BY NANCY SCHRINER DEC 2011
Family, community, faith, and culture are common threads woven into the holidays that inspire feelings of love and peace!
In Middle Georgia
It might surprise you to learn that multicultural families in middle Georgia, albeit a diverse group, have many things in common when celebrating holidays in December. Family, community, and faith are common threads woven into Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa:
As you would expect, most people in middle Georgia celebrate Christmas. Catholics as well as Protestants have treasured traditions as they celebrate the birth of Christ. Here is a snapshot view of three church celebrations in Macon:ley Unithodist Churc
“Advent is the special season that leads up to Christmas,” explains Rev. Mark Magoni, pastor of the church. “The faithful prepare their hearts for the celebration of the birth of Christ our King;” he continues, “each of the four Sundays before Christmas has a special emphasis, and a purple candle is lit as Scripture is read.” On the Sunday prior to Christmas Day all four purple candles are lit along with a white candle that represents the “coming,” or adventus of Christ.”
In the “hanging of the greens” service, evergreen branches, wreaths, and a “Christmon” tree are placed in the sanctuary and decorated. The “Christmon” tree is adorned with ornaments depicting Christian symbols.
Advent season is also practiced in the Catholic Church, by singing Advent hymns during Mass. The Advent wreath, which is a flat, circular wreath with three purple candles and one pink candle, is lit on each Sunday. The pink candle is lit on the third Sunday of Advent, or Gaudete, Rejoicing Sunday. Families are encouraged to have an Advent wreath in their homes, and to embrace penitential attitudes and actions, such as fasting or giving alms to the poor.
“The Christmas season for Catholics,” Father Allan J. McDonald says, “begins on Christmas Eve, and concludes with Epiphany Sunday on January 8. The first week of celebration, from December 25–January 1, is the “Octave of Christmas,” which in Catholic teaching makes Christmas Day eight days long, commemorating the fact that Jesus came to His own people, the Jews,” Father McDonald adds. The second week of celebration is from January 2 until Epiphany Sunday, which commemorates the coming of the Magi, following the Star to Bethlehem. The manifestation of God to the Gentiles in Christ is the emphasis of this week.ikado Baptist Church.
Rev. Rusty Smith invites everyone to “Christmas at Mikado,” on December 17–18. This orchestrated choir and drama production celebrates the coming of the Christ child. “Our goal,” he explains, “is to provide the community with a Christ-honoring Christmas celebration that portrays the true meaning of Christmas.”
He continues, “Our prayer is that people will not just see Christmas as a time of buying presents and spending time with friends and family, but will realize this important truth: that without Christ there is no Christmas!”
It is evident that church services and special musical programs are an integral part of the holiday season, but festive decorating is also enjoyed by many. For Bobbie Jean Gordy, of Centerville, Christmas is a joyous time of the year. There is no such thing as “Xmas” in her home; “Christ” is essential in Christmas! She celebrates the ancient story of the virgin born Son of God coming to the earth as a baby through her decorating. “The main reason I celebrate Christmas is because it’s the birth of my Savior;” Bobbie Jean shares, “the Lord has done so much for me.”
Because she loves Christmas so much, Bobbie Jean takes Christmas decorating to a whole new level. Each room in her house has a special theme and is decorated with a different color scheme. Interspersed throughout the miles of lighted garland and ribbon are numerous nativity scenes, porcelain deer, candles, carolers, angels of every description, and Christmas trees, which include a fruit tree in her kitchen and an angel-themed tree in her garden tub! Bobbie Jean’s friends reap the benefit of her Christmas spirit by attending Sunday School parties and Red Hat get-togethers at her home. Her son and daughter’s families always come home for Christmas, and Bobbie Jean looks forward to those visits most of all. “After all,” she says, “family is really what Christmas is all about; God accepting us into His family through His Son, Jesus.”
Rabbi Greg Hershberg, of Congregation Beth Yeshua in Macon, states: “Hanukkah is a holiday of God; if you trust God, you will never lose!” Trusting in God, according to the ancient historian Josephus, made all the difference in 164 B.C. when a high priest, Mattathias, refused to worship the gods of the Greek conqueror, Antiochus Epiphanes.
As he and his five sons fought against the much larger Greek army Mattathias was killed, but according to the story, after his death, his son, Judas Maccabeus, led a small group of Jewish rebels to victory. They eventually reclaimed the Temple which had been turned into a temple for Zeus and desecrated by the Greeks in what is now known as the Maccabean revolt.
The Macabees cleansed and dedicated the Temple to the service of God once again, but only one night’s worth of pure ritual olive oil was found to light the menorah. Miraculously, this small bit of oil lasted for eight nights, which is the reason Hanukkah, or the Festival of Lights, is celebrated for eight nights. This year the celebration is from Dec. 8 through Dec. 16.
Jewish families light one candle every night, adding a candle each successive night. Dreidels are spinning tops, which have the acronym for “a great miracle happened there” written on the four sides. Dreidel games are played, gifts are given to children, and fried foods, which symbolize the miraculous oil are the main customs of Hanukkah.
Rabbi Hershberg sums it all up, “As believers in Messiah, may we use this season of Hanukkah to rededicate ourselves to our great God and Messiah. Hanukkah is about faith and the courage to live by that faith. It is an awe-inspiring cataclysmic event in our history to help us maintain our hope in the kingdom coming.”
Kwanzaa comes from a Swahili phrase, “matunda ya kwanza,” which means “first fruits,” and is celebrated December 26–January 1 because these dates coincide roughly with the time of the year of African feasts. It is not a religious holiday: it is a celebration of family, community, and culture.
Dr. Maulana Karenga, professor of Africana studies at California State University, Long Beach, created this cultural holiday in 1966. “The reason Kwanzaa was created was because African-Americans, through slavery, lost their language, and connection to their history, rituals and ceremonies,” explains Dr. Chester Fontenot, Director of Africana studies at Mercer University. “The extra “a” added to the word, “kwanza,” makes this an African-American tradition;” he continues, “this is an attempt to create a celebration that is based on symbols and rituals that are distinctly African.”
People celebrate Kwanzaa by decorating their homes in the colors of black, red, and green, and by selecting objects of art, colorful cloth, baskets, fresh fruits and vegetables to represent Africa.
“Each day of Kwanzaa we celebrate a different principle that is based on African culture;” Dr. Fontenot adds, “the seven principles help to provide unity between families and the African-American community.” They are:
- collective work and responsibility
- cooperative economics
If you are interested in attending a Kwanzaa celebration this year, the Douglass Theater in downtown Macon will host opening night on December 26. For more information on this free event call (478) 742-2000.
So enjoy the family get-togethers, the parties, the decorating, the gifts, and the decadent food! Family, community, and faith will abound in middle Georgia. “Habari gani,” “Gmar Chatimah tovah,” and “Merry Christmas” to all! #