by Aidan Bow/Staff Writer
Winter is a wonderful time of year. Many holidays occur during winter; some of the largest ones are Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. All of these holidays have a long history and are connected to many religions and cultures.
According to history.com, the Christmas holiday began in the fourth century as a Christian holiday to celebrate Jesus Christ’s birth. According to Pew Research, 65% of Americans identify as Christian. It is not known when the actual date of Jesus’ birth was, so Pope Julius I chose December 25th as the day of celebration. The decision behind the chosen date is believed to have started as an effort to dismiss the Pagan holiday known as the Saturnalia Festival. Christmas had spread to Europe by 432 and was well known in England by the end of the sixth century. Christmas was originally called the Feast of the Nativity. It is now referred to as Christmas worldwide, and is usually celebrated with a decorated pine tree, gifts and a large feast, each signifying an attribute to that time. More traditionally, the story of Santa Claus and stockings are now included in the celebrations.
There are many stories of Hanukkah, but this is the most well known. In the year 200 BC there was a large religious rebellion between Syria and Israel. Israel was victorious, and a Jewish Priest, Judah, called on his followers to cleanse the Second Temple, rebuild the altar and light the menorah. History.com stated the menorah itself was a gold candelabrum, which stands for knowledge and creation, and was supposed to burn every night. During this rededication of the second temple, a “miracle” was witnessed. The menorah only had enough oil to burn for one night, but somehow, it burned for eight nights, giving them time to obtain more oil. The Jewish sages proclaimed an eight day festival involving the lighting of the menorah, traditional foods, games and gifts, to celebrate this wondrous event. Hanukkah always begins on the ninth month of the Jewish (lunar) calendar.
Kwanzaa is a fairly new winter holiday tradition, founded in the 20th century by Dr. Maulana Karenga, in an effort to bring African Americans together as a community. Kwanzaa is not a religious based holiday, but a cultural one. Every family celebrates Kwanzaa in its own way, many celebrating Kwanzaa and Christmas together. According to History.com, Kwanzaa celebrations often include songs, dances, African drums, storytelling, and a large traditional meal. Kwanzaa is celebrated for seven nights, each night starting with one of the family’s children lighting the appropriate candle on the Kinara, and discussing one of the seven principals. There are also seven symbols, both principles and symbols are used to represent different values and concepts reflective to African culture. At the end of the seventh day, a feast called a Karamu is held on December 31st.
You might be wondering about the city of Greenfield’s winter traditions. Brigette Cook Jones, the past president and current director of the Blue River Township Hancock County Historical Society had this to say:
Greenfield’s residents primarily celebrated Christmas, as most families were Christians. There were a few Jewish families, but Greenfield did not have a Synagogue and their population was not large. Greenfield was founded in 1828, at this time, celebrations were meager with each person celebrating in their home, or attending a Christmas service at their local church. By the 1840’s and 1850’s you would start to see the German tradition of Christmas trees in several homes. Late local poet, James Whitcomb Riley, wrote about his home Christmas traditions, which included Christmas tree’s, stockings and Santa Clause. By the 1920’s, Greenfield was decorated with electric lights and a tree. A nativity scene was displayed on the courthouse lawn starting in 1957. Over the years, Greenfield has grown many Christmas traditions and outgrown others. Some of these traditions include, the Christmas tree lighting and parade, along with Santa’s arrival, Santa Breakfast, downtown merchant decorations, gingerbread house contests, vendors, carriage rides, drive thru light shows, holiday movies at the Rick’s theater, Christmas tours at Riley’s boyhood home, school programs, as well as most churches having a candlelit service, special dinner and even elaborate presentations that bring people in from outside of the county. Hancock County has almost 90 Christian churches in the area, so there is still a lot of Christian influence in Greenfield.
Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanza all have a lot of history. They are each special in their own way. Everybody celebrates winter differently, and that’s okay.