Celebrating the Winter Holidays With Cozy Earth

By Riley Seymour | Sep 21, 2022

Celebrating the Winter Holidays With Cozy Earth

By Riley Seymour | Sep 21, 2022

Celebrating Winter Holidays

You've been invited to a winter holiday party, but it's not a holiday you or your family celebrate. Should you bring a gift? What is appropriate? Are gifts exchanged at all the major holidays in December? What should you expect at the party? Here's what we recommend when attending celebrations for Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa this year.

Hanukkah (Chanukah)

First off, how do you pronounce it? "Hah-new-kuh" is pretty close. The typical greeting or way to say farewell after a fun evening is simply, "Happy Hanukkah!" You may also hear people exclaim, "Chag Sameach!" ("hog saw-may-ach"), which translates to, "Happy Holiday."

What Happens at a Hanukkah Party?

A Hanukkah party typically consists of candle lighting, dinner, games, dessert, and presents.

  1. Candle lighting – Hanukkah is known as "The Festival of Lights," so you can expect your host family to put candles in their menorah (candle holder) and say or sing two or three Hebrew prayers to kick off the evening.
  2. Dinner – The traditional Hanukkah food is latkes ("laht-kuhs"), which are potato pancakes. You will likely be offered to dress them with applesauce or sour cream (or both, if you're feeling adventurous!) Some families also serve brisket, chicken, green veggies, and/or fruit with their meal.
  3. Games – This is not the time to bust out your Scrabble board. Instead, expect to spin a small, wooden or plastic top called a dreidel ("dray-duhl") for a chance at winning some gelt (money or chocolate coins). Your host family will be really impressed if you already know the Hebrew letters on the dreidel (Nun, Gimel, Hey, and Shin)!
  4. Dessert – Hanukkah is associated with oily foods (thanks to the tiny bit of oil in the ancient temple that was only enough to last one day, but ended up lasting eight days), so a common dessert you may be offered is called sufganiyot ("soof-gahn-ee-yo-t"), or jelly donuts.
  5. Presents – There are eight nights of Hanukkah. This means a lot of potential for gift giving and receiving. Not everyone gives or receives gifts each night (or at all), but smaller presents are often more appropriate than large, lavish, or expensive items.
Menorah and Hanukkah gifts

Hanukkah Gift Ideas for Your Host Family

  • Everyone loves cozy socks.
  • Teens & tweens might like a set of silk scrunchies.
  • New or soon-to-be parents will appreciate baby blankets or crib sheets.
  • If your host family drinks, a nice bottle of wine is always welcome.
  • If you know the recipient well, PJs or a new top are good options, too.

Christmas in the US

The most marketed winter holiday in the US, Christmas, on a surface level, is a joyous and festive one-to-two-day holiday that brings to mind nativity scenes, beautifully decorated evergreen trees, ornate sugar cookies, overflowing stockings dangling from mantles, and abounding generosity. To greet people during Christmastime, it is customary to say, “Merry Christmas!”

What Happens at a Christmas Party?

A Christmas party can mean different things to different people. Businesses often throw Christmas parties for their employees to celebrate a profitable calendar year, while family members travel near and far to gather for close-knit celebrations and annual traditions at their homes. Regardless of the type of Christmas party, most celebrations include at least a few of the following: dinner, dessert, gift exchanges, dancing, caroling, and/or a donation drive.

  1. Dinner – Christmas dinner in America often includes dishes likes, juicy ham or turkey, homemade lasagna, meatballs, creamy mashed potatoes, fresh baked breads, squash dishes, and more.
  2. Dessert – Decadent pudding, fruit cake, gingerbread cookies, sugar cookies, warm pies, festive candy canes, and more.
  3. Gift exchange – Some families and companies choose to go the “Secret Santa” route, while others opt for “White Elephant” or a traditional one to one gift exchange.
  4. Dancing – At work Christmas parties, there is often a DJ or a band and dancing is encouraged.
  5. Caroling – While not included at every Christmas party, it is not uncommon to gather 'round the fireplace or Christmas tree - or even to go outside to neighbor's houses - to sing Christmas carols and spread your holiday cheer.
  6. Donation drive – These are most prevalent at office Christmas parties. The business often requests employees bring a new toy or non-perishable food item to donate to those less fortunate during the Christmas season. Some companies choose to sponsor a child or a family for Christmas and fulfill their gift wish lists, too.

Beige Christmas ornament hanging from Christmas tree

Christmas Gift Ideas

Children who celebrate Christmas often hang a stocking on their mantle on Christmas Eve to be filled overnight with small candies, toys, ornaments, or other “stocking stuffers.”

Larger presents are wrapped in traditional green, red, and white paper and bows and placed under the Christmas Tree, typically to be opened on Christmas Day.

Depending on how well you know the recipient, almost anything could be given as a Christmas gift from clothing for women to socks for men, and everything in between.

What is Kwanzaa?

The lesser known and understood of the three holidays is Kwanzaa. Like all major winter holidays, Kwanzaa is deeply rooted in tradition; however, unlike Christmas and Hanukkah, Kwanzaa is not a religious holiday. During this week-long holiday, the number seven is important; there are seven candles in the kinara (candle holder) and seven principles reminding participants of their African culture's values.

How to Celebrate Kwanzaa

Kwanzaa is a celebration of African American culture and includes red, green, and black decorations, lighting the kinara, African dancing or drumming, a feast on the final day, and more. When celebrating Kwanzaa, you will need to keep the seven principles in mind, as each day, a different candle in the kinara is lit based on the principle of the day. According to the National Museum of African American History & Culture, the seven principles include:

  1. Umoja (Unity)
  2. Kujichagulia (Self-Determination)
  3. Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility)
  4. Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics)
  5. Nia (Purpose)
  6. Kuumba (Creativity)
  7. Imani (Faith)

Family of 5 celebrating Kwanzaa

How do you greet someone during Kwanzaa?

It is customary to greet people who are celebrating with, “Habari Gani,” which means, “What is the news?” When someone greets you, you should respond with the principle of the day. If you are not African-American, wishing your friends who are celebrating a “Joyous Kwanzaa” is recommended.

Kwanzaa Gifts

Is it appropriate to give your friends gifts during Kwanzaa? Gifts for Kwanzaa are often given from parents to children or other family members; however, you could give thoughtful gifts to your friends, too. Presents are often homemade, or inexpensive, culturally themed, and purchased from Black-owned businesses. Gifts that would be appropriate to give during Kwanzaa include, art, candles, handmade jewelry, gift cards for Black-owned businesses, and more, that honors African heritage.

Winter Holiday Celebrations

Regardless of the winter holiday you celebrate this year, we hope it is happy, merry, and joyous.

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