It’s Christmas, but What About the Others?

It’s Christmas, but What About the Others?
BCRC’s kindergarten through first grade students join musician Phil Kane for some Chanukah songs to celebrate the holiday. Photo courtesy of BCRC.

Christmas in Loudoun County is one of the most widely celebrated times of the year, both as a religious commemoration and as a commercial holiday. December also marks celebrations by other religions, beliefs and cultures. Among them are Hanukkah/Chanukah, Kwanzaa and Yule.


Hanukkah, also called Chanukah, is the Jewish eight-day “festival of lights,” celebrated with a nightly menorah lighting, prayers and fried foods. The holiday celebrates the reclamation and rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

The temple, which had been desecrated by the Greek Syrian ruler Antiochus IV who had virtually outlawed the practice of Judaism, was taken back by a band of resistance fighters known as the Maccabees in the early second century BCE.

“By 165 BCE, the Maccabees had succeeded in reclaiming the Temple and were in the process of restoring it when one of them found one, still-sealed jar of oil that could be used to light the menorah. This oil, expected to last just one night, lasted eight — enough time to manufacture or locate more olive oil for the menorah, and it is this miracle that we celebrate: the miracle of the oil lasting longer than expected, of defying expectations, of providing light through dark times, a symbol of religious freedom and in particular, of our freedom to be on our spiritual journey as Jews, and of hope for future peace,” Rabbi Amy Sapowith of Beth Chaverim Reform Congreation said.

This year, Hanukkah is celebrated from Dec. 24 to Jan. 1.

Loudoun County is home to two synagogues, Sha’are Shalom in Leesburg, and Beth Chaverim Reform Congregation in Ashburn.

Beth Chaverim hosted its celebration Dec. 18., which included live Chanukah music from one of the congregation’s musicians, Phil Kane, and a debut by one of the congregation’s 7th graders playing guitar.

Craft stations included painting a drip tray for the menorahs to catch the melting candle wax of the candles, making dreidls, Hanukkah cards and wrapping paper, and quilting a blanket to donate, Sapowith said.
“A dreidl is a spinning top that has a different Hebrew letter on its four sides. The letters: nun, gimel, hay, and shin stand for the phrase: Nes Gadol Hayah Sham, which means “‘A great miracle happened there.’ It is played with M&Ms or nuts or pennies, etc. and each letter determines whether you put in all of your pieces into the common pot, half of your pieces, none of your pieces, or whether you win the entire pot,” she said.

National Menorah in Washington D.C. This year’s ceremony is Dec. 25. Photo: National Menorah Council.

Latkes — potatoes fried in oil and made into patties — were served, as were donuts, also called sufganiyot, which are a traditional Hanukkah treat in Israel. The celebration also featured music videos of the  Jewish a capella group, the Maccabeats, which were projected on a wall.

The Village at Leesburg held a Hanukkah celebration Dec. 11 by the menorah in Village Plaza, led by Rabbi David Greenspoon of Sha’are Shalom.

Hanukkah is also being celebrated in Washington D.C. with the lighting of the National Menorah. This year’s lighting ceremony takes place at 4 p.m. Dec. 25 on the Ellipse, just across from the White House. The event is free but tickets are required. The event will have live music, latkes, donuts and a free menorah kit. Doors open at 3 p.m.

“In this way, we actively reaffirm the celebration of our freedom, inspired by the historic and present victory of right over might, light over darkness, and understanding and justice over intolerance and bigotry,” the National Menorah Council states on its website.


Although not a religious holiday, Kwanzaa is still celebrated by millions of people in the United States, as well as people in Canada, Brazil and parts of Europe. Kwanzaa was founded in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga. His goals for the celebration were to serve as a regular communal celebration meant to strengthen the bonds within African communities, connect people of African descent with the African continent and reaffirm the vision and values of African culture.

Kwanzaa celebrates the Seven Principles, communitarian values and practices which strengthen and celebrate family, community and culture. The seven communitarian African values are: Umoja (Unity), Kuji-chagulia (Self-determination), Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity) and Imani (Faith).

Kwanzaa is meant to be celebrated communally and the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Musuem is hosting three celebratory activities.

Performance company Taratibu Youth Association. Photo credit: Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum Website.

The first is a performance by Jessica Smith, also known as the Culture Queen, where she bring the first Kwanzaa principle to life through live music, interactive movement and storytelling. The performance will be at 11 a.m. Dec. 27 at the Fort Stanton Recreation Center located at 1812 Erie Street, SE, Washington D.C.

At 10:30 a.m. Dec. 28, the performing arts company Taratibu Youth Association will present Afro-inspired dances. The company has toured and performed throughout Africa — Togo, Benin, Ghana, Tanzania, South Africa (Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Soweto) — and locally throughout the DMV including the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, according to the museum’s website. The performance will also be held at the Fort Stanton Recreation Center.

The museum will also host arts and crafts activities in its multi-purpose room at 10:30 a.m. Dec. 29.

The Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum is located at 1901 Fort Place, SE, Washington, D.C.

Yule, the Winter Solstice

Dec. 21 marks the darkest day of the year and the first day of winter. In Wicca and other neo-pagan and new age traditions, the winter solstice — referred to as Yule — is a holiday that celebrates the return of the sun as the days slowly become longer after this point.

“It’s about honoring the dark part of the year and the fact that we know that the light will also return but that life is composed of both dark and light aspects,” Anysia Oswald, founder and owner of Sacred Circle, said.

Although many practitioners of celebrate individually or with a small Yule get together, there are some more communal celebrations in Northern Virginia, like at Sacred Circle, a new age store in Alexandria, Virginia.

Celebrations can take different forms defending on traditions, and include as Celtic, Norse and Druidic. What they all share is the use of a lot of candles, as light and fire are symbols of Yule. Depending on the practitioners, there may be singing, chanting or a guided story, Oswald said.

Other Yule symbols are the colors red and gold, evergreen trees and mistletoe, Oswald said.

This article has been updated to remove a Messianic Jewish organization from the list of Jewish congregations in Loudoun County.