Three Cultural Holidays in December in the U.S.

Three Cultural Holidays in December in the U.S.


Hanukkah is the Jewish eight-day “festival of lights,” celebrated with a nightly menorah lighting. The Hebrew word Chanukah or Hanukkah (variations of the spelling) means “dedication,” and is thus named because it celebrates the rededication of the Holy Temple. The menorah holds nine flames, one of which is the shamash (“attendant”), which is used to kindle the other eight lights. On the first night of Hanukkah, we light just one flame. On the second night, an additional flame is lit. By the eighth night of Chanukah, all eight lights are kindled. It is customary to eat foods fried in oil during Hanukkah. People often eat the potato latke (pancake), garnished with applesauce or sour cream, and the jelly-filled sufganya (doughnut).


Kwanzaa is a cultural holiday that celebrates African heritage and identity. The name, Kwanzaa, comes from the Swahili phrase “matunda ya kwanza,” which translates to “first fruits,” and the holiday is based on traditional African harvest festivals. Kwanzaa is usually celebrated during Dec 26th to Jan 1st. During this holiday, seven candles are lighted and people place seven symbols around their home: umoja (unity), Kujichagulia (self-determination), Ujima (collective work and responsibility), Ujamaa (cooperative economics), Nia (purpose), Kuumba (creativity), and Imani (faith).


Many people in the United States celebrate Christmas Day on December 25, the day celebrates Jesus Christ’s birth. The United States is a multi-cultural nation so it has many different traditions and ways that people celebrate Christmas. Many Americans, especially Christians, will go to Church to celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas. In the Southwest USA, there are some special customs which have some similarities to those in parts of Mexico. These include “luminarias” or “farolitos” which are paper sacks partly filled with sand and then have a candle put in them. People in America like to decorate the outsides of their houses with lights and sometimes even statues of Santa Claus, snowmen and reindeer. Some cookies and glass of milk are often left out as a snack for Santa on Christmas Eve!

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