Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

This time of year, parents have an opportunity to help their kids understand other cultures by teaching them of the other celebrations that happen outside of their own believe system. There are three major December religious celebrations:


Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights and Feast of Dedication, is an eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the unlikely victory of a small group of Jewish soldiers, the Maccabees, over powerful Greeks, who were in control of Jerusalem more than 2,200 years ago. The holiday is sometimes referred to as Chanukkah.

  • Hanukkah Menorah or Hanukkiah: A candelabra that holds eight symbolic candles and a ninth for lighting the eight. It is lit each of the eight nights of Hanukkah to commemorate the lamp in the reclaimed Temple, which burned for eight nights despite having just enough oil for one.
  • Dreydl: A four-sided spinning top. When the Jews weren’t permitted to teach their religion to their children, they held lessons outside but pretended to be playing with a top. Today, playing dreidel is a traditional activity for Jewish children during Hanukkah.
  • Latkes: Potato pancakes fried in oil. Eating latkes topped with everything from applesauce to sour cream is a delicious tradition that represents the oil that lit the lamp in the Temple.


Kwanzaa is a week-long celebration held December 26 – January 1 in the United States, Canada and the Western African Diaspora to honor  African heritage. The Seven Principles of Kwanzaa are unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith. The symbols of the Kwanzaa celebration relate to these principles.

  • Mishumaa Saba: Seven candles, each one representing one of the seven principles, are lit during the seven days of Kwanzaa.
  • Kinara: The candle holder symbolizes African roots
  • Mkeka: An African mat, which symbolizes tradition and history
  • Mazao: Crops represent productive and collective labor
  • Muhindi: The corn stands for children and the future
  • Kikombe cha Umoja: The unity cup, a symbol of the foundational principle and practice of unity
  • Zawadi: Gifts, which are given to children and must include a book and a heritage symbol


Christmas, which marks the birth of Jesus, is celebrated by Christians around the world. Traditions for celebrating Christmas vary:

  • In Spain, kids receive most of their presents on Epiphany, which falls on January 6. They write letters to the Kings and leave out shoes for the Kings to fill with gifts.
  • In Australia, Santa Claus sometimes arrives by surfboard, since Christmas time is in the middle of summer.
  • Instead of leaving milk and cookies for Santa, kids in Syria leave hay and water for one of the camels that delivered the three Wise Men to Bethlehem.