Daniel Island residents share holiday traditions from around the world
CHRISTMAS IN GERMANY
Germany native Jasmin Henning, a resident of Daniel Island for the past three years, shared with us how Christmas is celebrated at her home, together with her husband, Joerg, and their children Julia and Jan.
The Henning family celebrates Christmas on December 24. As is the tradition in Germany, on that evening, a little angel named Christkindl brings presents. While the family is eating a holiday dinner in the dining room, Christkindl is quietly turning on the lights of the Christmas tree and leaving presents under the tree in the living room. The little angel then rings a bell to signal that all is ready and flies off to the next house before gleeful children run into the living room to peer under the tree.
“The Christmas season actually begins on December 1st,” points out Jasmin. “We mark the date with an Advent calendar. For the children, this adds a little fun to an otherwise endless wait for Christmas.”
The family also makes a special decorative wreath, adding four candles. On the first Sunday in December we light the first candle, then light one additional candle each Sunday afterward. As we light the candles, we sing “snow songs” like “Oh, Tannenbaum” (“Oh, Christmas Tree”) and “Stille Nacht” (“Silent Night”). The children occasionally play along on musical instruments.
“The tradition goes back generations,” continues Jasmin. “By the time the fourth candle is lit, Christkindl knows that Christmas is very near and must get the presents ready.” And then there’s St. Nikolaus Day on December 6th. Nikolaus looks somewhat like Santa Claus, but he has a little more history. The story goes that Nikolaus, or St. Nicholas as he’s also called, was a young, kind-hearted prince who, upon learning about the poverty of so many in his kingdom, told his servants to collect all the valuables in the castle and hand them out to the townspeople as gifts. Nikolaus’ benevolent spirit continues on for children who put boots outside the front door on the evening of the 5th in anticipation of his arrival during the night. Nikolaus, who looks much like the fabled Santa Claus, traditionally leaves a sweet for good children and sticks for naughty ones. In modern times, he’s more likely to leave a Barbie doll for girls and a toy car for the boys - plus a chocolate Santa for all.
“I get to plan the Christmas meal,” says Jasmin, who also celebrates her birthday on December 24. “Usually it’s Lende, a loin of pork, served with spaetzle, a type of noodle which we make from scratch, a dumpling soup, and different sides like potato salad and green cucumber salad. For dessert, we have Himbeertraum, or ‘Raspberry Dream’ - it’s vanilla ice cream topped with warmed raspberries mixed with cinnamon.”
And while it’s not necessarily a German tradition, Jasmin tells us she often decorates her house - outside as well as inside - in some special way. “This year’s a bit busy with family coming to visit, but last year I decorated the whole exterior as a gingerbread house. The whole neighborhood came to see it. It makes Christmas a lot of fun.”
CHRISTMAS IN ENGLAND
What’s Boxing Day in England? It sounds a bit painful. Carina Buckman, a native of the U.K, who lives on Daniel Island with her husband, Matt, and their children, Cat and Olivia, clarified for us.
“It’s not a day of clouting one another on the ear,” she laughs. “Rather, it’s a legal bank holiday, an extra day of Christmas - and a little more time to celebrate with extended family.”
According to history, Boxing Day gets its name from the post-Christmas day when wealthy lords and masters would give wrapped boxes to their servants, filled with leftovers from the Christmas feast.
“Boxing Day is somewhat analogous to ‘Black Friday’ in the U.S., on the day after Thanksgiving,” points out Carina. “We even have Boxing Day sales going on that day in the U.K.”
Although the tradition of giving back to one’s servants started in Medieval England, Boxing Day as an official holiday didn’t come into fashion until the Victorian era. As a matter of fact, Christmas had once been banned from the land for over a decade (1647-1660 AD), no thanks to Oliver Cromwell - the original Scrooge. Even today, under an old English Law - widely ignored - every citizen is mandated to attend church services - arriving there by foot as a sign of humility. Many other European countries also celebrate the day after Christmas - not as Boxing Day - but as the holy “St. Stephen’s Day.”
“Christmas is a very special time for us in England,” says Carina. “We look forward to the Queen’s speech on Christmas Day.”
The annual Christmas speech is a tradition that began with King George V broadcasting in 1932 via the radio. His speech was actually written by author Rudyard Kipling.
“Today, the Queen’s speech tends to be a non-partisan review of the year,” observes Carina. “It’s about lessons learned….and dreams still to be realized. All around England, the day is celebrated with lots of fun-filled activities and merry-making.”
And of course Christmas is very special to the Buckman family.
“We begin the Christmas dinner with a prayer and a tradition of opening Christmas crackers, which you pull apart,” she explains. “Inside there’s usually a small gift, joke and a silly paper hat to put on.”
The Buckmans usually have a traditional Christmas dinner of roast turkey with roast potatoes, cocktail sausages wrapped in bacon, followed by a mince pie with brandy cream, or a Christmas pudding that you set on fire and has a penny inside to be discovered by one lucky member of the family.
Carina adds, “We also have our own family tradition. After Christmas Eve Mass, we have hot chocolate, prepare treats for Santa, allow the girls to open one gift each and then do the ‘Jingle Bell Train’ - everyone in the family forms a Conga line and we sing ‘Jingle Bells’ as we dance around the house going from room to room and gently shake the children off as we get to their bedrooms. Once in bed, my girls also listen to my father and mother-in-law read ‘The Night before Christmas’ on an electronic book, particularly special as Pop Pop can no longer read to them as he is suffering with Alzheimer’s. It makes for a very special Christmas Eve every year.”
CHRISTMAS IN SOUTH AFRICA
Daniel Island resident Christina Kirk, a native of South Africa and mother of Nicholas and Stephanie, shared a snapshot of Christmas in South Africa.
“South Africa, once a British colony, follows many of the traditional English Christmas customs, including that of breaking open Christmas crackers,” says Christina, whose husband, Andrew, is also from South Africa. “While we do like to enjoy beef, turkey, ham or even lamb for Christmas dinner and open Christmas presents around tree by the hearth, our South African climate often made that a bit problematic - it’s often scorching hot at Christmas over there because it falls in the summertime. Often, we end up having cold ham or turkey sandwiches and potato salad outside on the porch- and then run down to the beach for a cooling swim.”
One tradition they do keep up on Daniel Island is the Christmas crackers, which the Kirk children love, adds Christina.
“I was a bit concerned when I came here that we’d not find any,” she notes. “Christmas isn’t Christmas without the crackers - but, thankfully, I found them at Costco and Marshall’s. We are looking forward to Christmas this year!”
Daniel Island resident Melanie Archer shared with us the special meaning of Hanukkah, as well as some of the traditional ways that she, her husband, Jon, daughter, Abby, and son, Joey, celebrate this special Jewish holiday.
Although Hanukkah (also spelled Chanukah) often coincides with the Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus,” points out Melanie, “it is by no means a ‘Jewish Christmas.’ Hanukkah celebrates the Jewish Maccabees successfully driving the Syrians out of Jerusalem in 168 A.D. and reclaiming their temple which had been forbidden to them under the tyrant Antiochus. Once in the temple, however, the Jews discovered that there was only enough oil left for one night of light. Miraculously, however, the oil lasted for eight days. The Menorah, the familiar eight-branched candelabra associated with Hanukkah, signifies this miracle. Traditionally, families put their menorah as close to the window as possible to share the memory of the miracle with the community.
A ninth candle, called the “Shamosh,” sits higher than the rest on the menorah, and serves as the host flame for the lighting of each of the other eight candles. The lighting begins with the candle to the farthest left moving across to the right. Blessings are said each evening during the candle lighting.
Melanie observes, “Hanukkah not only celebrates the miracle of the eight days of light, but also the perseverance of the Jews who helped us keep our faith. Additionally, it is a ritual that celebrates commonalities as members of the Jewish community.”
During Hanukkah, children often play a game with a four-sided spinning top called a “dreidel.” Each side of the dreidel is decorated with a Hebrew letter; depending on how the top lands, the letter revealed signifies the amount of “prize money” won - often doled out in gelt, or chocolate coins. Together, the four letters on the dreidel: “nun,” “gimel,” “hei,” and “shin,” spell out an important Hebrew message: “Nes Gadol Hayah Sham” or “The great miracle happened here.”
Sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts) and latkes (potato pancakes) are also an important part of the Hanukkah celebration. Both foods are fried in oil, which represents a respectful and tasty nod to the miraculous oil.
“Gift-giving is a relatively new custom among Jews in America - it has no religious or celebratory significance, although an exchange of a simple wrapped gift is fun for the children, “ says Melanie. “We do want them to focus on the meaning of Hanukkah and honoring the members of our family.”
Hanukkah, on the lunar Hebrew calendar coincides roughly any time between late November and early January on the solar Christian Calendar. This year, Hanukkah begins on the 24th of December.
On Daniel Island, the 5th annual celebration of Hanukkah and Menorah Lighting ceremony will take place on Saturday, December 24. Traditional Hanukkah food and drinks will be served along with games and music. The event, open to all, will be held from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. at the entrance gate of the Family Circle/Volvo Car Tennis Center on Daniel Island.
Daniel Island resident Faith White loves to throw parties. And Kwanzaa, the celebration of the African harvest which coincides with Christmas, was the perfect opportunity to invite a few guests over for good food, good conversation, some laughter ….and a little prayer. In December of 2005, together with Henri, her beloved late husband, Faith opened the doors of her Etiwan Park Street home to approximately 60 of the couple’s good friends - all residents of Daniel Island.
Faith recalls, “We had friends from the Rotary Club, the Book Club, Women of Faith and other organizations on the island. Henri and I were very busy in a number of organizations here. That’s how you meet people and stay connected!”
Kwanzaa, a seven-day festival that takes place from December 26 to January 1, celebrates African culture and history. Kwanzaa was created 50 years ago by Maulana Karenga, a professor of African Studies at UCLA.
Kwanzaa comes from the phrase “matunda ya kwanza” which means “first fruits” in the Swahili. During Kwanzaa, a special candle holder called a “kinara” holds seven candles, three red ones on the left, three green ones on the right and a black candle in the center. The black candle is lit first in order to alternately light red and green candles, one each day of the feast, starting with the outermost candles.
The seven days and candles in Kwanzaa represent the seven principles of Kwanzaa:
Umoja: Unity of family and community.
Kujichagulia: Self-determination and responsibility for one’s own conduct and behavior.
Ujima: Collective work to help each other in the community
Ujamaa: Cooperative work to build shops and businesses in the community
Nia: Purposeful remembering of African cultures, customs and history
Kuumba: The creativity and imagination that make communities better.
Imani: Faith in people, families, leaders, teachers who lead the way.
To be sure, Faith White had special candles and candleholders ready for her Kwanzaa celebration. But she also came across a 12-candle candelabra as she was getting her house prepared for the gathering and immediately realized it belonged in the Kwanzaa celebration. Faith points out, “We have 12 wonderful things we can acknowledge about Daniel Island including our friends and family, our homes, our wonderful lifestyle. The lighting of the 12 candles was a tribute to Daniel Island as a truly unique place to live and a celebration of who we are as a community today.” What’s on the menu at the annual White family Kwanzaa celebrations? “Whatever I feel like cooking,” grins Faith. Happy faces and cleaned plates in the photos tell of a feast fit for an African king.
“We’ve all worked hard to support one another and to make Daniel Island what it is today,” says Faith. “We’ve all come from someplace else, and we’ve worked hard to support one another and to help make Daniel Island the thriving community it is today. We planted the seeds and we’re reaping a harvest - that’s certainly the spirit of Kwanzaa as far as I’m concerned.”