Christmas, along with Easter, is the holiest day in the Christian faith. It celebrates the birth of Christ (although the exact date of his birth is unknown). Apart from the Christmas tree, outdoor lighting and the sending of cards to friends and family, it includes a huge meal of either turkey, ham or a crown beef roast either on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day accompanied by an exchange of gifts. The religious ceremony of Christmas takes place on Christmas Eve with the celebration of midnight Mass. In Los Angeles, one of the simplest and most moving ceremonies takes place downtown at a small historic parish, Our Lady Queen of the Angels (La Placita), at 535 North Main Street, Los Angeles 90012 near Olvera Street (not to be confused with the huge and far more formal Cathedral of our Lady of the Angels on West Temple St). Here you will see parishioners arriving in everything from formal evening attire to ponchos.
There has been much discussion about the December seasonal festivities and how to avoid being disrespectful of the feelings of others. The difficulty is that while we know the inclinations of friends and family, this is an occasion when we are expected to give some sort of special seasonal greeting to perfect strangers. Does one say “Merry Christmas?” Or “Happy Hanukkah.” Or, “Happy Kwanzaa?” How about all three? There are things that all three of these holidays share: the celebration of life, lights in the darkest days of winter, wonderful feasts and the gathering together of family and friends.
The seven candles and candle holder are two of the symbols of Kwanzaa, a cultural harvest celebration, not a religious holiday, originated by Maulana Karenga in 1966 as the first specifically African-American holiday. On the left is the Unity Cup. The corn and the fruits represent the bounty of the harvest. The holiday begins on December 26. 2013 and continues through January 12, 2014. Each night, for seven nights, families gathers= around the table and talks about the values of Kwanzaa which include unity, creativity and faith. On the seventh night gifts are exchanged and the Karamu feast takes place.
The Jewish celebration of Hanukkah came very early this year, the day before Thanksgiving. Normally it comes much closer to Christmas. The holiday, also called the Festival of Lights, commemorates the re-dedication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem (see post of November 25, 2013). It includes a magnificent holiday meal with friends and family and the handing out of gold coins, real or chocolate covered.
If you just say “Happy Holidays,” you may feel satisfied that you’ve covered the bases without causing offense. Well, actually not. The word “holiday” is derived from “Holy Day” which means that if you use the expression to greet atheists or agnostics, it will definitely not be appreciated. So what is the right thing to say. Happy Winter Solstice? Merry Days of Rest? Jolly Yuletide? Have a glorious Feast Day? Joyous Vacation Days? Healthy Wassailing? Hard to say.
There are a few things about Christmas which, even as a lapsed Christian, I can’t abide: the omnipresent commercialization being the most offensive. Miraculously, Kwanzaa and Hanukkah have escaped this. I still take pleasure in three things about Christmas. I love the lights. Whether they be an over-the-top display of Santa and his reindeer on a rooftop, a simple string of lights outlining an apartment window frame in a modest neighborhood or a glittering tree, it’s good to see residents driving out the darkness of the winter solstice by providing a festival of lights for others. I also like the “sense of the season,” when people seem to smile more easily and are just a little nicer to each other than usual. Finally, I love Christmas music, not the soft Bing Crosby stuff, but Bach and Handel. No matter what your beliefs, or lack of them, who can resist singing along to the “Messiah?”
So, to our readers, we say: “Happy, Happy, Merry, Merry,” whatever you celebrate. May your days be filled with light and the joy of being with family and friends. And please, remember to smile more and be considerate to others, not only during the holiday season but throughout the coming year.