This time of year everyone can celebrate the hope, joy and peace reflected in all the holidays of the season.
First comes Hanukkah, a Jewish holiday celebrated for eight days and nights. The movable feast starts on the 25th of the Jewish month of Kislev, which coincides with late November-late December on the secular calendar. This year Hanukkah begins the evening of Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2011, and ends the evening of Wednesday, Dec. 28.
In Hebrew, the word "hanukkah" means “dedication” commemorating the re-dedication of the holy Temple in Jerusalem following the Jewish victory over the Syrian-Greeks in 165 BCE. Jewish troops were determined to purify the Temple by burning ritual oil in the Temple’s menorah for eight days. But to their dismay, they discovered that there was only one day's worth of oil left in the Temple. They lit the menorah anyway and to their surprise the small amount of oil lasted the full eight days.
This is the miracle of the Hanukkah oil that is celebrated every year when Jews light a special menorah known as a hanukkiyah for eight days. One candle is lit on the first night of Hanukkah, two on the second, and so on, until eight candles are lit.
The winter solstice also is this week for us here. After the winter solstice, the days will get longer and we will celebrate the light. In 2011, the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere will occur at 12:30 a.m. on Dec. 22. Officially the first day of winter, the winter solstice occurs when the North Pole is tilted 23.5 degrees away from the sun. This is the longest night of the year, meaning that despite the cold winter, the days get progressively longer after the winter solstice until the summer solstice in 2012.
And guess who lives at the North Pole. Santa Claus, also known as St. Nicholas, Father Christmas, Kris Kringle, and simply "Santa," is a figure with legendary, mythical, historical and folkloric aspects who, in many western cultures, is said to bring gifts to the homes of the good children during the late evening and overnight hours of Christmas Eve, Dec. 24. The modern figure was derived from the Dutch figure of Sinterklaas, which, in turn, may have part of its basis in hagiographical tales concerning the historical figure of gift-giver St. Nicholas.
Santa Claus generally is depicted as a plump, jolly, white-bearded man wearing a red coat with white collar and cuffs, white-cuffed red trousers, and black leather belt and boots. This image became popular in the United States and Canada in the 19th century due to the significant influence of Clement Clarke Moore's 1823 poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas" and of caricaturist and political cartoonist Thomas Nast. This image has been maintained and reinforced through song, radio, television, children's books and films.
According to a tradition which can be traced to the 1820s, Santa Claus lives at the North Pole, with a large number of magical elves, and nine (originally eight, plus Rudolph) flying reindeer. Since the 20th century, in an idea popularized by the 1934 song "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," Santa Claus has been believed to make a list of children throughout the world, categorizing them according to their behavior ("naughty" or "nice") and to deliver presents, including toys and candy, to all of the good boys and girls in the world, and sometimes coal to the naughty children, on the single night of Christmas Eve, Dec. 24. He accomplishes this feat with the aid of the elves who make the toys in the workshop and the reindeer who pull his sleigh.
Christmas, the second-greatest feast day in the Christian calendar (after Easter Sunday), celebrates the Nativity, or birth, of Jesus Christ. Christmas Day always is on Dec. 25, this year on Sunday. Celebrations include church services with holiday music recalling the virgin birth of God's Son in a lowly stable some 2,000 years ago, promising peace on earth and good will to all mankind.
Then comes Kwanzaa, a week-long holiday honoring African culture and traditions. It falls between Dec. 26 and Jan. 1 each year. Maulana Karenga, an African-American leader, proposed this observance and it was first celebrated between December 1966 and January 1967.
Kwanzaa honors the culture and traditions of people of African origin. The week of celebrations ends with a feast and the exchange of gifts. During the celebrations, candles are lit and libations are poured. A libation is the name given to a ritual pouring of a drink as an offering to a god. During Kwanzaa, a wooden unity cup is used to pour the libations. Ceremonies often include performance of music and drumming, a reflection on the Pan-African colors of red, green and black and a discussion of some aspect of African history.
Finally, Saturday, Dec. 31, is New Year's Eve, the last day of 2011, followed by Jan. 1, New Year's Day, the first day of 2012. Happy New Year!
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Wednesday, December 7, 2011
(December 7, 2011) Today is the 70th anniversary of Japan's surprise bombing of U.S. forces in Pearl Harbor which jolted the United States out of isolationism and into World War II. More than 2,400 Americans were killed and more than 1,100 were wounded. The attack sank four U.S. Navy battleships and damaged four more. It also damaged or sank three cruisers, three destroyers, one mine layer and damaged 188 aircraft.
The nation was changed forever on the morning of Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in a speech to Congress, described that day of the bombing of Pearl Harbor as "a date which will live in infamy."
The day after the attack, the United States declared war on Japan and entered World War II fighting with the Allies including France and England against the Axis powers including Germany. Americans came together in their common cause.
Today, Pearl Harbor survivors and other World War II veterans remember their service and sacrifice.
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