This is not a blog about how to manage – even enjoy! – the holidays as a divorced or newly separated person/family. Many of my colleagues do a great job offering useful tips. Instead, I thought I would write to you
about an important concept: your ability to see diverse perspectives. As you may know, difficulty in seeing
and appreciating your partner’s multiple perspectives can doom a relationship. This seems obvious with the
range and variety of diverse celebratory approaches over the holiday season.
Welcome to your Hanukkah-Candlemas-Ramadan-Solstice-Christmas-Kwanzaa-New-Year’s-Boxing-Day Epiphany!
When I started to research the purpose and history of three popular Western holidays – Hanukkah, Christmas,
and Kwanzaa – I was surprised to find that the details about each revealed more similarities than differences.
So bear with me through the details. The details will ring some familiar bells for you. Thus, by looking at
differences among the three celebrations, some similarities with naturally
3 WESTERN HOLIDAYS: DIFFERENCES
DIFFERENCES: Each of the three holidays reflect important religious and cultural aspects of our society.
Multiple Perspective is a critical aspect of a Theory of Mind. This is when you understand that your mental
state is comprised of beliefs, desires, motives, and knowledge that may differ from my mental state. Understanding
this important aspect of how we think and be in the world helps to explain and to predict others’ actions and
feelings. Partners disagree all the time about every bit of Stuff of Life. Essential is how you disagree. What
we celebrate, especially holidays, and how we do so, reflects who we are – a life perspective including our
Theory of Mind.
HANUKKAH celebrates two aspects of Jewish history: a religious and political fight for freedom and a “miracle.” First, it celebrates how the Maccabee family, Mattathias the Hasmonean, a rural Jewish priest, and his
5 sons, led a successful revolt 167-160 BCE to overthrow the Seleucid Empire and regain control of Jerusalem.
The son, Judah Maccabee, and his army of Jewish dissidents used guerrilla war tactics to beat the Seleucid army and eventually brokered a political compromise to restore religious freedom.
THE MIRACLE. The Holy [Second] Temple had been defiled during the revolt. When the victorious Jews
ritually cleansed and purified the Temple, there was only enough sacred oil for the wicks of the menorah to
burn for one day’s lighting. Miraculously, the story goes, the wicks burned for eight days, hence, the name
“Hanukkah” means “to dedicate” in Hebrew. It’s become known as the Feast of Dedication, or the Festival of
CHRISTMAS’ evolution is deeply embedded in political social cultural history, mostly in Europe. Geography
and climate is closely connected to when and how pagan holidays were celebrated. So the darkest coldest days
of mid-winter was a typical time to celebrate light and birth, especially after the winter solstice (December in
the Northern Hemisphere).
The worship of the Sun (Sol), which was necessary for growing crops, was indigenous to the Romans since the 8th century
BC. The upper Roman classes celebrated the birthday of Mirtha, the god of the “unconquerable sun” (Sol
Invictus). In Scandinavia, the Norse celebrated Yule, where sparks from their huge log fires heralded soon-to-be-born pigs and calves. The Germans honored the pagan god Oden, who flew through the night sky to
observe his people and decide who would live well and who would die. The Saturnalia festival in Rome,
honoring Saturn, the god of agriculture, marked the end of the planting season in December. During festival
month, slaves did not work and were treated as equals.
THE MIRACLE: Both Matthew 1:18 and Luke 1:26 and 2:40 describe how Jesus was born to the Virgin Mary,
assisted by her husband Joseph, but no date is mentioned. The first literary reference to the pagan feast of Sol
Invictus and to celebrating Jesus’ birth on December 25 feast day is attributed to “The Chronography of
354AD,” an illustrated manuscript designed as a calendar and almanac for the wealthy Roman Valentinus. Its
Part 6 notes:
“Birthday of the unconquered, games ordered, thirty races”…”VIII kal. ian. natus Christus in Betleem Iudeæ”…“Birth of Christ in Bethlehem, Judea.”
The December 25th date for Christmas may correspond to the day nine months after early Christians believe
Jesus was conceived. Other references suggest that Pope Julius I in the 4thc. chose December 25 in order to
integrate it with the traditional pagan Saturnalia Festival. By the middle ages, Christianity basically replaced pagan
KWANZAA. Jump ahead several centuries to the USA. Maulana Karenga in 1965 created a specifically
African-American holiday, calling in Kwanzaa, derived from the Swahili phrase “matunda ya kwanza,” meaning
“first fruits of the harvest.” At first, he suggested Kwanzaa as an “oppositional alternative” to Christmas. But, by
1977, like the 4th c. Christian church before him, he acknowledged that Kwanzaa could be celebrated along
The goal is to celebrate “Kawaida,” Swahili for tradition and reason, of the “best of African thought and practice
in constant exchange with the world.” This African philosophy is expressed through 7 principles (Nguzu Saba) celebrated on each of 7 days: Umoja (Unity): To maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race;
Kujichagulia (Self-Determination): To define ourselves; Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility): Build
community together; Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics): To build, maintain, profit from our businesses; Nia
(Purpose): Build community, and restore our people to their traditional greatness; Kuumba (Creativity): Leave
our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it; Imani (Faith): “To believe with all our hearts
in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.”
3 WESTERN HOLIDAYS: SIMILARITIES
It’s striking that all three celebrations emerged from a basic human need: to survive. The sun, planting, and
harvesting are central for human life and development. An important reminder of this is celebrated in
December, during the dark cold days of Northern Hemisphere winters.
Another important theme is light, shedding light, literally and figuratively, as learning, knowing one’s history and
passing it on to progeny. Struggle, and resistance to oppression, is mentioned or inferred in descriptions of all
three holidays. A great man stepped forward to lead at a crucial point in history. There is also the “miracle of
the Temple’s sacred oil lasting for eight nights, and the “miracle“ of Jesus’ conception. And importantly, values and
principles either motivated, or are the offspring, of celebrating in a way that highlights family and community.
We depend upon one another and are crucial in one another’s lives, in spite of our differences.
HOLIDAYS AND YOU, DIVORCED OR SEPARATED
Relationships among holidays have historical details and motivational reasons for their existence – just as with relationships among people. You once chose a partner. You may have loved how you were the same and/or
how you differed. At some point, you no longer could see, or appreciate, your differences – the other
person’s perspective(s) – so you split up. I’ve written this blog as a reminder to show a parallel that there are
complexities in multiple perspectives. That the very details of the history and motivations of important holidays
in our culture reflects both differences and similarities. You can choose to celebrate both similarities and
differences. So enjoy however you choose to celebrate the holiday season.