Holiday Traditions New and Old, Real and Fake

Take a look at some of the most popular winter holidays, and some of the newer traditions they have spawned.


With a name literally meaning "Christ's Mass," the biggest Christian holiday has become the biggest commercial event in the world. In what may be a surprise to many, a Christmas-like holiday was actually celebrated by the Norse in Scandinavia hundreds of years prior to Jesus' birth. People feasted over burning Yule logs in observance of the winter solstice, according to the History Channel. Now, kids roll into bed the night of Christmas Eve in anticipation of the magical Santa Claus, whose legend of generosity traces back to third-century Turkey.


Jewish scripture suggests the origins of Hanukkah, also known as the "festival of lights," date back to around 200 B.C., when a group of Jews in Israel worked to cleanse and rededicate their Second Temple. After the menorah inside of the temple stayed burning for eight days with only one day's supply of oil, the eight-day Jewish holiday was created, normally falling between November and December.


Kwanzaa itself is a relatively new holiday, but the traditions inspiring its creation date back to some of the first civilizations in Africa, according to the History Channel. California State University professor Dr. Maulana Karenga created Kwanzaa–which is Swahili for "first fruit"–in 1966 as an effort to unite black Americans. Combining ancient Ashanti and Zulu traditions that celebrated the first harvests after winter, Kwanzaa focuses on specific principles for each day of the week-long holiday–principles roughly translated to unity, self-determination, collective responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.


Originally coined by the teen drama television series The O.C., the pseudo-holiday hybrid Chrismukkah is the combination of Christmas and Hanukkah traditions, often as a result of dual-religion households. As with all of the other major holidays, if there is a will, there is a market; books, menorah-graced Christmas tree decorations and Chrismukkah cookbooks are available online.


In the ultimate tongue-in-cheek mockery embracing the capitalistic hybridization of the winter holidays, Virgin Mobile created an ad campaign around Chrismahanukwanzakah as a way to appeal to everyone celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa–or at least appeal to their sense of humor. The ads satirize the annual controversies over using the generic "holidays" vs. stating a religious preference out loud. Also see Jon Stewart's "War on Christmas."


Coined in a 1997 episode of Seinfeld, Festivus is the fictional holiday crusade against all of the other commercialized winter holidays, first celebrated by the father of Mr. Curmudgeon himself, George Costanza. Explaining the reason for creating the "Festivus for the rest of us," the elder Frank Costanza explains to Cosmo Kramer:

"Many Christmases ago, I went to buy a doll for my son. I reached for the last one they had, but so did another man. As I rained blows upon him, I realized there had to be another way."

The anticlimactic traditions of Festivus include observance of the bare aluminum Festivus Pole, Festivus Dinner, the brutally refreshing Airing of Grievances and the ultra-masculine Feats of Strength wrestling match. Festivus became the replacement word for "playoffs" used by the 2000 Super Bowl-winning Baltimore Ravens and Festivus memorabilia is available online.


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