Thanksgiving is over for 2021 and we want some relaxation time to concentrate on the upcoming holidays. In our society, we’ve gotten used to the sentimental images of holidays being full of travel, food, family while spending quality time. As of this writing, there has been no white stuff (snow) and it has been relatively nice, but it does not mean one can’t dream of a white Christmas.
For others, it is a ho, hum time of year. Before, during and after the holidays, there is a segment of the population that needs to be talked about. They are the impoverished, the poor and the destitute. We are expressing homeless here. These individuals oftentimes are underfed and or malnourished with tattered clothes.
Walking through the streets of our communities, many are looking for food with a permanent place to live, added with new clothing. Some wind up in a shelter, others are forced into the mental health system and or the criminal justice system. Unfortunately, a lot of the homeless population do not know it is even the holiday season.
For most in the Jewish religion, this year there will be no rest for the weary. Each year Jews from around the world attempt to observe their holiday, Chanukah. This year Chanukah starts early, the Sunday evening after Thanksgiving on 28th November and runs through the night of 6th December. Commonly, Chanukah is known as The Festival of Lights. It commemorates the victory of the Maccabees over the Syrians and the returning of the Menorah (a candelabra) to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.
A subsequent miracle occurred when a vial of oil poured into that menorah, was supposed to last for one night, but it continued to be glowing for a total of eight nights. Children during this holiday often spin a four-sided top called a dreidel. On each of its four sides, is a Hebrew letter which translates into English as ‘A Great Miracle Happened There’.
Late in December, on the 25th is Christmas. This is an annual festival where many Christians observe the day of Jesus Christ being born. Most believe that he came to this world in the form of man to atone for the sins of humanity. Although there are different opinions of the exact date, 25th December became the day most Christians celebrate his arrival.
Now, it became a time for family gatherings, singing carols, eating to excess and exchanging presents. An example of family interaction is going around town to purchase an annual tree. Then the family decorates this tree with ornaments and lights. Special foods are made throughout the holiday season.
On the following day, 26th December begins a celebration of Kwanzaa. This is a week-long holiday that honours African heritage in African-American cultures. Each of the seven days honours principles that are thought to have been fundamental in promoting strong communities and families around the world, primarily in Africa. Their candle holder is called a Kinara and is lit each night to commemorate their ancestors. On the seventh day, the holiday culminates with a large family get-together, a huge dinner and gift-giving.
Like many countries around our world, Nigeria and its people, celebrate two different holiday seasons, Christmas and Kwanzaa. Almost half the population of Nigeria is Muslim and almost all the others are Christians. Therefore, its people honour life with Kwanzaa from 26th December–1st January. Coming from the phrase, ‘matunda ya kwanza’ essentially Kwanzaa means fresh fruits in Swahili, which is the native language of Nigeria.
Meanwhile, Christmas in Nigeria is a family event. The yuletide season culminates on December 25 when families get together for food, fun and many assorted activities. Nigerian children are brought to see Father Christmas which is what they say is their Santa Claus. Yes, I met Nigerians who wrote to him.
Not everyone celebrates this time of year with holiday cheer. People with terminal health concerns or long term mental health issues rarely commemorate any part of the December festivities. Most have little or no family interactions and only have friends that are in a similar predicament like themselves. These individuals are often put in institutions for life with little chance of seeing the light of day ever again. No visitors, no contact with anyone, no hope for recovery to lead a productive existence in society. Therefore, no birthdays, no holidays and no fun.
Whether one celebrates holidays or for any reason can not make this December the best one yet. If one does not receive my message, I still wish all a good last month of the year. May everyone out there who are struggling, hope the year ahead will be what we wish for, now and always. By the way, I want the world to be in peace and harmony. Wherever we are, happy holidays to all.
Howard Diamond is a certified peer specialist in New York.