BY BERNARD JAMES MAUSER, PH.D.
We are in the midst of the most popular holidays of the year. There are still some people completely unaware of what each of major holidays is actually about in the different traditions. I’ll summarize these briefly and provide some resources for those that would like more information to prepare everyone for this season.
I remember growing up as a child in a part of the country where many of my closest friends were Jewish and celebrated Hanukkah (or Chanukah). I couldn’t help but envy that many of my friends got gifts for eight days and I only got them on one. I knew little else other than that my friends had all these candles they’d light over the course of eight days and would play with these spinning tops called dreidels. There was much more involved of course, but these were the facts I had access to.
After finishing my Bachelor’s degree, I decided I needed a religious education as well. Having been raised Roman Catholic, I read through my Bible and found the books of the Maccabees. It was here that I found my first exposure to the historical origin for Hanukkah in the Maccabean revolution.
In 166 B.C. Judas Maccabee (Maccabee comes from the initial letters of the Hebrew words Mi Kamocha Ba’eilim Hashem, Who is like You, Oh God) rebelled against the Seleucids that were oppressing those in Israel and trying to get them to worship foreign gods. The King of the Seleucids, Antiochus, sent several armies to wipe out the rebels but was defeated each time by the Maccabees. Before the final battle with the Seleucid army at Mitzpah, Judah Maccabees and his brothers encouraged each other with the words: “Let us fight unto death in defense of our souls and our Temple!”
After these victories the Maccabees cleansed all of Jerusalem and the temple of idols that the Seleucids had placed there. The Maccabees then made a Menorah to light in the temple to dedicate it. Unfortunately they had only enough oil to last for one day. However, according to tradition, God miraculously allowed it to burn for eight days until new oil became available. This was a sign to God’s people that they were again under His protection. In memory of this, people celebrate Hanukkah for eight days to give thanks to God and to remember this miracle. For more on this read: http://bit.ly/13xq9fw, http://bit.ly/1zq3rUn, http://bit.ly/1wfcu3a.
It seems difficult to justify that I’d have to explain the origin for Christmas. However, recent studies indicate that 91% of people that celebrate Christmas are NOT Christians (http://lfwy.co/1v9q2Ns). I’d guess the historical basis for this may be lost on this group. A third of children ages 10-13 also don’t know that Christmas is about Jesus (http://bit.ly/1wC1lP8).
In short, Christmas is a celebration Christians have to mark the birth of the promised messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. Christians believe that God the son added a human nature at the moment of conception. This conception was a result of the Holy Spirit miraculously allowing the virgin Mary to conceive (as we tell our children, God put Jesus in Mary’s belly). We also explain to our children during this season that initially shepherds visited Mary and Jesus in the stable after the angels announced his birth. At a later time (which isn’t specified), wise men appeared to Jesus to present him gifts while the family was at a house. If the star appeared to the wise men WHEN Jesus was born its probable he was two years old or under based on what Herod believed (Luke 2:16). In sum, we celebrate the birthday of Emmanuel (God with us) on Christmas. For a treatment of those that raise objections to Christmas one can find an excellent response here: http://bit.ly/1Hrxpqi.
Unlike the other two holidays, Kwanzaa has only been around since the 1960s. The word ‘Kwanzaa’ means ‘first fruits’ in Swahili. I got my first Kwanzaa card less than a decade ago and decided to look into it. Although some claim that this is an extremely old holiday, you’d be hard-pressed to find ANY reference to the holiday itself before the 1960s. Kwanzaa is gaining popularity among certain groups and so it is good to be aware of what it is.
The founder of this religion is Dr. Maulana Karenga. Karenga was a leader of the Black Power movement in the 1960s and was a community organizer. He created Kwanzaa in 1966 upon Marxist principles that he labeled as being those of African Heritage (no wonder so many resonating with Kwanzaa have been duped in thinking the liberal policies are theirs). Although the stated purpose is to “strengthen and unite the African communities,” the liberal policies which it supports have done the complete opposite (http://bit.ly/1goPQD0). The central thrust of his philosophy is communistic and communitarian.
Marx would have been pleased with Karenga’s condemnation of belief in God (Kawaida Theory, p.27), and with Karenga denying the Hebrew and Christian belief in heaven, hell, and the resurrection. Karenga writes, “it is a simplistic and often erroneous answer to existential ignorance fear, powerlessness and alienation. An example is the Hebrew myth of the six-day creation and the tower of Babel, or Christian myths of resurrection, heaven and hell.” (Kawaida Theory, p. 23)
One has to assess all of what is taught and accept the truth any place it is found. There is some indication that Karenga has tried to moderate these early comments to make inroads with those that are Christians. However, most of what is celebrated with the principles of Kwanzaa and the teachings of Karenga are consonant with Marxism. This is why it is embraced where liberation theology is taught (http://bit.ly/13Wx1E2, http://bit.ly/1xbW2rB, http://bit.ly/1CxfbCQ).
As a general guideline it is good to be familiar with what our friends and family celebrate. We can discuss these holidays with candor. Unlike the historical basis for Hanukkah and Christmas, one can easily find Kwanzaa was made up to advance a political agenda. Kwanzaa and Dr. Karenga are hostile to many of the ideas advanced in Christianity and Judaism. Although I have friends that celebrate all three of these without realizing what they are, ideas have consequences. The fact God has done miracles in history is significant for all mankind. The most important peace that can be found this holiday season does not originate in the will of man, but comes to all mankind on whom God’s favor rests. (Luke 2:14) God makes a way for this peace through His son, Christ the Lord, who was born on Christmas day.