Reflection and Community in Hanukkah and Kwanzaa

Sam Canizales, Writer

Late fall into winter is a time for individuals across the United States to celebrate an assortment of cultural and religious holidays. From Late November to early December holidays like Kwanzaa and Hanukkah are celebrated. These are celebrations often overshadowed in American society by Christmas, but they are very real and celebrated in Frederick’s diverse community. 

Hanukkah is the celebration of the reclaiming of Jerusalem from the Seleucid Empire and the following rededication of the Second Temple. It is celebrated in many ways but the most important of which being the lighting of the menorah. A menorah is a candelabra that holds eight candles. It is in reference to the lampstand in the Second Temple that, through a miracle, was able to stay lit for eight days on a single day’s worth of oil. On each day of Hanukkah a new candle on the menorah is lit. Hanukkah is celebrated on 25 Kislev, this usually falls in late November or early December, according to the Gregorian calendar. 

It has different personal significance to different people. For many it is a day of general faith expression and reconnection. While remembering the miracle that occurred in the temple, the individuals practicing it think about how their faith can bring about great things. They strive to reconnect with their spirituality. 

“Though my family is not always consistent in celebrating it, I have seen in my community how it is a symbol of reconnecting with their faith and reflecting on the miracles they have witnessed no matter how small,” says TJHS senior Lily Szecket.

Kwanzaa is a celebration of Pan-African heritage. It takes place from December 26 to January 1st. It was created by Dr. Maulana Karenga to bring the African American community together. This holiday is unique because it was founded by a Civil Rights activist with the purpose of uplifting a black Americans rather than honoring a specific deity.

“I just like it. It’s fun celebrating being black. It’s just like pure black joy. I don’t necessarily celebrate it in a super strict way, it’s just a fun time to get together with other black people and love who we are,” says TJHS senior Amiyah Spencer.

The celebration of it varies from community to community but its roots are based in varying harvest festivals from across Africa. For some, the celebration looks like setting up a Kwanzaa altar, lighting candles on a candelabra, called a kinara, and reflecting on the seven principles of Kwanzaa. For others, it is just gathering as a community to enjoy a meal together and celebrating their black pride.

“I don’t celebrate it with candles or in a particularly special way. It’s more of a time of mindfulness of my heritage and my blackness. I get to rejoice in the fact that I am black and it’s beautiful to be black,” says Saniya Littlejohn, a senior at TJHS. 

The beauty and community in each of these holidays is very real but often overlooked. Kwanzaa is an opportunity for all to honor black history and culture, even if they are not actively celebrating the holiday. Hanukkah is a time to reflect on the unexpected gifts that either a higher power or just life has presented us. The significance of these holidays can be felt as we connect with our fellow community members that celebrate them.