‘The True Meaning of Christmas’

Myah Grant logoPEOPLE SAY “Merry Christmas,” but do they know what it really means? I asked my father, Mike Grant, the pastor of Moore’s Corner Church in Leverett, to explain.

“The first six letters of the word Christmas are Christ. The real meaning of Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, a time of peace on Earth and good will toward men,” he said.

I asked when Christmas started. He told me, “The birth of Jesus Christ was 2,000 years ago, but it was made a United States federal holiday in 1870 by President Ulysses S. Grant.”

My father’s favorite part of Christmas, he said, is “Spending time with my family and being thankful for all we have.”

He added, “Christmas is a time for people to give gifts, just like the three wise men who gave gifts to Jesus at his birth.”

So Merry Christmas to you. Peace on Earth, good will toward men.

Chanukah’s light shines brightly

Rachel Silverman logoCHANUKAH, though not one of the Jewish High Holidays, captures mainstream attention due to its near coincidence with Christmas and tends to spark more interest than other holidays from non-Jews.

I have celebrated Chanukah, also known as a Festival of Lights, with my family since I was a child. The tradition we practiced involved lighting candles on the menorah at sundown, singing Hebrew prayers and an exchange of gifts.

This repeats each night of Chanukah, of which there are eight. Each night an additional candle is lit, increasing the light. The gradual growth in the brilliance of the flames from night to night mirrors what is occurring in nature as we pass through the darkest and shortest days and welcome a few more minutes of light after we pass the Winter Solstice.

I remember as child, loving that, as with most Jewish holidays, we could begin as soon as the sun went down, and I would sit and watch the sun sink from view and then scream to my family to come light the candles.

It was important in our family to place our menorah, with its candles burning, in our window for the neighborhood to see. The history of Jews, both ancient and modern, has been marked by various forms of prejudice, persecution, and even genocide.

Even today casual (or severe) anti-semitism is common in many places. Because of this history, of which most Jews are keenly aware, it feels important to let our light shine brightly in the face of all injustice everywhere.

Even though our culture and traditions may be unfamiliar or misunderstood by some, we don’t hide our light, instead we show the world that even in the darkest times we can kindle a flame of hope and knowledge and justice.

Perseverance in the face of adversity, both of our own people, and of oppressed people everywhere, is the value I hope to pass on to my son, and it is indeed, a common theme in all Jewish holy days and celebrations.

Like any other family celebration we gather with friends and family, have parties, cook lots of food, and continue or create meaningful traditions that will live on in our young family members into the future.

The feeling is joyous and warm and fosters a wonderful connection between us as family and as humans.

What I love about being Jewish is that I am a part of one of the world’s great Wisdom Traditions that values expression of all kinds, learning in all its forms, and a commitment to justice and freedom for all people. Selah!

Celebrating winter solstice with warm Yule

Ainsley-logoYULE, A HOLIDAY TRADITION dating back to the fourth century, celebrates the winter solstice. I spoke with Arwen and her mom, Vila Maya King, who celebrate Yule, and they shared a lot of information with me:

Yule started in Northern Europe in Finland, Iceland, and Norway. It focuses on the cycles of seasons. The main thing the holiday celebrates is family and gathering with family and loved ones.

ARWEN AND VILA MAYA KING celebrate Yule and added their own tradition of playing games.

According to Arwen, another big aspect of Yule is giving.

“We have opportunities to give all year, and at Yule you remember those who are in need,” she told me.

Two main parts of Yule are the feast and festivities. Traditionally, in the feast, you eat cornbread, plum pudding, cranberry dressing, butter rum, and eggnog.

When people started celebrating Yule they were farmers so they were celebrating a good harvest and giving thanks for it — because going into the winter months they knew it was going to be hard. Way back then, people used to think the sun wasn’t going to come back because the nights were getting longer and days were getting shorter, so they celebrated in honor of the sun by getting a tree and lighting the Yule log to tell the sun to come back in the spring because they knew they needed the sun to start their harvest.

The holiday is celebrating knowing that, even in dark times, light is always there.

Arwen and her mother have some of their own traditions for celebrating Yule. For instance, besides the traditional foods, they have meat stew with vegetables and lots of spices, spiced cake, Yule log cake, and hot, spiced milk.

The first thing they do is go out and choose a tree to cut down. Once they’ve cut it down, they say a blessing, promising to plant another tree in place of the one that they cut down.

Instead of burning their Yule log, they place candles in little divots in the log and burn those. They also have a Yule log cake that they eat as a part of their tradition. When they burn the Yule log they give thanks for all that they have and ask for continued blessing for them and especially for those less fortunate.

During the festivities, they play games like Pictionary and card games.

Yule is a fun holiday to celebrate. Maybe you and your family will add it to your own holiday celebrations.

Kwanzaa for a principled life, with gifts

BSE and Mohawk alumna Rhonda Stowell Lewis with kids Iris and Isaiah. Kwanzaa is about principles, she says.

RHONDA STOWELL LEWIS is a BSE alumna and 1989 Mohawk grad, Today she’s the principal of Hiram L. Dorman Elementary School, in Springfield’s Pine Point section.

She tells the Flow how she and her family celebrate Kwanzaa, which celebrates African heritage, runs Dec. 26-31, and culminates in a feast.

The holiday revolves around seven important principles called Nguzo Saba: They are umoja (unity), kujichagulia (self-determination), ujima (collective work and responsibility), ujamaa (cooperative economics), nia (purpose), kuumba (creativity), and imani (faith).

“We celebrate Kwanzaa every year. We have the candle holder, kinara, and the seven candles. There are three green, three red, and one black in the middle,” Lewis explains.

“We have a friend who I taught with for six years who provides us with our gifts. She brings us a basket with seven gifts wrapped up. We read our book, one principle a night, and discuss what it means and how we can follow it during the year.”

Then they open a gift.

“The kids take turns opening the gifts, which of course is their favorite part,” Lewis tells the Flow.

If you wanted to say something cheery to someone who celebrates Kwanzaa, the holiday greeting is “Joyous Kwanzaa.”

BSE Flow staff, with appreciation to Amy Roberts-Crawford for introducing us to her classmate and pal Rhonda.

Shaping worlds

Jamey says
Jamey says…

JOSH SIMPSON and Cady Coleman’s son Jamey, 14, helps make glass planets, and even creates his own glass art. Like his parents, he’s an airplane pilot.

He told the Flow that he enjoys playing squash, Ultimate Frisbee, baseball, tennis, and video games.

The Flow asked Jamey what he might like to do for a living, given that his parents have such interesting careers. He said it might be cool to float around in space as an astronaut (like his mom), blow glass (like his dad), or even have a regular desk job.

The important thing, he said, is that he love it:

“My dad tells me, ‘Just do what you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.’”

This is a sidebar to Katie Martin’s excellent coverage of Josh Simpson’s glassblowing work, Each fragile planet a labor of love.