More than Christmas is celebrated during winter break

By Jaclyn Archer, Eagle Life Editor

More than Christmas is celebrated during winter break

Winter break offers opportunity for a variety of celebrations

The winter holiday break offers the opportunity for students to celebrate more than just Christmas. Every year, thousands of people across the United States use the winter break to celebrate a variety of religious and cultural holidays, including Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Mawlid an-Nabi and the the winter solstice.


Unlike the winter solstice, Hanukkah and Mawlid, Kwanzaa is a relatively new holiday in the winter lineup. Stretching from Dec. 25 to Jan. 1, Kwanzaa was founded in 1966 by Maulana Karenga, Ph.D., head of the Department of Africana Studies at California State University Long Beach. According to Karenga, “Kwanzaa is a Pan-African and African American celebration of family, community and culture.”

The word “kwanzaa” actually comes from the Swahili phrase “matunda ya kwanza,” which means “first fruits.” According to Billy Hallowell in his article “Do You Know the Real History of Kwanzaa? Here’s What it’s All About” for The Blaze, the name was chosen in honor of the harvest festivals common in West Africa.

According to the official Kwanzaa website, Kwanzaa is intended as an ethnic celebration, rather than religious one. Kwanzaa is celebrated with a seven branched candelabrum representing seven principles. In Swahili they are: Umoja (Unity), Kujichagulia (Self-Determination), Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity) and Imani (Faith).

Rachel Dolezal, MFA, who teaches African and African American history in the Africana Studies Program said, “The people who celebrate Kwanzaa tend to be educated and … celebrate it in order to get in touch with their roots. Karenga created it to have a holiday that is about us, so we would not, by default, have to just celebrate European derived holidays.”

Dolezal explained Kwanzaa’s significance to members of the black community as a cultural touchstone that emphasizes positive values. “Self-determination and cooperativism … those are probably my favorite.” Dolezal celebrates Kwanzaa every other year with her son.

Dolezal, who is also the incoming President of the Spokane NAACP,  said the local NAACP is planning to organize some kind of local Kwanzaa celebration next year.


Hanukkah, which means “dedication,” is also known as the Feast of Dedication or Festival of Lights. It is a Jewish celebration of the dedication of the Temple, lasting eight days. Most people are familiar with many of Hanukkah’s iconic emblems, such as the menorah (a nine-branched candelabrum) and the dreidel (a polyhedron top with Hebrew letters on it). Fewer people, however, are familiar with the holiday’s background.

According to, a Jewish resource site for the history and celebration of Hanukkah, the root of this holiday is ancient history, when Israel was part of the Syrian-Greek empire. In short, this empire corrupted and restricted Jewish cultural and religious practises. Assimilated Jews began introducing Hellenistic customs into Jewish worship, and political leaders, specifically Antiochus IV, ruler of Syria until 174 B.C.E., began a campaign to strip the Jewish people of their cultural and religious distinctions.

Religious and political tensions came to a head while Antiochus was away on a successful military campaign in Egypt. Rumors filtered back to Israel that he had been killed and hopeful Jews rebelled against corrupted religious leaders in Jerusalem. When Antiochus returned alive, he had thousands of Jews killed, banned Sabbath observance and burned sacred scrolls to punish them for their rebellion. Then he engaged his military in local suppression throughout Israel, forcing people to worship pagan gods and break Jewish laws or be killed.

Finally, a small band of Jewish rebels, known as the Maccabees, rose up to defeat the Syrian army. They then returned to Jerusalem to reclaim the temple. They built a new altar and dedicated it; however, the menorah, necessary to their rites, only had enough oil for one day. Even yet, it burned for eight until new oil could be supplied. This is the miracle commemorated by the burning of the menorah over the eight days of Hanukkah.

Hanukkah begins on the twenty-fifth day of the Jewish month of Kislev and lasts for eight days. This year, these dates correspond with Dec. 16-24. According to, Hanukkah customs include the lighting of the menorah, gift giving, charitable donations, dreidel games, the eating of fried foods, daily prayers and readings.

Mawlid an-Nabi

Mawlid an-Nabi is a celebration of the the birth of the prophet Mohammed, celebrated from evening to evening on the 12th day of Rabi’ al-awwal, the third month in the Islamic calendar. According to, a site that tracks the dates of Islamic holidays, this year, Mawlid falls on Jan. 3 for Sunnis and Jan. 1 for Shias. Because the Islamic calendar does not align with the gregorian calendar, this day will drift significantly over the next few years. In 2015, Mawlid an-Nabi will fall on Dec. 23 or Dec. 28, and by 2017, the Sunni date will fall on the end of November.

According to Sulayman Nyang, Ph.D., in his article “Mawlid an-Nabi: Celebrating Prophet Muhammad’s (s) Birthday” for the Islamic Supreme Council of America, Mawlid is not universally celebrated by all Muslims and has even been “a bone of contention.” However, those who do celebrate it do so by engaging in the composition and recitation of poems and songs in honor of the Prophet Mohammed.

Winter Solstice

The winter solstice, also known as Midwinter, is the precise moment when the sun’s highest elevation for the day is the lowest it will be all year. The solstice happens on the shortest day with the longest night of the year, and marks the beginning of shortening nights and lengthening days. According to, Spokane will experience the winter solstice at 3:03 p.m. on Dec. 21.

The winter solstice has remained important to various cultures throughout ancient and modern history, including neo-pagans and Wiccans. The pagan holiday of Yule or Yuletide has been historically celebrated  on the solstice by Germanic peoples. Historically, celebration includes twelve days of festivities, feasting, drinking and sacrifice (an element which has diminished in significance in modern times).

Whether students are celebrating Christmas, another religious holiday like Hanukkah or Mawlid  an ethnic holiday like Kwanzaa or the winter solstice, the winter break offers every student the opportunity to engage their culture and heritage. Happy Holidays.