Why and how we celebrate the holidays
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Christmas is both a sacred religious holiday and a worldwide cultural and commercial phenomenon. For two millennia, people around the world have been observing it with traditions and practices that are both religious and secular in nature.
Christians celebrate Christmas Day as the anniversary of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, a spiritual leader whose teachings form the basis of their religion. Popular customs include exchanging gifts, decorating Christmas trees, attending church, sharing meals with family and friends and, of course, waiting for Santa Claus to arrive. Dec. 25 -- Christmas Day -- has been a federal holiday in the United States since 1870.
-- Source: www.history.com
The festival of Hanukkah celebrates two miracles -- a great Jewish military victory and a miraculous supply of oil for the Temple.
Hanukkah marks the Macabees' long-ago defeat of the much-larger Greek-Syrian army that had invaded Israel. The Macabees were just a small group of Jews led by Mattathias and his five sons, including Judah Macabee. But they organized themselves into a guerrilla army and, with God's help, proved stronger than their powerful enemy.
Following the Macabees' victory, the Jews rededicated the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and, once again, were able to worship freely.
Although Hanukkah celebrates a military victory, its major symbol -- the Hanukkah menorah, or hanukkiah -- reminds of the miracle of the oil. As the Jews purified the Holy Temple, they found only one flask of the oil for the eternal lamp -- enough to keep it burning for just one day. But a miracle occurred, and the oil lasted eight days and nights until more oil could be brought from afar. That miracle is why Hanukkah is celebrated for eight days and also why Hanukkah is called the Festival of Lights.
The Hanukkah menorah holds nine candles, one for each of the eight nights and an additional candle that's used to light the others. One candle is lighted on the first night of Hanukkah, two on the second night, until all eight candles are lighted on the eighth night.
Hanukkah is a time to celebrate with family and friends, to eat holiday treats, to give gifts (especially to children) and to play the dreidel, a spinning top game that dates to the time of the Maccabean revolt.
-- Source: The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews
First Published November 21, 2012 12:00 am