Kwanzaa - What is it?
Each December the Outreach Program receives numerous inquiries about the festival Kwanzaa. This celebration is not a festival originating in any of the 55 African countries nor is it an "African" Christmas celebration. Kwanzaa is an African-Americans celebration of life from 26 December to 1 January.
Dr. Maulana Karenga introduced the festival in 1966 to the United States as a ritual to welcome the first harvests to the home. Dr. Karenga created this festival for Afro-Americans as a response to the commercialism of Christmas. In fact one might say that Kwanzaa has similarities with Thanksgiving in the United States or the Yam Festival in Ghana and Nigeria. The word "kwanza" is a KiSwahili (Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania) word meaning "first."
Five common sets of values are central to the activities of the week: in gathering, reverence, commemoration, re-commitment, and celebration. The seven principles (nguzo saba) of Kwanzaa utilize Kiswahili words: unity (umoja), self-determination (kujichagulia), collective work and responsibility (ujima), cooperative economics (ujamaa), purpose (nia), creativity (kuumba), and faith (imani). Each of the seven candles signify the principles. Like the Jewish Hannakah, candles are used to represent concepts of the holiday.
The symbols of Kwanzaa includes crops (mzao) which represents the historical roots of African-Americans in agriculture and also the reward for collective labor. The mat (mkeka) lays the foundation for self- actualization. The candle holder (kinara) reminds believers in the ancestral origins in one of 55 African countries. Corn/maize (muhindi) signifies children and the hope associated in the younger generation. Gifts (Zawadi) represent commitments of the parents for the children. The unity cup (Kkimbe cha Umoja) is used to pour libations to the ancestors. Finally, the seven candles (mishumaa saba) remind participants of the several principles and the colors in flags of African liberation movements -- 3 red, 1 black, and 3 green.
Gifts are exchanged. On 31 December participants celebrate with a banquet of food often cuisine from various African countries. Participants greet one another with "Habari gani" which is Kiswahili for "how are you/ how's the news with you?" For further information about Kwanzaa, write to the University of Sankore Press, 2540 W. 54th St., Los Angeles, CA 90043. A children's book about KWANSA by Deborah Newton Chocolate is available through Children's' Press, 1990, Chicago.
Happy Hanukkah - What is Hanukkah?
Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday that celebrates the victory of the Maccabees over the larger Syrian army.
Hanukkah starts Sunday night (Dec. 22) and continues through the week to close on Dec. 30.
Hanukkah and Christmas overlap every few years, but the confluence of the two holidays coming so near this year is indeed close.
Next year, the eight-day Hanukkah celebration will end Dec. 18, a week before Christmas. In 2021, it will be over Dec. 6, much earlier. But in 2024, the beginning of Hanukkah and Christmas Day will be celebrated together on Dec. 25, indeed a rare occurrence.
Hanukkah also celebrates a miracle that happened during this time, where just a one day's supply of oil allowed the menorah in the rededicated temple in Jerusalem to remain lit for eight days.
The Gregorian calendar most countries use is based on the solar cycle, with 365 days a year, plus a correction every four years. "But the Jewish calendar is a lunar-solar calendar," explained Rabbi Larry Milder, spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Emek in Pleasanton. "Every month is a lunar month, with the first day being the new moon.
"Hanukkah will always begin on a waning crescent moon, near the end of the month of Kislev. Gregorian months, by contrast, have nothing to do with the moon," he said, adding:
"There is a lot to admire and appreciate about the holidays celebrated by other faiths. That Christmas and Hanukkah come at the same time this year gives us pause to consider what we have to learn from one another."
"We may not believe the same things, but like the sun and the moon, we are in a kind of dance that goes round and round, shining lights each in our own way. Here's to the alignment of our cosmic lights."
"Light. Hope. Redemption. These three words will permeate my Chanukah this year," said Rabbi Raleigh Resnick, spiritual leader of the 14-year-old Chabad of the Tri-Valley, based in Pleasanton.
"This week families of all faiths will celebrate and strengthen their commitment to God with lights," he said, adding:
"We will reach out with the light of charity, goodness and kindness to those less fortunate than us, we will shine our inner light to heal broken relationships and we will pray that a light of mutual understanding illuminates our country during this divisive era."
Chabad of the Tri-Valley plans a more public celebration.
Chabad members put electric menorahs on the roof of their cars and drive around Pleasanton with a special police escort. The car parade arrive at the Chabad center at 3370 Hopyard Rd. for a menorah lighting to launch the start of Hanukkah, or Chanukah as Chabad prefers.
Chabad take its celebration to Stoneridge Shopping Center's Grand Court, calling it "Chanukah Wonderland."
Chanukah draws to a close, Chabad will hold another celebration in downtown Livermore in front of the Bankhead Theater.