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0112 Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa

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Welcome to English as a Second Language Podcast number 112: Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast episode 112. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Today’s podcast is very appropriate. It’s called Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa. Let’s get started!

[start of story]

The holidays in my family are very diverse. Our custom is to celebrate Christmas every year as a religious observance, complete with Advent wreathes and Midnight Mass. Most of my in-laws observe Christmas purely as a secular holiday, with the focus on exchanging gifts, stockings, a Christmas tree, and other traditional customs. There is a lot of listening to Christmas music‚ my favorites are the carols sung by Nat King Cole ‚ and sometimes even some eggnog. My nieces and nephews enjoy the day the most, especially when they get to open the gifts under the tree from Santa Claus.

One of my brother-in-laws is Jewish, and so he celebrates Hanukkah, the festival of lights, when he lights a candle each of the eight nights on the menorah. My niece gets a small gift each night of Hanukkah, and, of course, spins the dreidel. With both celebrations in the same family, we sometimes call it Chrismukkah.

But the holidays are no longer just Christmas and Hanukkah in the United States. More recently, there are some people who celebrate a new holiday, Kwanzaa. This is a mostly African- American event, with parades and other parties to highlight African-American heritage. Started here in Los Angeles, this celebration runs for 1 week after Christmas, and is a mostly secular celebration.

Whatever tradition you celebrate, December is always a festive time of year.

[end of story]

Today, we are talking about the holidays. When someone says, at least in the United States, “the holidays” – with the definite article “the” – they’re usually referring to Christmas, Hanukkah, and possibly Kwanzaa. These are December holidays, for the most part, celebrated by different groups in the United States, and, of course, all over the world.

The holidays, I said, in my family, are very “diverse.” And to be “diverse” or “diverse” (diverse) means that there are many different types, many different varieties. Our custom in the family where I grew up – and a “custom,” of course, (custom) is like a tradition. Our custom is to celebrate Christmas as a religious observance. A “religious observance” means that we celebrate it as a religious holiday. So, a “religious observance” could be a holiday. It could be another religious event. Part of the traditional religious observances of Christmas include “Advent wreathes and Midnight Mass.” An “Advent wreath” – well “Advent” (Advent) – is the four week period before Christmas, which in some Christian churches, is celebrated as a special time of preparation. “Advent” means the coming or to come and “wreathes” are circular, round pieces of usually, some sort of parts of a tree or branches – green and the wreath has a place in it for four different candles, each candle representing one of the weeks before Christmas. “Midnight Mass” – a Mass (Mass) is religious ceremony in the Catholic Church, as well as in some other churches, call their religious celebration a “Mass.” “Midnight Mass” is, of course, Mass at midnight - the very first moment of Christmas. And it is traditional in many churches in the United States and other places, to have a Mass at midnight with a full choir and so forth.

I said that many of my “in-laws” observe Christmas purely as a secular holiday. “In-laws” (in-laws) refers to anyone that you are related to by marriage. So, my wife’s mother is my mother-in-law. My wife’s brothers and sisters are my brothers and sisters-in-law. The expression “purely as a secular holiday” – “purely” (purely) means solely or only. “Secular” (secular) means it’s not religious. So, when someone talks about a “secular” event, they mean a non-religious event. In a traditional secular Christmas, there is, of course, exchanging of gifts and stockings and a Christmas tree. “To exchange gifts” means you give me a gift and I give you a gift. So, we exchange. Each person receives something. “Christmas stockings” is also a very common custom in the United States. Most of these customs come from Europe, particularly Northern Europe. And Christmas stockings are literally big socks that people either put on their fireplace – hang on their fire place or put somewhere in the house. And the idea is that you are supposed to put gifts inside of this big sock or stocking. “Stocking” is just another word for a big sock.

A “Christmas tree” is you, I’m sure know, a large green tree that people decorate. They put things on it – lights and what we call “ornaments.” An “ornament” (ornament) is a decoration that you hang or put on a Christmas tree. The Christmas music that I like to listen to are “carols.” And “carols” (carols) is a Christmas song. And my favorite singer of Christmas songs is Nat King Cole. Nat (nat) King Cole (cole) is a famous – in the United States anyway – a famous singer from the 1940’s and 50’s. He has a wonderful deep voice. So, if you have a chance, try to listen to some songs sung by Nat King Cole.

One of the things that some families use to celebrate Christmas is “eggnog.” “Eggnog” (eggnog) is a drink that’s made of eggs and cream and usually a little alcohol, although, you can have non-alcoholic eggnog – eggnog without alcohol – as well. I said that my nieces and nephews enjoy this holiday because they get to open their gifts under the tree from “Santa Claus.” It’s traditional to put Christmas gifts underneath the Christmas tree and then either on Christmas Eve in some families, or on Christmas morning, the 25th, we open up the gifts or the presents. “Santa Claus,” of course, is a mostly commercial symbol of Christmas. And Santa Claus is supposed to go around and give gifts to all the good boys and girls in the world. So, hopefully, you will get something from Santa Claus this year.

I mentioned that the other – one of the other holidays we celebrate in December, is called “Hanukkah.” And “Hanukkah,” which can be spelled in English a couple of different ways, is a Jewish celebration. It’s sometimes called the “Festival of Lights.” A “festival” is another word for a celebration. And it is a celebration, a commemoration where they – the Jewish community – remembers a famous event in Jewish history and the celebration is usually observed by lighting a candle each of 8 nights. So, Hanukkah lasts or takes 8 days. It’s an eight-day celebration. And each night of Hanukkah, you light another candle on what’s called a menorah. And a “menorah” (menorah) is a candle stick holder. It’s a name of the thing that you put the candles into to hold them.

My niece gets a gift every night of Hanukkah and I said, she, of course, spins the “dreidal.” A “dreidal” (dreidal) is a Yiddish word, a word from the Yiddish language (Yiddish) and “Yiddish” was a language that was popular among Jews in Europe and is still spoken in parts of the United States where immigrants came speaking this language. Yiddish is a combination of German with Hebrew and other language words as part of it. And many Yiddish words are very well known to Americans – some very common words in Yiddish. And someday we’ll do a podcast about words in Yiddish in American English. I mentioned that the “dreidal,” then, is something that my niece spins. And a “dreidal” – another word for “dreidal” is a “top” (top). And a “top” as a toy, is something that you spin or you twist quickly and then it continues spinning on its own. And it’s a very poplar toy among children, of course.

One of the terms that has been invented in the last few years to talk about the holidays, particularly in families where there’s both a Christian and a Jewish member, is a term called “Chrismukkah,” which is a combination of Christmas and Hanukkah. Of course, it’s not a real celebration. It’s sort of a joke word, to talk about celebrating these two important holidays.

There is a new holiday – relatively new holiday that is celebrated in some parts of the United States, and that is called “Kwanzaa.” “Kwanzaa” (Kwanzaa) is celebrated by many, or at least some, African Americans. And “African Americans” or blacks – the more common term now is African American – have a celebration that begins the day after Christmas, December 26th, and continues on until – for one week. This is mostly a secular non-religious celebration, and it is a celebration of the African American heritage or the history and the culture of the African American people. December 26th is the beginning of Kwanzaa. December 26th is also called “Boxing Day” in Canada as well as in Great Britain. It’s not called “Boxing Day” in the United States, but if you live in Great Britain, or in Canada, you will know that the day after Christmas is called “Boxing Day.” And it is a public or national holiday in these countries. I’m not exactly sure why it’s called “Boxing Day.” Some people think it’s because the gifts were given the day after Christmas to the servants in a rich household – the people who worked for them got their Christmas gifts in boxes on the day after Christmas – that’s one theory.

Now let’s listen to the story this time at a native rate of speech.

[start of story]

The holidays in my family are very diverse. Our custom is to celebrate Christmas every year as a religious observance, complete with Advent wreathes and Midnight Mass. Most of my in-laws observe Christmas purely as a secular holiday, with the focus on exchanging gifts, stockings, a Christmas tree, and other traditional customs. There is a lot of listening to Christmas music‚ my favorites are the carols sung by Nat King Cole ‚ and sometimes even some eggnog. My nieces and nephews enjoy the day the most, especially when they get to open the gifts under the tree from Santa Claus.

One of my brother-in- laws is Jewish, and so he celebrates Hanukkah, the festival of lights, when he lights a candle each of the eight nights on the menorah. My niece gets a small gift each night of Hanukkah, and, of course, spins the dreidel. With both celebrations in the same family, we sometimes call it Chrismukkah.

But the holidays are no longer just Christmas and Hanukkah in the United States. More recently, there are some people who celebrate a new holiday, Kwanzaa. This is a mostly African- American event, with parades and other parties to highlight African-American heritage. Started here in Los Angeles, this celebration runs for 1 week after Christmas, and is a mostly secular celebration.

Whatever tradition you celebrate, December is always a festive time of year.

[end of story]

Well, whatever holiday you celebrate or don’t celebrate, we want to wish you a good week.

So, from Los Angeles, this is Jeff McQuillan. We’ll see you next year on ESL Podcast.

ESL Podcast is a production of the Center for Educational Development in Los Angeles, California. This podcast is copyright 2005. No part of this podcast may be sold or redistributed without the expressed written permission of the Center for Educational Development.

Glossary
diverse – including multiple types; made of many different types

* The restaurant served a diverse selection of food, including food from many different cultures.


custom – tradition; a practice that has been done often over a long period of time

* Every year, families throughout the United States follow the custom of eating turkey on Thanksgiving.


religious observance – an event held because of one's religious beliefs; an event that honors the beliefs of one's religion or faith

* Easter is a religious observance celebrated by Christians throughout the world.


Advent wreath – a ring made of pine branches in which four candles sit, used in a Christian tradition where someone lights one candle every Sunday of Advent (the four weeks before Christmas) to honor the coming celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ

* It was the last Sunday before Christmas, so Breanne lit the final candle on her Advent wreath.


Midnight Mass – a church service that is held at midnight on Christmas morning

* Otis went to Midnight Mass on Christmas and got home shortly after 1:00 a.m.


in-law – someone one is related to through marriage; a relative of one’s husband or wife

* Emerita worried that she would have difficult in-laws, but Jeremy’s family was very nice to her once they got married.


secular – non-religious; having nothing to do with religion, faith, or spirituality

* Even though Christmas is a religious holiday, many non-Christians celebrate the special day as a secular event.


to exchange gifts – to give one another presents; to give someone a gift and to receive a gift from that person

* On her wedding anniversary, Isabelle exchanged gifts with her husband, giving him a new watch and getting a new necklace in return.


stocking – a large sock traditionally hung near the fireplace before Christmas and filled with small items and gifts on Christmas morning

* On the morning of Christmas, all the kids in the family ran to their stockings to see what gifts were inside.


carol – a traditional Christmas song; a hymn (religious song) or other song that is sung every year during Christmas

* Every year around Christmas, Jose and some of his friends would visit their neighbors and sing Christmas carols.


eggnog – a drink made from eggs, milk, sugar, spices, and sometimes an alcoholic drink, such as rum, usually made around Christmas

* Heidi was allergic to eggs and could not drink eggnog when it was served at the Christmas dinner.


Hanukkah – a Jewish holiday that is celebrated for eight days in December

* Malachi and his family were Jewish and devoted to their faith, so they celebrated Hanukkah every December.


menorah – a candle holder with nine candles that one uses for a tradition at Hanukkah, in which the center candle is used to light the other eight candles, one each night, over all eight nights of Hanukkah

* On the third night of Hanukkah, Hannah lit the third candle on the menorah.


dreidel – a spinning top (a toy that spins on a point) with four sides that children use to play a game during Hanukkah

* During Hanukkah last year, Eli taught his children how to spin the dreidel.


Kwanzaa – a celebration, held between Christmas and New Year's Day, which celebrates African American traditions, culture, and history

* Jalicia looked forward to learning about her African American culture every year during Kwanzaa.


heritage – the traditions and history of one's family; the culture and history shared by a group of people

* The Revolutionary War and the traditions celebrated every Independence Day are part of the American heritage.

Culture Note
The Holidays and Being Single

The “holidays” (the December celebrations of Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, and New Year’s Day) are considered a happy time of the year, but not for everyone. According to a 2010 study of what people write on their Facebook pages, the holidays are more likely to be a time for ending relationships rather than starting happy, new ones.

After looking at more than 3,000 Facebook pages over the period of one year, two “journalists” (news reporters) from the Wall Street Journal concluded that the most common times for “breaking up” (ending a romantic relationship) with your boyfriend or girlfriend are (1) the two weeks before Christmas, and (2) during early March, a time when many schools have a one-week vacation period called Spring Break.

Why do so many people end their relationships during the two weeks before Christmas? One reason may be that they don’t want to buy their “ex-loved one” (former boy/girlfriend) a “present” (gift). Of course, if someone breaks up with you because they don’t want to buy you a Christmas present, it was probably not a relationship that was going to last very long anyway. It may also be that people want to clear their “consciences”; that is, they may feel as though they’re not really “committed to” (serious about) the relationship and that continuing it would not be honest. Fortunately, the least likely day for a romantic breakup is on Christmas Day itself. That, I suppose, would be considered too “cruel” (unkind; mean).

The reasons for breaking up before Spring Break seem a little easier to guess. High school and college students typically go on “group vacations” to a beach or another popular vacation spot during this time, providing them with an excellent opportunity to meet a new romantic partner.