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Celebrate holiday spirit and tradition

December 11, 2001|By STEFANIE GREENBERG, Staff Writer

December is a month rich in holiday spirit with an abundance of traditions celebrated around the world.

As of today, three celebrations have started: Ramadan began Nov. 17, Advent on Dec. 2 and Hanukkah at sundown Sunday.

Ramadan and Hanukkah begin on dates used on a lunar calendar. Because the United States uses a solar-based calendar, the dates vary from year to year.

Ramadan is the first of the three holidays to begin the holiday season. In the Islamic calendar, Ramadan is the ninth month.

"For more than a billion Muslims around the world — including some 8 million in North America — Ramadan is a ‘month of blessing' marked by prayer, fasting and charity," according to the Web site.


Muslims celebrate Ramadan because they believe that is when Allah revealed the first verses of the Koran, the holy book of Islam.

According to the Web site, "Around 610 A.D., a caravan trader named Muhammad took to wandering the desert near Mecca (in today's Saudi Arabia) while thinking about his faith. One night a voice called to him from the night sky. It was the angel Gabriel, who told Muhammad he had been chosen to receive the word of Allah. In the days that followed, Muhammad found himself speaking the verses that would be transcribed as the Koran."

Muslims practice sawm, or fasting, for the month of Ramadan. From the time they are 12, Muslims take part in the fast by not eating or drinking during daylight hours.

The end of Ramadan is marked by Eid al-Fitr, or the Festival of Breaking the Fast. Occurring on Dec. 17 this year, homes traditionally will be adorned with lights and decorations. Family and friends visit each other and people dress in their finest clothes.

"Although charity and good deeds are always important in Islam, they have special significance at the end of Ramadan," the Web site states.

"As the month draws to a close, Muslims are obligated to share their blessings by feeding the poor and making contributions to mosques."

The start of the Christmas season, or Advent, begins the Sunday nearest Nov. 30, the feast of St. Andrew the Apostle, and covers four Sundays. Because the start date changes every year, so does the duration. This year Advent lasts 23 days.

The celebration of Advent began around the fourth century, says the Web site, with Christians readying themselves for baptism. During the Middle Ages, Advent became associated with preparation for the Second Coming of Christ. It was considered a pre-Christmas season of Lent dedicated to prayer and fasting. In the past Advent also began earlier than it is today — on Nov. 11, the feast of St. Martin, lasting until Christmas Day.

The Orthodox Eastern Church observes a similar season, from Nov. 15 until Christmas.

Two traditions are associated with the holiday — lighting candles on wreaths and opening small "doors" on calendars.

The Advent wreath typically contains three purple candles and one rose-colored candle. Purple candles, the color associated with royalty, symbolize hope, peace and love. They are lighted the first, second and fourth Sundays of Advent. Rose symbolizes joy and is lighted the third Sunday.

Sometimes a white, fifth candle is placed inside the wreath. The color is to symbolize angels and the birth of Jesus Christ.

The other tradition is to have a card or poster with 24 small doors — one to be opened each day from Dec. 1 until Christmas Eve. Originally filled with pictures derived from the Hebrew Bible, today's calendars may contain pieces of chocolate or photos of pop stars.

Hanukkah, starting on the 25th day of the Jewish calendar month of Kislev, lasts for eight days and nights. Despite being a minor holiday in the Jewish religion, its closeness to Christmas prompts more attention to the holiday and its gift-giving tradition.

Hanukkah is a story of military triumph.

"Nearly 2,200 years ago, the Greek-Syrian ruler Antiochus IV tried to force Greek culture upon peoples in his territory," says the Web site.

"Jews in Judea — now Israel — were forbidden their most important religious practices as well as study of the Torah. Although vastly outnumbered, religious Jews in the region took up arms to protect their community and their religion. Led by Mattathias the Hasmonean, and later his son Judah the Maccabee, the rebel armies became known as the Maccabees," the site states.

Eventually the Maccabees won and reclaimed their temple. The miracle of Hanukkah occurred when the Jews were preparing the temple for rededication (in Hebrew, Hanukkah means dedication) and there was only enough oil left to kindle the temple light for one day. The oil miraculously burned for eight days.

The three emblems of Hanukkah most commonly recognized are the menorah, dreidel and latke.

The menorah, known in Hebrew as the hanukiya, holds eight candles and a spot for the shamash, or candle used to light all the others. Each night, one more candle is lighted with prayer.

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