32 Things You Didn’t Know About the Holiday Season
With these fun holiday facts, you’ll be the best conversationalist at all of this year’s holiday parties.
Why December has so many holidays
While there’s no single explanation, many experts agree that December holidays date back to ancient celebrations surrounding the Winter Solstice, which is the shortest day of the year but also marks a sort of “birth of light”—because every day after that grows slightly longer for the next six months. The winter solstice occurs in the third week of December. When the Christian religion began celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ at the end of the third century AD, it is believed that church officials settled on December 25 in order to coincide with existing pagan festivals surrounding the solstice, thus making it easier to convince the pagan worshipers to accept Christianity.
Hanukkah isn’t the Jewish Christmas
Because Hanukkah and Christmas tend to fall around the same time of year, people often wonder if Hanukkah is a Jewish version of Christmas. At least religiously speaking, it is not.
The Jewish festival of Hanukkah (the spelling of which we will discuss below) has nothing to do with the birth of Christ, and the event it commemorates—the rededication of the Second Temple of Jerusalem, where the Jews had successfully risen up against their oppressors in the Maccabean Revolt—occurred a couple of hundred years before Jesus’s birth. Hanukkah is often referred to as the “Festival of Lights” because according to the Talmud (one of the Jewish religion’s central texts), when the Jews took back their Temple after the battle, they had only enough oil left to keep the lights burning for a single day—and yet, miraculously, the lights burned bright for another eight nights, thus leaving time to locate a fresh supply of oil.
The Hanukkah celebration involves the lighting and blessing of a nine-branched candelabra known as a menorah or a hanukkiah. On each of the holiday’s eight nights, another candle is added and lit; the ninth candle (called the “shamash”) is the helper candle that is used to light all the others. Hanukkah doesn’t even necessarily take place in December. It always begins on the 25th day of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar, which can fall anywhere from late November to late December in the secular calendar.
But you’re right to see the similarities
Jews have always celebrated the rededication of the temple and the miracle of the lights, although that celebration bore no resemblance to Christmas until the late 1800s. That’s when two rabbis in Cincinnati intentionally brought a Christmas-y feel to the festivities. Growing concerned that Jewish children seemed increasingly disconnected to their religion, they developed a new celebration for children during Hanukkah that included giving presents. National newspapers publicized this, and in no time, the Jewish community in America had reshaped Hanukkah as something children and their families could celebrate while other American families were celebrating Christmas. It also became a way for the Jewish community to feel a part of something so culturally significant in America. You’ll definitely want to try these fun and easy Hanukkah crafts.
So how do you spell that anyway?
There is no right way to spell Hanukkah. That’s because it’s a Hebrew word, and Hebrew uses an entirely different alphabet and includes some entirely different sounds from the English alphabet. Spelling the word in English involves the process of “transliteration,” which means changing the letters of a word into the most closely corresponding characters of another language. Transliteration is an imprecise art, at best, and Hanukkah presents at least two examples of why:
- The first sound is not actually “ha,” which involves expelling a puff of air from the mouth while the tongue stays out of the way. Rather, it involves placing the rear of the tongue lightly on the roof of the mouth, which creates a sound that is not spellable using the English alphabet. Some try by spelling the first sound as “Cha.” Others feel that the “ch” can be confused with the “Ch” in Christmas or in lunch.
- The “k” sound toward the end of the word is easily spelled with a single “k,” but some prefer to spell it with “kk” in order to distinguish it from an English word (which has no “kk”).
Kwanzaa is celebrated in addition to ChristmasAllisa/shutterstock
Kwanzaa is a secular (non-religious) festival observed by many African Americans from December 26 to January 1 as a celebration of their cultural heritage and traditional values. Kwanzaa is celebrated by African Americans of all faiths. Those who are Christian may observe it in addition to Christmas.
Kwanzaa was created by Dr. Maulana Karenga (a black nationalist who later became a college professor) in 1966 as a way of uniting and empowering the African African community in the aftermath of the deadly Watts riots in Los Angeles. Having modeled his holiday on traditional African harvest festivals, he took the name “Kwanzaa” from the Swahili phrase, “matunda ya kwanza,” which means “first fruits.” The extra “a” was added, Karenga has said, simply to accommodate seven children at the first-ever Kwanzaa celebration in 1966, each of whom wanted to represent a letter. But there may be something more to the number “seven” than that (see below).
The number 7 comes up a lot in Kwanzaa
There are seven principles and seven primary symbols that emphasize a unique set of values and ideals during the seven-day celebration of Kwanzaa, which is spelled with seven letters.
Speaking of numbers…let’s talk about the number 3,473
The holidays are a major source of weird world records. For example:
The largest gathering of people wearing holiday sweaters is 3,473, recorded at the University of Kansas on December 19, 2015, when that many people wore brightly colored sweaters to the men’s basketball game against Montana.
The number 559
The largest display of lit Christmas trees was recorded on November 2, 2015, when the Hallmark Channel lit 559 Christmas trees in New York City’s Herald Square. Now, imagine if no one bothered to take down these lights? Make sure you avoid these 18 holiday decorating mistakes you didn’t know you were making.
The number 6,400JewishContentImages/shutterstock
Jelly doughnuts are a traditional Hanukkah treat. The biggest pile of these delicious treats was recorded on the first night of Hanukkah of 1997, when a 12-foot high pyramid made of 6,400 jelly doughnuts (called “soufganiyot” in Hebrew), was erected near the Israeli town of Afula. Afterwards, the doughnuts were distributed to Israeli soldiers serving along the border with Lebanon.
The numbers 1 and 2 (diaper alert)
New Year’s Eve brings a lot of revelers to Times Square every year; a record million were expected for last year’s festivities. And a lot of them are wearing diapers. No, we’re not talking about babies here. We’re talking about adults. Apparently, due to a lack of toilets, some adults wear diapers while ringing in the new year in Times Square.