In the month of December in Central Ohio, the colorful transition of fall eases us into the long period of winter. Here in Powell at the A Grade Ahead headquarters, we embrace the chilly season adorned with sweaters, scarves, mugs of hot chocolate, and great enthusiasm for winter holidays. By mid-December, the Jewish Holiday of Hannukah is in full swing, Christmas is just around the corner, and a plethora of celebrations begin to pop up everywhere.
As we wrap up the first half of the academic year, we also wrap gifts for our loved ones and give thanks for our many blessings. For nature, wintertime is quiet, cold, and dormant. It is very peaceful. It is the perfect time for us humans to take a break and enjoy each other’s presence (and presents) by celebrating holidays. At A Grade Ahead, we are proud to represent many different cultures and backgrounds. Join us for a tour of various winter holidays around the globe.
Countries all over the world celebrate Hannukah, a Jewish holiday. The annual celebration lasts 8 days and may fall anytime around late-November to late-December. In 2023, Hannukah begins the night of December 7th and ends the night of December 15th. The word “Hannukah” comes from the Hebrew word meaning “dedication.”
During the festival, people of the Jewish faith remember the rededication of The Second Temple of Jerusalem after the Maccabees took back the city from the Greeks in the 2nd century BCE. Celebrators observe the holiday by lighting the candles of a menorah, a candelabra with nine holders. The Shammash, the tallest candle usually placed in the middle of the menorah, is used each night to light one other candles until all eight candles have been lit. People also celebrate by singing songs, playing games, giving gifts, and eating traditional foods such as latke, kugel, brisket, rugelach, challah, and sufganiyot. Check out some delicious Hannukah recipes here!
Another holiday that springs to mind for wintertime is Christmas, a Christian holiday celebrated every year on December 25th in countries across the globe. Christians observe this day as the birth of Jesus Christ, the central figure of the Christian faith. Many people celebrate this joyous day by attending a church service, visiting loved ones, exchanging gifts, and preparing a large feast to be enjoyed with family and friends. Over time, Christmas has also become popular in a secular way, celebrated by people of other faiths as well.
Although Christmas technically lasts only one day, the weeks leading up to December 25th are full of many festivities and traditions for those who love to celebrate. Popular ways to celebrate the yuletide season are listening to Christmas music, buying gifts for loved ones, preparing traditional treats like Christmas cakes and cookies, decorating with strings of lights, and putting up a Christmas tree.
One of the most famous figures of the Christmas season is Santa Claus, a jolly bearded man who lives at the North Pole. Legend has it that on Christmas Eve, Santa flies around the world in a sleigh pulled by 9 flying reindeer as he delivers gifts to Children everywhere. In addition to all the festivities, Children in many countries also have an extended break from school during this period. Worried about your child falling behind during this break? Check out our Enrichment Programs to help prevent this!
Kwanzaa is a pan-African and African-American holiday that was created in California in 1966 by Maulana Karenga, an African-American activist, author, and professor. It exists as a way for Africans to celebrate their unique cultural heritage. The name Kwanzaa comes from the Swahili matunda ya kwanza, which means “first fruits.”
Kwanzaa takes place over seven days, from December 26th to January 1st, during which observers celebrate Nguzu Saba, the seven principles of African Heritage: Umoja (unity), Kujichagulia (Self-determination), Ujima (Collective work and responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperative economics), Nia (purpose), Kuumba (creativity), and Imani (faith). One candle a day represents one principle on the Kinara (Swahili for “candleholder”), which consists of seven candles. The black candle at the center of the holder represents the African people and is lit on the first night. On nights 2, 3, and 4, the three red candles in the left holders are lit. The red candles represent the struggles of African people. On the last three nights, the green candles are lit, representing hope and the future.
Heading over to the Eastern hemisphere, we find ourselves in India, a nation full of many rich cultural traditions. Here at A Grade Ahead, we love to celebrate Diwali, India’s most important holiday, which occurs in the fall in October or November. Wintertime also presents an exciting celebration: Makar Sankranti. Hindus observe this festival as a new beginning with the sun transitioning from Sagittarius to Capricorn. This zodiacal event usually occurs on January 14, but with 2024 being a leap year, it will happen on January 15th.
In accordance with the solar transition, the festival honors Surya, the Hindu god of the sun. During this time, Hindus also worship Vishnu, the god of preservation, and his wife Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and fortune. The people of India celebrate this festival in many ways. Some traditions include bathing in rivers as a method of spiritual cleansing, flying kites, eating sticky sweet treats made with sesame and jaggery, and spending time with loved ones.
CHINESE NEW YEAR
Throughout Asia, many countries celebrate the Lunar New Year. In China specifically, the Chinese New Year is considered the most important holiday. Usually falling between January 21 and February 20, this festival celebrates the end of winter and the beginning of spring according to the lunisolar Chinese Calendar. Festivities last for 15 days starting on New Year’s Eve and culminating in the lantern festival on the 15th day of the New Year.
In 2024, the first day of the Chinese New Year will occur on February 10th, and the lantern festival will be on February 24th. Many legends surround the traditions practiced during this festival. One such legend is that of the Nian, a hungry beast that would come out of hiding on New Year’s Eve to feed on animals and people, especially children. Upon learning that the Nian feared the color red, people adorned their homes with red items, including lanterns and scrolls, in order to ward off the beast. They would also bang drums and throw firecrackers to scare the Nian away. Today in China and in Chinese diaspora around the world, New Year’s celebrations include red décor and clothing, as well as firecrackers and fireworks displays. Performances featuring the dragon dance are also popular during this festival.
From eating delicious food, to exchanging gifts, to lighting candles and decorating with lights, wintertime is a wonderful time. At A Grade Ahead, we are celebrating with you. Do you celebrate a winter holiday in your home? If so, which one? What are some of your family traditions?
From all of us at A Grade Ahead, Happy holidays everyone!
Author: Amanda Hutson, Curriculum Assistant at A Grade Ahead