Bobby wants a pair of skates and Suzy wants a sled, but not all of Bobby and Suzy’s buddies may be completely familiar with jolly old St. Nick. December is a month of many holidays, and as your kids go about picking presents and planning parties, it’s a good time to celebrate diversity as well.
In the end, our holiday focus might fall somewhere similar—family and friends.
Meet these families and learn about three other holidays celebrated in December.
Ornaments often sparkle in Naazish YarKhan’s house around the holidays, but they hang on houseplants instead of evergreen. Her children, Taskeen, 10, and Yousuf, 5, decorate them with ornaments they receive from their friends in the neighborhood.
When most of their neighbors in Glendale Heights are singing carols, Naazish YarKhan and her family celebrate Eid-ul-Adha. Muslims celebrate two Eids each year, Eid-ul-Fitr at the end of the month of fasting during Ramadan and Eid-ul-Adha at the end of December. The dates vary based on the lunar calendar so it may not always fall in December. Eid-ul-Adha celebrates the spirit of sacrifice, remembering Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son for the Lord. In this vein, Taskeen and Yousuf are encouraged to a give a portion of the gifts they receive to charity.
YarKhan believes in the importance of learning about culture and about other holidays. "In our school district they wanted to call a (Christmas tree) a holiday tree," YarKhan says. "I wrote the superintendent against it, saying ‘Don’t do that, because you take away my child’s exposure and opportunity to learn about different cultures.’ I’d rather they knew more."
YarKhan and Taskeen also share about their holiday with others. They attend Christmas parties and Taskeen gives her teachers and friends Eid presents. She has also made class presentations with her mom. "Last year we made a mosque, which is sort of like a church where we pray, and we read Arabic and showed all different kinds of writing," Taskeen says. "One of my favorites, the writing, was actually in the shape of animals."
YarKhan grew up in India and enjoyed festivities associated with both Christmas and Hindu holidays, Diwali and Holi. "I didn’t participate in the religious component, but we went to Christmas parties and helped our friends decorate their trees," YarKhan says. "It didn’t make us less Muslim to do that."
The best time during the holidays for Rabbi Jonathan Kohn’s family is when they light the candles on the menorah and then sing hymns and prayers together, walking through their house and finding presents in each room.
The Kohns celebrate Hanukkah, an important Jewish holiday, though not as major as Passover or Rosh Hashanah. Traditionally, Hanukkah celebrates the restoration of the Temple in Jerusalem after it was defiled by Syrian Greeks. The Hebrew word Hanukkah means "dedication," as in the rededication of the temple. Today, Hanukkah asserts the right and obligation for Jews to be different, Kohn says. "That’s what the Maccabee was fought for." The Maccabees organized armies to drive the Syrian Greeks out of Judea.
"Hanukkah means to me that as a united people, we can really accomplish what we need to," says Elisheva, 11, Kohn’s youngest daughter.
Elisheva and her twin brother Zachary attend public school, where they get to learn about other holidays and also share their Jewish traditions. "My friends are really interested in Hanukkah," Elisheva says. "So during Hanukkah, I get each of my friends a gift."
"We all have our different beliefs and I like mine," Zachary says. "I like to know that I have holidays and I don’t really mind that other people in my school don’t celebrate the same things. Since there are many (holidays), we can learn a lot."
As holidays go, Kwanzaa is still fairly new. It was established in 1966, during the Black Freedom Movement, by Dr. Maulana Karenga (born Ron Everett). While it is celebrated during the seven days between Christmas and New Year’s Day, Kwanzaa is more of a cultural holiday for African-Americans and does not replace religious holidays that also occur around that time. Many people celebrate both Kwanzaa and another religious holiday.
"(Karenga) created the holiday as a way for African people to come together and to celebrate ourselves and our history," says Kwame Steve Cobb. Cobb and his wife, Chavunduka, own a production company, Cobbala Productions, and host an annual pre-Kwanzaa celebration in Chicago. This year, it will be held at the House of Hope Arena on Dec. 12.
"(Kwanza) is important because, as it is, Africans, particularly in America, don’t really have a cultural expression of holiday that is uniquely our own. It gives us a reason to come together as a family that is focused on what our interests are."
Though the word Kwanzaa means "first fruits," and refers to harvest celebrations in Africa, it’s mostly a time for gathering as a community and as family, a time for evaluation of progress and celebration of culture. Kwanzaa features seven principles, each one celebrated on a different day: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.
Often, to celebrate, families will also gather seven symbols of Kwanzaa. These include a candle holder with places for seven candles, a straw mat, fruits and vegetables representing the harvest, ears of corn and a communal cup representing unity. Seven candles are lit—three green ones, three red ones and one black one (red for blood and past struggles, green for Africa and for the future, and black for the people). Educational or cultural gifts are also given to the children.
Diana Xin is a student at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. She is an intern at Chicago Parent.