The Jewish Festival of Lights
Chanukah, or Hanukkah, lasts for eight days, beginning the 25th of the Hebrew month Kislev (November-December). It celebrates the victory of Judah the Maccabee over the Syrian tyrant Antiochus over 2100 years ago.
In 165BC, after three years of war, Judah won a decisive victory over the Syrians and returned with his followers to Jerusalem to reclaimed the Temple. On their return, they could find only one small cruse of oil, enough to last one day. But when they lit the temple menorah with it, a miracle occurred and the menorah burned for eight days. Since then, the Jewish people celebrated the success of the Maccabees and the miracle of the oil.
Each night of the festival, the family gathers around the menorah, a special candelabrum that holds eight candles. On the first night the head of the family uses a helper candle – called a shamos – to light one candle. On the second night, two candles are lit, and so on, until all eight candles are lit on the eighth night. Each night, gifts are given. In some families, children play games with a small four-sided wooden top called at dreidel. On each side of the top is one letter of NGHS, or Nes Godol Hoyoh Shom, which means “A great miracle happened there.” Hanukkah means “dedication.”
The Jewish Festival of Lights, Hanukkah, begins the 25th of Kislev (November – December)
Muslims around the world celebrate Ramadan, which marks the month the prophet Mohammed is believed to have had their holy book, the Koran, revealed to him by God. Ramadan is the 9th month of the Islamic lunar calendar, being 11 to 12 days shorter than the Gregorian calendar. The celebration starts at the first sighting of the moon in Ramadan. This year, Ramadan happens to fall over the Christmas period.
Muslims cannot eat and drink at all in the daytime during this period, breaking their fast only when the sun sets and again before the sun rises, sharing special Ramadan treats, such as Konafa, an Egyptian dessert made of shredded wheat and syrup, or Katayef, sweets stuffed with nuts. They also eat dates (iftar) which, according to Islamic teachings, were eaten by Mohammed at the end of each day of the fasting month. The days are spent in prayer and reflection.
The fast ends with the celebration of Eid al-Fitr, the festival of the breaking of the fast. Some Muslim governments grant amnesties to political and other prisoners on this day.
Kwanzaa was founded in 1966 by Dr. Maulana “Ron” Karenga, a college professor and African American leader. He studied the festivals of many African groups of people and decided that the new holiday should be a harvest or “first fruits.” Kwanzaa is a Kiswahili word meaning “the first fruits of the harvest.”
The 25th December also is considered to be the birthday of the Hindu god, Krishna, as well as Mithra, the Greek god of light.
The annual Tree Festival, which had long been celebrated in Northern Europe before the Christian era, is still celebrated among nature-based faiths such as Wicca.
There used to be a Festival of Madmen on Christmas day, when servants became masters and masters servants for the day.
Festival of the ass
In the Middle Ages, the Festival of the Ass was held on Christmas Eve, recalling Joseph and Mary’s flight into Egypt. A young girl with babe in her arms entered the church riding an ass or donkey. During mass, all the prayers ended with “hee-haw.” The Catholic Church banned the celebrations because of its sacrilegious character.