‘Tis the Season!

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As the shortest day of the year approached, cultures throughout history created rituals and celebrations to welcome back the light in hopes that the darkness would so soon start to wane. December 21st in the Gregorian calendar represents the longest night of the year, also known as the Winter Solstice. Before Christ, the old Earth-Based religions in Europe celebrated the “Yule” or “Mid-Winter” with traditions such as adorning their homes with evergreen trees and branches as a symbol of eternal life during the dead of winter. With the birth of Christianity, this custom led to the Christmas tree and wreath. Legend has it that German religious reformer Martin Luther introduced the concept of decorating the Christmas tree. While out walking one winter’s night, he looked up at the stars and was struck with the notion of placing candles on the tree to delight the children. Historically, the first documentation of a fully decorated Christmas tree comes from 1605, in Strasbourg, where fir trees were cloaked in colored paper, apples, sweets, gold foil and such. By the end of the 18th century Christmas trees were abundant throughout Germany and today, it is hard to envision the season without them.

The Jewish Holiday of Hanukkah or Chanukah, also known as The Festival of Lights, occurs on the 25th day of the 3rd month in the Hebrew lunar calendar, which changes dates according to the Western solar calendar. Hanukkah commemorates the retaking of the Temple of Jerusalem from the Syrian King over 2000 years ago. It was discovered during the rededication ceremony that there was only enough oil for one day, yet miraculously it lasted for eight days, hence the tradition of lighting the nine-branch candelabra, known as “The Menorah” or “Chanukiah,” with the ninth candle in the center being used to light the other eight.

A relatively new addition to the winter holidays, created in 1966 by Professor Ronald McKinley Everett, now known as Maulana Ndabezitha Karenga and born out the “Black Freedom Movement,” is the African-American cultural holiday of Kwanzaa. Lasting 7 nights and burning 7 candles, which represent the 7 principles of African heritage, Kwanzaa is meant to be a time for contemplation and meditation on three key questions: “Who am I?” “Am I really who I say I am?” and “Am I all I ought to be?” Children are given educational presents, such as cultural books, while ceremonial drumming, music, and reflections on the Pan African Colors are often part of the festivities.

In Latin cultures, “Las Posadas” is celebrated. Originating in Spain, it now is most popular in Mexico and Guatemala. “Las Posadas” translates to “The Inn” and spans over nine days, with the number nine representing the months Mary carried Jesus. Communities recreate the Nativity scene, carol from door to door with candles, and pretend to ask for lodging in honor of Mary and Joseph’s plight.

The legend of jolly old Santa Claus comes from an actual historical figure, St. Nicholas, who lived in Asia Minor around 280 AD. To this day in Europe, he is depicted as tall and lean, in blue bishops robes, whereas the American Santa Claus gets his red and white suit from the marketing of Coca Cola through Haddon Sundblom illustrations. Little is known about the actual St. Nicholas, except that had been a benefactor to children. St. Nicholas Day is celebrated on December 6th, and many children in Europe receive presents from him on this day. A darker, more sinister character is known to accompany St. Nick; that of the Krampus, who is a horned devil looking creature said to snatch up naughty children, created as a disciplinary tool for kids to behave properly. Today, the Krampus is enjoying immense popularity among the hipster, cosplay, and Goth communities, with entire late night Krampus balls and parades being thrown around SoCal in his honor, celebrating the art of “naughtiness.”

Whichever holidays you celebrate, or even if you choose to abstain, we wish you and yours a season of warmth, peace and love.

Philharmonia Association