By Ashley Johnson
We all know it’s that time of year. The holidays are near. Say goodbye to those stressful exams, and hello to winter break. Some go South with the flock, and some stay for the chilly weather and possible flurries. Whether it be snowman making, hot chocolate drinking, or gift giving there are great activities for everyone.
Winter Holiday History
‘Twas during the winter solstice in Scandinavia (B.C), where all through the land, the Norse celebrated Yule from December 21 to January’s end. This time was for the recognition of the sun. Fathers and sons would gather up logs and set them on fire. Thereafter, a feast would last till the fire burned out. This was no ordinary run of the mill bonfire, for the fire would last as many as 12 days. The Norse believed that with every spark a new pig or calf was born that coming year.
We leave from Scandinavia and off to Rome where a holiday, in honor of Saturn, named Saturnalia called Rome home. Saturnalia was a topsy-turvy holiday. For, the social order was upside down. Slaves became masters, and the underclass runned the city. During this time Rome observed Juvenalia, as well, which was feast honoring the children of Rome. Another celebration occurred in this time too- the birthday of Mithra (the god of the sun). Mithra’s birthday fell on December 25th, and it was known as the most sacred day of the year.
Now we travel to the early years of Christianity. Easter was celebrated, but the birth of Jesus was not. The fourth century was when the Catholic church initiated the birth of Christ as a holiday. Sadly, the Bible did not mention his birth date. Pope Julius I chose it to be December 25. That is how our winter holiday came to be known as Christmas.
In the land of Israel, around 200 B.C., Judea was under control of Antiochus III, you see. He was the Seleucid King of Syria, and allowed the Jews to practice their religion under his rules. His son, Antiochus IV, sadly was not as great. For, he outlawed their practice with all of his hate. He made them pray to his gods and massacred Jews in 168 (B.C). His soldiers destroyed the Second Temple, made a Zeus statue, and sacrificed pigs in the sacred Gate.
Jewish Priest Mattathias and his sons led a great rebellion against the tyrant’s army. When Mattathias died, it was 166 B.C. He passed his responsibility onto his son, Judah Maccabee. The Jews finally rebuilt the Second Temple; a victory with glee. That is when they put a candelabrum on the sacred altar. The branches of seven candles represent knowledge and creation. They were kept lit with olive oil for eight days, upon the altar station. This is how Hanukkah came to be.
‘Twas 1966, and all through the air, was joys of good tidings and family cheer. Dr. Maulana Karenga, a professor & chairman of Black Studies at California State University, created Kwanzaa. This holiday was made to bring the African-Americans together. It was a symbol of the “first fruit” harvest celebrations. African-Americans would dance, make music, and tell stories. Families would gather and a child would light one of the candles on the Kinara. Each of seven candles stood for one of the seven principles called Nguzo Saba. Nguzo Saba were the values of African culture. There is also a feast called Karamu that is held on New Year's Eve in celebration of Kwanzaa.
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