Winter Holidays in CU

As the leaves start to disappear, winter ushers in the cold weather and long nights. The beginning of the winter season comes with many holidays from all different cultures.

Kwanzaa, which means “first fruits” in Swahili, is a non-religious African American holiday commemorating family, community and African cultural values. It occurs annually for seven days, December 26- January 1. Dr. Maulana Karenga, professor and chairman of Black Studies at California State University–Long Beach, created this holiday in 1966.

The colors of Kwanzaa are black, red and green–which represent the people, the struggle and the future.

Kwanzaa is centered on seven principles: Unity (Umoja), Self-determination (Kujichagulia), Collective Work and Responsibility (Ujima), Cooperative Economics (Ujamaa), Purpose (Nia), Creativity (Kuumba) and Faith (Imani).

The seven symbols are Mazao (Fruits, Nuts, and Vegetables), Mkeka (Place Mat), Vibunzi (Ear of Corn), Mishumaa Saba (The Seven Candles), the Kinara (the Candleholder), Kikombe Cha Umoja (The Unity Cup), and Zawadi (Gifts).

On the first night, the black candle in the middle of the kinara, or candleholder, is lit and the principle associated with that day, Umoja, is discussed. Each day, a new candle plus the previous day’s candles are lit.

On December 29th the Champaign Public Library: Douglass Branch will have a Kwanzaa celebration from 6-8 p.m. This is the fourth day of Kwanzaa, which means the principle that will be discussed is Ujamaa or Cooperative Economics.

Dawn Blackman of the Motherlands Multicultural Resource Center will be the program leader, said Aaron Carlin, library associate. She will light the first four candles and tell a story that relates to cooperative economics. There will be a potluck dinner. In past years, Carlin said, the library has provided fried chicken and asks that everyone bring a dish.

“It is important for people to come out because cooperative economics deals with teamwork, utilizing skills from one another,” Carlin said, “We encourage and inspire others throughout the year to maintain that style of living.”

The Prairie Zen Center will celebrate Bodhi Day, a Buddhist holiday, on December 6. This day is traditionally celebrated on December 8th; however, that day falls on a Tuesday, and the center’s main activity day is Sunday, said Elihu Genmyo, zen teacher. Bodhi means enlightenment, and the day commemorates Siddhartha Gautama finding enlightenment. A special service will start at 9:00 am, and a discussion will take place at 11:00 a.m. Between those times, there will be sitting meditation practice. There will be a potluck party on December 5. Sunday’s events are open to the public.

Hanukkah is from December 11 through December 19 this year. Hanukkah, which means “dedication,” is celebrated for eight days and nights.

According to, Hanukkah honors “the triumph of light over darkness, of purity over adulteration and of spiritually over materiality.”

Every night a candle is lit on the Menorah. On the first night there is one flame, and for each following day, a candle is lit. By the eighth night, the Menorah has a flame for each day.

The process of lighting the Menorah is derived from more than twenty-one centuries ago. At this time Syrian-Greeks, who ruled the Holy Land, wanted to pressure the Israelis to follow the Hellenistic culture. A small group of Jews repelled the Greek attacks and reclaimed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. As they tried to light the Holy Temple’s Menorah, a one-day portion of olive oil, untouched by the Greeks, was the only resource available. This small portion burned for eight days. The traditional foods of this holiday are fried in oil, such as latkes and sufganiot.

Sinai Temple in Champaign will hold services on December 11 and December 18 at 7:30 p.m for the first candle and last candle.

Christmas is on December 25. The holiday commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ. The symbols range from Christian to non-Christian symbols such as: Christmas tree, nativity scenes, mistletoe, and lights. There is an exchange of gifts.

Sara Mocogni, freshman in ACES, said she celebrates Christmas a week before with her mother’s side of the family and on Christmas Day with her father’s side. She said on her mother’s side the family tradition is to exchange gifts; while on her father’s side, they eat Italian cuisine.

“It’s just a full day together,” Mocogni said.

Regardless of what holiday people choose to celebrate, spending time with each other transcends the cultural boundaries.

“I like being with my family- all of my family members are there,” said Alisha Byas, junior in LAS.