June 20, 2017

#05-057: Hanukkah and Kwanzaa

black-and-white photo above of a boy looking at a holder with nine candles; color photo below of a hand lighting one of seven candles in a holder
Hanukkah has nine candles; Kwanzaa, seven.
(Wikipedia: top, bottom)

Note: Two December holidays very similar in some ways--Hanukkah and Kwanzaa--have different origins and serve different communities.

Get Ready: Do you think it's important for members of "sub-cultures" to gather and strengthen their bonds in formal, ritual ways, or is it better for them to allow themselves to be assimilated (be absorbed into the larger culture)?

December is the time of winter solstice, and this may be the reason that many religious celebrations are held in the last month of the year.

Two of them--Hanukkah and Kwanzaa--are similar in many ways, although one is very ancient and the other quite new.


Hanukkah dates back over 2,000 years, to a time when the Jewish people rededicated their holy temple. Because the Jewish calendar is different from the Western one, the dates vary from late November to late December.

From the time of Alexander the Great (died 323 BCE), Judea, the area where Jerusalem lies, had been held by the Greeks--until about 200 BCE, when it was taken over by the Syrians. During these reigns the temple sacred to the Jews was looted and desecrated.

In 167 BCE, a family of Jewish heroes, called the Maccabees, arose and reestablished worship in the temple and throughout the region. In 165, the temple was rededicated, and that is the event celebrated in Hanukkah.

The jubilant victors wanted to light an oil lamp. The problem was, there was only enough oil for one night, and it would take seven days to procure more. Having faith, they lit the lamp--and the oil burned for eight days! Since then, Jews commemorate that miracle by lighting one candle a night for eight nights (plus a central candle, making nine) on a special candlestick called a "menorah."

The similarities to "Chalica" (see Lesson #05-055) are easy to see.


Another new holiday that in some ways emulates Hanukah is Kwanzaa. This was first celebrated by African-Americans in late 1966 to honor African culture. It lasts seven days, from December 26 to January 1, and includes candle-lighting, performances, and gift-giving.

On each day, one principle is honored. These are:

  • Unity
  • Self-Determination
  • Collective Work and Responsibility
  • Cooperative Economics
  • Purpose
  • Creativity
  • Faith


Both of these holidays, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, involve food, family, and festivities. Both include candles, and both focus on varying emphases for each day.

More importantly, both holidays stress the importance of maintaining a cohesive community that has dwelt within a more dominant culture for centuries: Hanukkah for the Jews, and Kwanzaa for Blacks.


Read more:

Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. collective
  2. desecrated
  3. dominant
  4. dwelt
  5. emulates
  6. jubilant
  7. looted
  8. procure
  9. self-determination
  10. stress

  1. made unholy
  2. lived; resided
  3. imitates; tries to equal
  4. having greater power
  5. emphasize
  6. done as a group; cooperative
  7. robbed; plundered
  8. obtain; get
  9. the ability to make one's own decisions
  10. joyous; triumphant

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for June 20, 2017

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. f; 2. a; 3. d; 4. b; 5. c; 6. j; 7. g; 8. h; 9. i; 10. e