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Winter Holiday Primer for Parents: Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, and Ramadan

Updated on March 30, 2011

Call it cultural awareness, call it political correctness - either way your kids are now learning about celebrations from a lot of different cultures and faiths. Here's your cheat sheet of the most popular winter holidays observed in the United States.


Christmas is celebrated on December 25th to observe the birth of the Christian messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, according to the Christian Bible's New Testament. While the actual date of birth is not known, most scholars agree that December 25th was chosen in the 4th century to incorporate the existing pagan winter solstice. Many of Christmas traditions have their roots in the Pagan faith. For example, the ringing of bells in early Pagan culture was thought to drive out evil spirits. Bells were later used to "ring in a joyful noise", a Biblical reference.

Christmas has become a highly commercial and secular celebration for many non-religious people in North America. It has become a time to gather with friends and family, feast, give gifts, and celebrate the spirit of hope and the innate goodness of all people.


Hanukkah (also spelled Chanukah) means dedication. It's an eight-day Jewish celebration that runs from late November to early December to remember the rededication of the Temple of Jerusalem by Judas Maccabee in 165 B.C. The temple had been taken over for three years by Syrians, used it to worship the pagan god, Zeus. Maccabee reclaimed the temple for the Jewish God and they were to have an eight day celebration. However, the temple lamps, according to tradition, only had a day's worth of oil. The miracle celebrated during Hanukkah is that this small amount of oil burned for eight days.

A key symbol is a candle-holder called a menorah, which holds nine candles - eight to symbolize the eight nights of burning oil, and one to light the others. A blessing is recited each night as the candles are lit. The Festival of Lights, as it's also known, is filled with food, song, games, and gifts for friends and family.


Ramadan is the holy month of fasting for adult Muslims, which is observed according to the Muslin lunar calendar. Because this calendar has only 354 days, the timing is slightly earlier each year by our calendar. The holy text of Islam, the Koran, states that God requires the fast of Ramadan to help believers cultivate piety. Muslims believe the Koran was revealed to Islam's prophet, Muhammad, during this month.

The fast consists of not eating or drinking, even water, from sunrise to sunset. Observers also abstain from smoking, sex and inhaling perfumes. Light meals are taken before sunrise and after sunset. Worship and charity and practiced in addition to the fasting. At the end of the month, a feast is shared to celebrate the end of the fast. Celebrants dress up, pray communally and provide for the poor.


Kwanzaa is the newest winter holiday and is celebrate for seven days, from December 26th to January 1st. Kwanzaa is Swahili for first fruits, and it's origins comes from ancient African harvest celebrations. The modern Kwanzaa holiday was started around 1966 to help African communities worldwide celebrate family, community and culture.

Kwanzaa is celebrated through stories, music, and feasting. Like Hanukkah, the lighting of candles is a ritual. During Kwanzaa one of seven candles, called mishumaa, is lit each day to honor the Seven Principles of:

  • Unity
  • Self-determination
  • Collective work and responsibility
  • Cooperative economics
  • Purpose
  • Creativity
  • Faith

Gifts may be given one per day, or they may all be given on the last day of Kwanzaa, as an affirmation of self worth.


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  • profile image

    Maria Stella 7 years ago

    It's food for thought!!!

    Our students should learn about multicultural knowledge.

  • Food for the Soul profile image

    Food for the Soul 10 years ago from US - Southwest

    Great hub!