"Just like any culture that you don’t know about, you should do some research before attempting their traditions.”

Amidst the long lines to get pictures with Santa, the annual television specials, and the radio stations playing the same festive jingles on a loop, it is important to recognize that Christmas is not the only holiday that happens this time of year.

“I’ve seen people try to have their own Hanukkah celebrations just to try it out, but completely ignore all of the important traditions that mean a lot to Jewish culture,” freshman Mia Hernandez said. “I love to celebrate with people who aren’t Jewish but just like any culture that you don’t know about, you should do some research before attempting their traditions.” 

Both Hernandez and freshman Connor Tukel celebrate Hanukkah that began on Dec. 6. They both shared five things people may not know about the holiday, while education specialist and docent at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, Yolanda Jack, shared five things about Kwanzaa that begins on Dec. 26.


1. Hanukkah is also known as the ‘Festival of Lights’

Hernandez said that Hanukkah is meant to celebrate the rededication of the Holy Temple, and it is fittingly called the Festival of Lights because of the importance of lighting the eight candles on the menorah.

“The eight candles have come to represent how when the Jewish soldiers liberated the Holy Temple from the Greeks, they found oil in a lamp that would only last one day but miraculously burned for eight days,” said Hernandez.

This story has come to be known as ‘The Miracle’ and it is reflected upon every year during Hanukkah. However, Tukel said that the celebration of Hanukkah is not actually mentioned in the Torah, their religious text

2. Wait, didn’t Hanukkah start on a different date last year?

“This year Hanukkah starts on December 6th and ends on the 14th, but it’s different every year,” said Hernandez.

Tukel explained that Hanukkah occurs according to the Hebrew calendar.

“One year it actually started on Thanksgiving, but it begins during Kislev (A Jewish month that occurs for 29-30 days during November and December) and it always lasts for eight days,” he said.

3. Remember your menorah lighting etiquette 

There are certain things to keep in mind when lighting a menorah. For example, eight candles are lit throughout Hanukkah, but there are nine candles and candle holders.

“The ninth candle is in the middle and it’s called the shamash candle. It’s the candle that you use to light the rest of the candles on the menorah,” said Hernandez. “Never blow out the candles! You have to let them burn down completely.”

Also, Tukel said that the lights of menorah should be visible from the outside of the home and thus, they are often placed on a windowsill.

4. Family fun during Hanukkah

Hernandez said that celebrating and playing games with her family during Hanukkah is one of her favorite things to do, especially because certain traditions are only done once a year.

“Every year, my Grammy would read a book to my sister and I about the shamash candle and a birthday candle and how they switched places for a night,” said Hernandez.

A popular traditional symbol of Hanukkah is the dreidel, but Tukel said that dreidels are more than just decorative.

“A dreidel is like a top with four sides, said Tukel. “Each side has a Hebrew letter on it and if you spin the dreidel, you can win chocolate gold coins.”

5. What do I get to eat?

According to Hernandez, Jewish delicacies that are popular during Hanukkah include, but are not limited to: matzo ball soup, kishka, gefilte fish, and brisket.

“One of the best things about Hanukkah is the food. We celebrate by eating great food at sundown the night before it starts,” said Tukel.

Some of his favorites include potato latkes, deep fried potato pancakes, and sufganiyot, a round jelly-filled pastry.


1. You don’t have to be religious.

“Many people mistakenly believe that Kwanzaa is a religious holiday, but it isn’t at all,” said Jack.

Jack said that people of all religions can celebrate Kwanzaa because it is a holiday that focuses on the maintenance of principles and values. 

“Kwanzaa is celebrated with your family. A kinara (candleholder) is lit consecutively and symbols are displayed throughout the home,” said Jack.

2. You don’t have to be of African descent, it’s about what you value

“The ideals of Kwanzaa are of African origin and while you should acknowledge the African diaspora while celebrating Kwanzaa, you don’t have to be African because the principals that are promoted are universal,” said Jack.

Jack said that the principles and values that are emphasized have helped to sustain people with the idea of being unified for a purpose. 

“Working together for economic benefit, living for faith, and teaching the next generation to use creativity to be ingenious are ideals that have existed both before enslavement, through enslavement and after enslavement,” said Jack.

3. 7 candles, 7 symbols, 7 meanings

“There are seven candles for each day of the week and each candle represents a principal of Kwanzaa. For example, the candle that is lit for the beginning of Kwanzaa means unity,” said Jack. “The seven principles represent thoughts and ideals that have persevered throughout the millennia.”

As stated by Jack, the principals indicated by each of the seven candles are referred to in Kiswahili: umoja (unity), kujicha gulia (self-determination), ujima (collective work and responsibility), ujamaa (cooperative economics), nia (purpose), kuumba (creativity) and imani (faith). 

Full Kwanzaa displays include symbols that represent the seven principles, a candle for each principal in the kinara, a unity mat and cup, and ears of corn for fertility and a bountiful harvest - one ear of corn must be present for each child in the house with an extra one representing the opportunity for more, said Jack.

4. Harvest festival? 

Kwanzaa originates from countries on the west coast of Africa, said Jack.

“In countries like Nigeria and Ghana on the west of Africa, Kwanzaa would be connected to harvest celebrations in which people celebrate gratefulness for bounty from the Earth,” said Jack. 

She said that Halloween is another popular holiday that is celebrated and associated with the harvest in America.

5. Spread the Kwanzaa spirit all year round!

“Kwanzaa represents things that are important not to just some people, but all people,” said Jack. “All people should be unified regardless of their descent, because that is important and valid in any culture.”

Jack said that the principles and values celebrated during Kwanzaa are concepts that should be recognized and strived for throughout the year, not just during the holidays.

“There are many celebrations of Kwanzaa in Detroit, it is a popular holiday that is celebrated throughout the community,” said Jack.

For more information about Kwanzaa you can visit www.officialkwanzaawebsite.org or the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History’s website at thewright.org.

Contact reporter Aleanna Siacon (586)3545040 or email aleanna.siacon@wayne.edu. Follow her on Twitter: @ATerese11



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