©Kebba Buckley Button, 2010, World Rights Reserved.
Everyone has his or her own set of experiences and feelings, stories and images, around the idea of “The Holidays”. Dedicated shopping enthusiasts have already purchased décor and gifts throughout the year. Festive types are often wrapping boxes, making cookies, hanging lights, and playing holiday music, by November or earlier.
We have visions of what The Holidays mean and what they should be. Some people see these holidays as times for gathering with family and friends. Some see them as times for pulling communities together and remembering humankind’s noblest directions. Some hold their breath and pray for the holidays to be over. Some feel isolated from the apparent mainstream of joy and socializing. Some love the seasonal symbols and colors. Some cringe at the commercial promotion of gifting. In some homes, elaborate foods, heavy feasting, and expanding waistlines are traditional. For some, it’s a time to go help serve at Shelter Services.
The earliest celebration in history to become one of our December holidays is what we now know as Chanukah, the Festival of Lights. It commemorates a miracle regarding the Temple’s nehr tamid, eternal light. Today, many Jews light a series of 8 candles plus shamos, the center helper candle, to celebrate over an 8-day period. Chanukah falls in December, based on lunar calendar dates.
The second celebration to become one of our December traditions is what is now known as “Christmas”. This is literally Christ Mass, a celebration of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, December 25th. Jesus is believed by many to be the Moshiach, the Messiah. Prophesied by many about 2000 years ago, the Messiah was to change humankind by his appearance in human form. The advent of Jesus, and his teachings, ushered in a new era of compassionate values and visioning for the planet. This holy day, with up to a 12-day holy season, has been celebrated in many ways, throughout many cultures. In addition to religious services, there are many festive traditions for Christmas: decorated fir trees, singers “caroling” from house to house, church groups re-enacting the Nativity scene, and a mythical Saint Nicholas who delivers gifts or coal in a flying sleigh.
The most recent of the religious traditions to become a December celebration in this country is Kwanzaa. “Kwanzaa” is Swahili for “first fruits”. Based on a traditional African harvest festival, Kwanzaa was developed in the United States, in the 20th century, as a celebration of African heritage and the importance of family. It is always celebrated from December 26 to January 1. Seven values are celebrated: Umoja (Unity), Kujichagulia (Self-determination), Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperative economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity), and Imani (Faith). A red, black, or green candle is lit each day.
This column shares only a few hundred words on some of the most profound values humans hold dear. As the micro-descriptions of the holy traditions flashed by your eyes, what images of your own past Holidays flew to mind? In the Christmas story of The Nutcracker, little Clara dreams of sugarplums dancing: beauty, music, joy, plentitude, and times filled with love.
From before my marriage, my favorite Holiday memory is from Colorado in 1997. We waded in steamy hot springs on Christmas Eve, in our swimsuits, with snow falling in our hair, and we laughed. Later, I went for a walk alone in the fresh, silent snow. Never were the stars or my visions more clear. Suddenly, I felt the connection of all humanity and the planetwide aching for pervasive peace. My soul seemed to flash around the globe, “seeing” what everyone was thinking about and dreaming of. I felt a kinship, a connection with all. I felt the Spirit of the Season across all time and space. I knew my sugarplum visions: Pax hominibus. Peace on Earth.
What are the “sugarplums” that dance in your head? May all your sugarplum visions come true.
A version of this article appeared in 2004. Reach the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org