year and by whom was Kwanzaa created? Kwanzaa was created in 1966 by Maulana Karenga to “give Blacks an alternative to the existing holiday (Christmas) and give Blacks an opportunity to celebrate themselves and their history.”

What does the name “Kwanzaa” mean? The name is Swahili for “first fruits of the harvest.”

How is Kwanzaa celebrated? The focus is on the Seven Principles, which Karenga says are the building blocks for the Black community. These principles “serve to reinforce and enhance” the community. As in the other two major celebrations during this time of the year, history, food, and certain activities are integral parts of Kwanzaa.


Copyright 2013. Marjorie E. James. All rights reserved.