A look at different December holidays.

BY ELLIE CRESPO, ’22. GRAPHICS BY MEGAN MCKINNEY, ’22.

Six years ago, elementary school students could be seen reading “The Night Before Christmas” or participating in a Secret Santa gift-exchange on the day before winter break. Now, classroom celebrations have no religious significance or affiliation.

The PTO began offering elementary school room-parent orientation, following the guidelines of the Upper Arlingtonian Board of Education Policy 8800 six years ago. According to Policy 8800, “Observance of religious holidays through devotional exercises or acts of worship [are] prohibited.” However, “Celebration activities involving nonreligious decorations and use of secular works are permitted.”

This switch was intended to make students of all religious backgrounds feel included during the holiday celebrations because many November/December holidays are celebrated around the world.

Las Posadas

Las Posadas, which translates to “The Inns” in English, is a Mexican holiday. The holiday commemorates Joseph and María’s journey to Bethlehem and spans nine days to honor each month of María’s pregnancy with Jesus. Festivities typically begin at 8 p.m. and last well into the night; celebrations include a family parade around the block, praying and singing.

Each night, families adorned in colorful costumes representing the Peregrinos—María and Joseph—parade the neighborhood. Families pass each house on their block until they reach their own, representing how María and Joseph were denied shelter in Bethlehem. The Las Posadas processions are followed by hours of praying, singing and eating. 

“Where I’m from, [on] the 23 we have La Posada Grande; that’s like the big Posada that like the whole block [makes]. They close one whole street, and everyone comes outside with lights on; we have tacos … everyone brings food. And like we have pinatas, music and all that stuff,” senior Diana Rodriguez-Nunez said.

Some families have individual traditions.

“In my house at the end of the night, they have different baby [Jesuses] that you have to change. Like, you get with a partner and you change them, and then you put them to sleep. And that’s kind of like our reunion for the family. That’s [on] the 16 and then on the 24 we wake them up… and then we change them,” senior Isabela Gallegos-Esqueda said.

Other celebrations, however, are essential.

“You have to sing the songs, like, if you don’t sing them it’s not a Posada,” Rodriguez-Nunez said. “Campanas de Belén, Los Peces en El Río.”

Las Posadas is celebrated from Dec. 16 to 24. To join in on the Las Posadas celebrations, Rodriguez-Nunez and Gallegos-Esqueda suggest singing the traditional songs and making Ponche Navideño.

Kwanzaa

Kwanzaa is a holiday which honors African heritage and African American culture. The celebration was created by African American studies professor Maulana Karenga following the Watts riots of 1966 in which protesters fought against police brutality and discrimination in the education and housing systems. Karenga said that he wanted to create a holiday that gave African Americans “the opportunity to celebrate themselves and their history.” 

The Swahili phrase “matunda ya kwanza” meaning “first fruits” was the basis for the name Kwanzaa. Each day of Kwanzaa honors one of the seven principles: umoja (unity), kujichagulia (self-determination), ujima (collective work and responsibility), ujamaa (cooperative economics), nia (purpose), kuumba (creativity) and imani (faith). 

Kwanzaa festivities were inspired by the harvest festivals of many different Southern African cultures and tribes, such as the Zulu. Festivities on the first night start with lighting the central black candle; participants light a candle each night to represent one of the seven Kwanzaa principles. 

Other celebrations include singing, dancing, wearing traditional African clothing, storytelling and engaging in the harvest feast on the final day.

Kwanzaa is observed from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1.

Yule

The pagan and Germanic holiday, Yule, is centered around the winter solstice. Every solstice, pagans and Germanic people celebrate the rebirth of the sun as they welcome back its warmth. This tradition predates the 16th century when winter in Northern Europe was filled with famine and brutal weather; the solstice brought hope and fresh meat for people in the northern hemisphere, spurring the 12-day Yule tradition of feasting and merrimaking.

With the expansion of the Christian Church across Europe, many of Yule’s traditions were absorbed into Christmas in an effort to coerce Germanic peoples and pagans to join the church. These traditions include but are not limited to: the use of Mistletoe, the 12 days of Christmas, gift-giving and decorating with holly. However, many pagans and Germanic people still celebrate Yule, like senior Sam Wilson.

Though Wilson’s parents don’t celebrate Yule, they have individually observed the holiday for four years thus far. Yule celebrations are similarly individualistic, with many traditions differing from family-to-family and person-to-person.

“[I like] having fires in the fireplace; making smores is something I enjoy. Making homemade apple cider with different fall stuff or like baking for my family, and feasting is very common. I guess [anything] joyous like singing, fire, lighting candles, having nice smelling stuff in the home, decorating,” Wilson said.

​​Wilson said that anyone can celebrate Yule.

“As long as you’re doing it out of respect, because [you] genuinely think [Yule] actually clicks, then there isn’t really any wrong way to do it,” Wilson said.

Yule starts on Dec. 21 and ends on Jan. 1. To participate in the Yule celebrations, Wilson suggests that they decorate your home with evergreen, which symbolizes life, and holly, which symbolizes protection. Additionally, Wilson recommends creating a Yule altar the night of the winter solstice and burning a candle that represents the sun throughout the day.

Christmas

Christmas is celebrated by both Christians and non-religious people alike. The holiday commemorates the anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ, son of the Virgin Mary. Christmas, however, is also a cultural holiday and includes many secular traditions such as decorating the Christmas tree and anticipating the arrival of Santa Claus.

“To me it’s just a time to spend quality time with my family; we luckily live close to each other but still don’t see each other that much with busy lives. So, it’s just like usually two days where we get to be close and spend a lot of quality time [together],” senior Jillian Kuehn said.

To Kuehn, the festivities leading up to Christmas Day are equally important.

“[We decorate] the Christmas tree and the whole house; we have themed rooms like a candy room and a snowman room in our house with different decorations,” Kuehn said. “Usually me and my whole entire family go Christmas shopping together and like split up so that we can keep it a secret what we’re getting each other, but still all go together.”

Christmas Eve and Day for the Kuehn family are filled with long-standing and essential traditions.

“On Christmas Eve every year, my five-person family—my parents, my siblings and I—always go bowling like in the middle of the day. And then we go to my dad’s parents’ house, and we always eat lasagna. We’re not Italian, but we always eat lasagna,” Kuehn said. Then my grandma every year gets me, my siblings, my cousins, my mom and both of my aunts a pair of pjs to wear to sleep that night, so they’re always Christmas themed. And that’s the one gift we’re allowed to open on Christmas Eve.” 

Christmas Day is Dec. 25. To partake in the Christmas festivities, Kuehn recommends that they adorn your house in yellowish-white LED lights and visit Butch Bando’s Holiday Fantasy of Lights Alum Creek, a drive-through light show.

Hanukkah

Hanukkah, or Chanukah, is an eight-night Jewish Festival of Lights. The holiday commemorates a small Jewish army, the Maccabees, defending themselves against religious persecution at the hands of the Greek empire over 2,000 years ago. Hanukkah celebrations are filled with lighting candles and eating fried food.

Senior Noah Freud’s celebrations are centered around family togetherness, typically holding the largest festivities on the first night of Hanukkah.

“This is more of a cultural holiday. So rather than saying prayers and having food, it’s more of just enjoying the time together, hanging out with family,” Freud said. “We usually only celebrate the first night, and then we just light candles the other eight nights. We give gifts usually the first night. We’re pretty relaxed.”

Hanukkah is typically observed anytime between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve, in direct alignment with Christmas celebrations, which has pushed one of Judaism’s least important holidays to the forefront in America.

“Back in Israel, I have a lot of Israeli family as well, people don’t celebrate Hanukkah like we do,” Freud said. “The only reason Jews recieve gifts on Hanukkah is because back when a lot of Jews were immigrating from Eastern Europe to America, a lot of the kids were just upset that they didn’t get anything on Christmas, and it just sort of became an [American] Hanukkah tradition.”

This year, Hanukkah starts on the night of Nov. 28 and ends on Dec. 6. To join in on the Hanukkah festivities, Freud recommends enjoying a jelly donut.