What do you think of when you hear the word “holiday” around this time of year? Today, Red Apple Reading is exploring the origins and traditions of 3 different holidays celebrated during the winter season in the United States.


Hanukkah is celebrated each year on the 25 of Kislev (according to the Jewish calendar) and lasts for eight days and nights. This year Hanukkah was observed November 27 – December 5. Hanukkah commemorates the triumph of the Maccabees in the second century B.C.E. over the Syrian Greeks (who occupied Israel) and the subsequent purifying and rededication of the temple. Also known as the “holiday of lights”, Hanukkah is celebrated with the lighting of the Menorah (Hanukiah) after sunset. Each night one additional light is lit until all eight candles are burning on the 8th night. This commemorates the “miracle of oil” that lasted eight days instead of the expected one. Some Jewish individuals choose to give a gift each night of the eight night celebration. The spinning of the dreidel is a popular Hanukkah game played using a top with 4 Hebrew letters engraved on each side. Each player spins the dreidel once per turn and gets or gives game pieces depending on the outcome. Jewish families often eat fried foods such as latkes and jelly doughnuts during this holiday. Maida Silverman’s book, Festival of Lights: The Story of Hanukkah, will help children who want to learn more about this holiday.


Created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, Kwanzaa is celebrated from December 26-January 1 each year. Kwanzaa is derived from the Swahili phrase, ‘matunda ya kwanza’, and means “first fruits of the harvest”. According to Dr. Karenga, Kwanzaa is “a deeply meaningful and special time of remembrance, reflection and recommitment for us as a people throughout the world African community.” The seven principles of Kwanzaa are unity, self-determination, collective work, responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith. Each night of the celebration a candle is lit on the kinara and a special feast (a karamu) is held on the evening of the 31st. Usually, gifts are exchanged on the last day of Kwanzaa. If you are looking for a children’s book about Kwanzaa, check out The Story of Kwanzaa, by Donna L. Washington.


The Christmas season is the time of year that Christians celebrate the birth of the Savior, Jesus Christ. Although the actual day of His birth is unknown, Christians celebrate Christ’s birth on December 25th. Another name given for Jesus in the Bible is “Immanuel”- which means “God with us.” Christians regard Christ’s birth as the most important birth ever because God took on human flesh and offered the gift of eternal life to those who would trust in Him for salvation. Many families display a nativity or creche in their homes during the Christmas season. Some households also celebrate Advent (“the coming”) with the lighting of advent candles on each Sunday of Advent. Many Christians also exchange gifts during the Christmas season. Of course not everyone who celebrates Christmas believes in the religious aspects of the holiday and choose to celebrate from a purely secular perspective. The First Christmas Night (Keith Christopher) is a nice retelling of the birth of Christ for children.

We hope you learned something you didn’t already know about these different holiday celebrations. We found the sites listed below helpful to our research. Red Apple Reading would like to hear how your family celebrates during the holiday season. Leave us a comment and tell us some of your favorite traditions. And remember, if your family exchanges gifts during the holidays, you can’t go wrong by giving the gift of a good book!