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Winter Solstice is December 21.

A month of holidays

December is a month of holidays. For several years, I’ve labored to create blog posts about the holidays that fall during this month. When I realized I was focusing exclusively on December holidays but no others, I started my “Holidays Project” last summer.

At this point I’ve done feature posts on nearly every major religious holiday that usually falls in December, as well as several more minor ones and at least two that are secular in nature. Why so many holidays in one month?

Winter Solstice is December 21.

Blame it on the Solstice. 

The astronomical event of the Winter Solstice creates the shortest daylight of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. It falls on December 21, nearly every year. Combine that fact with the nature of humans, and a holiday of some sort is near-inevitable

We humans have a psychological and spiritual need seek out hope and a cosmic picture of the Universe that makes sense. And we probably need it most of all when food is short and we’re in danger of freezing to death. That’s why December is a month of holidays.

I explored Solstice traditions in some depth, in a blog post from 2016 that still gets many hits every yearGet drunk, eat dumplings or fruit, and party down. It’s traditional! 

Festivals of light

Not surprisingly for holidays that originated during a month of long nights, a lot of December holidays feature candles or fires. 

A Solstice festival of light/fire is YuletideIn a 2013 post, I focused on the Yuletide legend of Krampus, but the tradition of burning the Yule Log (originally a whole tree, or most of one) is probably more well-known to those of us whose ancestors hail from the British Isles, where the related custom of Wassailing also originated. Of course, many people prefer their “Yule Logs” to be made of cake, rather than wood!

Winter Solstice bonfires are a feature of a celebration in Maine, in this photo from Bangor.
Winter Solstice bonfires are a feature of a celebration in Maine. (Bangor Daily News/Eric Michael Tollefson)

Last year, the first Sunday of Advent and the first day of Hanukkah both fell on the same day, December 2. This year Advent started on December 1, but Hanukkah doesn’t begin till sunset on December 22.

Compared with Yom Kippur and several of the others, Hanukkah is a relatively minor holiday that has gained a greater following because of its proximity to the Christian holiday of Christmas, celebrated on December 25 each year.

Christmas originated as a religious holiday, and it still is one of the most important holidays of the Christian year, preceded by the Advent season and smaller holy or feast days such as St. Nicholas Day, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, and St. Stephen’s Day.  If you think about it Christmas is a month of holidays, just by itself.

Secular observations

Especially in recent years, many individuals, cultures and traditions have embraced some of the more glamorous elements of Christmas, including Santa Claus, Christmas trees, holiday lights on buildings, and Christmas presentswithout much interest in the Christian religious aspects.

There will likely always be people who decry a “war on Christmas” (meaning a minimization of the religious aspects), it seems unlikely that these exuberant and sometimes garish secular holiday traditions will go away anytime soon. They’re too darn much fun.

The colorful lights outline each building and go on for blocks and blocks each year on Kansas City's Country Club Plaza.
The granddaddy of municipal Christmas light displays is the annual display in Kansas City’s Country Club Plaza (unattributed photographer/KC Kids Fun)

One, somewhat peculiar spin-off of Christmas is Festivus, inspired by a TV show and celebrated with greater or lesser levels of devotion by aficionados.

considerably more spiritual, but not religious, celebration is Kwanzaa. I explored the days of Kwanzaa in some detail, back in 2017. Although the first day had to share billing with Boxing Day, the secondthirdfourthfifth, and sixth days got their own posts. The seventh day of Kwanzaa is also New Year’s Day.

However you celebrate this month of holidays, I hope you find love, joy, and peace among the hectic pace and the welter of traditions!

IMAGES: I created the “Winter Solstice” composite with help from Ksenia Samorukova (Ukususha) and Rawpixel at 123RF. Many thanks to the Bangor Daily News and Eric Michael Tollefson, for the photo of the bonfires in Maine, and to KC Kids Fun (and their unsung photographer) for the photo of the Kansas City Country Club Plaza holiday lights.

Let there be light!

This morning . . . 

The first Sunday of Advent is when we light the “Hope” candle. Image by Erika Sanborne.

This evening . . . 

The first evening of Hanukkah, in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Mea Shearim. Photo by Sebi Berens, taken 12/24/2016.

Whatever your heritage, may your winter nights be filled with the light of love.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Rachael A. Keefe, whose “Bidding Prayer for the First Sunday of Advent – Hope” offers a lovely little prayer litany for those who might like one for the occasion, for the “Hope” Advent image by Erika Sanborne; and to Jewish News Syndicate and photographer Sebi Berens, for the First Night of Hanukkah photo.

This square design features a purple, orange, and yellow background to set of a rectangular design by Jeffrey St. Clair. It shows a square design that is mostly orange, with purple, yellow, and black elements. Words surround it. They say: The seven principles: Kuumba: Creativity. To use our creative energies toward creating a vibrant community.”

Creative healing

The sixth day of Kwanzaa

This one is especially near to my heart: the principle of Kuumba, creativity! The only way to build a vibrant community is through the creative devotion of the people within it. Is there any community that could not benefit from some creative healing?

Just as the arts can help revive a dying neighborhood, so can applying creative energy build positive bridges of hope, where before there were only walls of separation. Our whole country desperately needs this kind of creative healing.

What better, more hopeful task can we set ourselves upon than that, this New Year’s Eve?

This square design features a purple, orange, and yellow background to set of a rectangular design by Jeffrey St. Clair. It shows a square design that is mostly orange, with purple, yellow, and black elements. Words surround it. They say: The seven principles: Kuumba: Creativity. To use our creative energies toward creating a vibrant community.”
Image by, and courtesy of, Jeffrey St. Clair. See Credits below.

Creativity Transcends Communities and Careers

There are very few careers or communities that cannot be improved with creativity. It is the driving force of innovation, the power that fuels important breakthroughs. Applied creativity gives us the capability to overcome obstacles and develop greater vision.

And where systems or communities are broken, creative healing is the force that builds them back best. We become “stronger in the broken places” when we harness our creativity for good.

On a square blue and gray background, this vertical design has a top and bottom section. On the bottom is a photo of Mae C. Jemison, the first African American Woman Astronaut, in the microgravity environment of the International space Station. She smiles at the viewer/camera while floating in midair, wearing dark blue pants and a yellow long-sleeved shirt with a NASA patch on it, surrounded by wires and technical gear. Above the photo, on a dark blue background, the words say, “Don’t let anyone rob you of your imagination, your creativity, or your curiosity. It’s your place in the world; it’s your life. Go on and do all you can with it, and make it the life you want to live. -Mae C. Jemison, First African American Woman Astronaut. Students at the Center Hub / Black History Month.”
Quote-image courtesy of Students at the Center Hub.

Creative Healing Scales Up

From personal improvement to mending conflicts in our communities to resolving divisions on the national or international stage, creative healing empowers us.

This square design has a green and red background to set off a vertical rectangular design by Emily Poe Crawford, Em Dash Paper. It is an artistic calligraphy project in green and red on a white background that says, “Devote yourself to your community around you & devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose & meaning. -Mitch Albom.”
Design by Emily Poe Crawford, of the Em Dash Paper, courtesy of OhMyHandmade.com. See Credits below.

Where can you employ creative healing in your life and world today?

IMAGES

Many thanks to Jeffrey St. Clair via LinkedIn’s SlideShare, for the nicely designed symbol image and “seven principles” slide, to Students at the Center Hub for the Mae C. Jemison quote, and to designer Emily Poe Crawford of the Em Dash Paper and OhMyHandmade.com for the Mitch Albom quote.

A green, black, and purple square forms the backdrop for a rectangular design by Jeffrey St. Clair. Next to a square green, purple, and black symbol on a green rectangle, the words say, “The seven principles: Ujamaa: Cooperative Economics. To Improve and support our own stores, businesses and organizations.”

Investing wisely

Fourth day of Kwanzaa

Part of working together to support our community is working within the community. The fourth principle of Kwanzaa is Ujamaa, cooperative economics. Black communities have long used this concept as a way to survive.

After the Civil War, racism quickly re-entrenched itself in most white people’s culture. Dedicated Reconstructionists gave it a good hard try, and for a while Black people exercised the vote to fill legislatures with Black majorities. Newly-freed slaves wanted land, education, opportunity.

But we know all too well how that story went. The myth of the Lost Cause rose in the South, but it didn’t stay there. It chased Black people wherever they migrated. And for decades its morally bankrupt ideology has held Black people back from reaching their full potential.

A green, black, and purple square forms the backdrop for a rectangular design by Jeffrey St. Clair. Next to a square green, purple, and black symbol on a green rectangle, the words say, “The seven principles: Ujamaa: Cooperative Economics. To Improve and support our own stores, businesses and organizations.”
Image by, and courtesy of, Jeffrey St. Clair. See Credits below.

Investing Wisely in Themselves

The freed Black people of the 1870s and later knew better than to rely on their white neighbors’ goodwill. They built tight-knit Black communities and helped each other prosper by investing wisely in themselves.

When I came back to this post in 2023 to update it, I had the benefit of knowing far more than I did int 2017 about stories such as that of Tulsa Oklahoma’s “Black Wall Street,” the Greenwood District. Unfortunately for the residents of Greenwood, white resentment boiled over all too easily.

But wherever they could, resourceful Black people carved out spaces for themselves. An example with a somewhat happier history is Idlewild, the so-called “Black Eden,” in Michigan.

The square picture, framed in pink, says, “When you support small business, you’re supporting a dream (heart).”
See Credits below.

Investing Wisely in Contemporary Black Businesses

You don’t have to be Black to appreciate the unique contributions of local Black-owned businesses. Here in Kansas City we have recently elected the first Black president of our local restaurant association. His restaurant, The Combine, (Kneeland is the co-owner) seeks not only to offer good food, but to provide a place to foster community.

But that’s not a unique story in Kansas City — or in many other parts of the country. We in Kansas City have Black-owned bookstores, shops, and other growing economic engines. Some of the most vibrant, innovative new voices in our economy are Black business owners. Local customers of all colors and backgrounds benefit from their presence.

In this square image from Quotesgram, the background is a a soft-focus photo of a field of lavender flowers. Superimposed over it, the words say, “I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot; together we can do great things. Mother Teresa.”
Image courtesy of Quotesgram. See Credits below.

It’s a Win-Win for all when we Cooperate

When we support local Black-run institutions, locally-owned small businesses, and locally-based Black artists, everyone wins. If we want a strong, vibrant community, we must devote ourselves to investing wisely in it!

IMAGES:

Many thanks to Jeffrey St. Clair via LinkedIn’s SlideShare, for the nicely designed symbol image and “seven principles” slide. The original source for the “support a dream” quote, HustlerColdBrew, no longer exists. I have adjusted the image by adding a pink border to emphasize the small heart at the bottom. I really appreciate QuotesGram, which created the Mother Teresa quote.

The square green, orange, purple, and yellow background showcases a purple rectangular design by Jeffrey St. Clair. The rectangle is anchored on the left by a square symbol in orange, green, yellow, and purple. Around it are the words: “The seven principles: Ujima: Collective work and responsibility. To build and maintain our community and work together to help one another.”

Working together

Third Day of Kwanzaa

The third principle of Kwanzaa is Ujima: Collective Work and Responsibility. It’s built upon the power of working together.

Once we’re strong within ourselves, it’s time to work together for the good of our community and each other. And oh, how our nation and our world needs more of this value!

The square green, orange, purple, and yellow background showcases a purple rectangular design by Jeffrey St. Clair. The rectangle is anchored on the left by a square symbol in orange, green, yellow, and purple. Around it are the words: “The seven principles: Ujima: Collective work and responsibility. To build and maintain our community and work together to help one another.”
Image by, and courtesy of, Jeffrey St. Clair. See Credits below.

Rugged Individualism is an Illusion

In the United States we’ve been indoctrinated with the idea that anyone can pull themselves up by their own bootstraps — all on their own. But anyone who fancies himself to be a “self-made man” is fooling himself.

Why? Because we depend on infrastructure: roads, schools, grocery stores, reliable utilities . . . the list goes on and on. We may be oblivious to how much we depend on them, but one solid natural disaster (or, God forbid, the human-made kind) will quickly demonstrate our error.

And all of those are the result of collective action. They would not be possible without many people working together.

A large pair of orange quotation marks heads this square black quote-image. Centered are the white letters that say “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.” Below that near the bottom it says “Michael Jordan.” And at the very bottom it reads, “graciousquotes.com.”
Courtesy of Gracious Quotes. See Credits below.

Collective Work is More Enduring

As the very wise and practical Professor Maathai points out in her quote below, “When you do it alone you run the risk that when you are no longer there nobody else will do it.” When more than one person has invested time, energy, and more importantly their heart in a project, it can become an ongoing legacy to future generations.

The top half of this square image on a textured green background is dominated by a photo of the late Prof. Wangari Maathai. In the upper left corner it says “People Daily.” Below Prof. Maathai’s photo it says, “I’m very conscious of the fact that you can’t do it alone. It’s teamwork. When you do it alone you run the risk that when you are no longer there nobody else will do it. – Prof. Wangari Maathai, Kenyan Environmental Activist.”
Courtesy of People Daily on Facebook and #PDQuotes. See Credits below.

What legacy in your community are you building by working together with others? How does Ujima express itself in your life?

IMAGES

Many thanks to Jeffrey St. Clair via LinkedIn’s SlideShare, for the nicely designed symbol image and “seven principles” slide. When I updated this post in 2023, I added more words to the original and found some much better quotations than I had in the original 2017 version. The new images are a quote from Michael Jordan courtesy of Gracous Quotes, and one from Wathari Maathai from People Daily on Facebook. I deeply appreciate both.

This is a green rectangular design by Jeffrey St. Clair, presented against a square green, yellow, and black background. St. Clair’s design includes a square symbolic image at the left, created from brown, green, and black shapes on a yellow background. The words around it say, “The seven principles: Kujichagulia: Self-determination. To be responsible for ourselves and create our own destiny.”

Self-determination

Second Day of Kwanzaa

On the second day of Kwanzaa, we have a mouthful of a principle: Kujichagulia, or self-determination. It may be a mouthful, but as with all the principles of Kwanzaa, there’s a deep truth within it.

“To be responsible for ourselves and create our own destiny” is a worthy goal for us all. Creating one’s own destiny requires that one has a sense of self, confidence in that self, and the courage to make bold choices.

Not to make choices is another road to follow, for sure. But down that road lie meandering trails, meaningless toil, and a life that never turned out just as you wished it would.

This is a green rectangular design by Jeffrey St. Clair, presented against a square green, yellow, and black background. St. Clair’s design includes a square symbolic image at the left, created from brown, green, and black shapes on a yellow background. The words around it say, “The seven principles: Kujichagulia: Self-determination. To be responsible for ourselves and create our own destiny.”
Image by, and courtesy of, Jeffrey St. Clair. See Credits below.

What is Self-Determination?

What does it look like IRL to see someone who is responsible for themself and who creates their own destiny? This can take lots of forms and manifest in as many ways as there are individuals. But being responsible for one’s self involves a couple of important skills.

It means we have to develop boundaries and the will to enforce them. And it means we must learn enough about ourself to understand our deepest values.

As Angelou notes in the quote below, controlling our “destiny” isn’t the same thing as controlling what happens to us. Our boundaries and our values — our character — guide how we react when the events of our lives unfold.

This square quote-image has a grayish background. On the right side is a photo of a young Maya Angelou in black and white. On the left It says, “You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.”
See credits below.

Self-Determination Ideally Brings out our Best Self

Many of the principles of Kwanzaa, starting with Unity on Day One and continuing with others to come, deal with building community. But as Leanne Betasamosake Simpson notes in the quote below, to build a strong community, we must start with strong, values-centered individuals.

Your self-determination defines what kind of “building materials” you are, and how you’ll fit into the community you build around yourself.

This square turquoise, yellow ocher, and cream colored design from Hopebound on Facebook says, “Strong communities are born out of individuals being their best selves. – Leanne Betasamosake Simpson. Hopebound.”
Courtesy of Hopebound on Facebook. See Credits below.

Self-Determination is a Journey

Creating our own destiny isn’t a “one-and-done” thing. It’s a lifetime effort, the cumulative result of endless, countless choices. Our best hope is that we learn more, strengthen our values as we go, and remain true to ourselves. Only then can our self-determination truly lead us to our best destiny.

IMAGES

Many thanks to Jeffrey St. Clair via LinkedIn’s SlideShare, for the nicely designed symbol image and “seven principles” slide. When I updated this post in 2023, I found some better quote images to illustrate it. I am grateful to Hopebound on Facebook for the nicely designed quote from Leanne Betasamosake Simpson.

The Maya Angelou quote’s origin is a bit of a puzzle. The earliest iteration of this image that I can still find active is somewhere in the depths of Zoe Saldana’s Instagram feed. That possibly won’t be the origin (if you look closely, you might see “S.H.O.Love” in the background, which was a clue I couldn’t develop), but that’s as far as I could trace it with the help of the usually-reliable TinEye Reverse Image Search.

It’s not over!

And just like that, Christmas is over and done with. Except for the digging out . . . and except that for some of us, it’s NOT over.

It’s not over: Happy Kwanzaa!

If you celebrate Kwanzaa, of course, the holiday has only just begun! Today is the day to especially celebrate Umoja, or Unity–something we all could use a good deal more of, in my home country of the United States.

Kwanzaa goes on for another six days after this, and doesn’t end till New Year’s Day. Each day, celebrants are asked to think about a particular value that has stood the African-American community in good stead over the years.

Today’s value is “Unity,” or Umoja. “To maintain unity in family, community, nation, and culture” is an urgent issue in the United States today that transcends any single group. Everyone in the USA can learn from the strong, resilient heart of the Black community. Will we? Only time can answer that.

At the basis of unity is shared respect and–yes–love.

Nope: it’s not over even yet: It’s also Boxing Day!

And, no — it’s not over even yet. Don’t forget today is ALSO Boxing Day in much of the English-speaking world! This year, more than ever, it might be a great moment to consider a large, charitable donation.

IMAGES

Many thanks to Brian Gordon and his Fowl Language cartoons, for today’s grin, to Jeffrey St. Clair via LinkedIn and SlideShare for the beautiful Umoja Unity design, and to the Tumblr of Adam Hernandez AKA “Slim Baby!” (via Pinterest), with thanks to TinEye Reverse Image Search, for the Cornel West quote and image.

But a Merry Christmas I wish you, anyway!

A little science fictional glee seems appropriate right now . . .

IMAGE: Many thanks to Buzzfeed, via Shoebox Greetings, and I’m pretty sure cartoonist “Brian” is my Westwood, KS semi-neighbor Brian Gordon, of the ever-wonderful Fowl Language cartoons about parenting. Of course, I NE-E-E-E-EVER feature his cartoons on my blog . . . 🙂

Aren’t we there yet? Oh, yeah! Happy Festivus!

Happy Festivus!

Yes–this is it! The day has arrived! Have you set up your Festivus Pole? Have you aired a few grievances? Have you eaten your meatloaf and M&Ms-studded cake? Then you’re celebrating in Festivus style!

For those of us who celebrate Christmas, however, we’re still counting down the days. For some of us, a little wine helps . . .

IMAGES: Many thanks to Teenormous, for the Seinfeld-inspired Festivus T-shirt design, and to Country Living and cartoonist Scott Metzger for the pre-Christmas grin.

Winter is . . . um, here.

It’s the Winter Solstice, again.

In case you’d like a reminder about some of the Winter Solstice customs, I wrote a rather detailed post about it last year.

IMAGE: Many thanks to Heavy, via Imagur, for this meme.

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