(WJHL) — The holiday season looks different from family to family, but one similarity may remain despite the family or the holiday they celebrate: time spent with loved ones.

From setting up a Nativity scene to lighting a menorah to celebrate Hanukkah, traditions vary from culture to culture.


Many in Northeast Tennesseans and Southwest Virginia celebrate Christmas on Dec. 25 to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem.

According to a National Geographic web article, Christians began to celebrate the birth of Christ in December by A.D. 336. Winter festivities that had already existed in many parts of the world soon became a part of Christmas traditions, such as the festival of Yule’s celebrations and the Celtic Druids’ candle lighting and mistletoe.

Today, families enjoy decorating Christmas trees to enjoy the light and sparkle associated with the season. But from where does that tradition stem? National Geographic attributes the longtime tradition to the Germans, who began decorating trees similar to how Pagans decorated tree branches.

Once the tradition transitioned indoors, the Christmas tree became a well-known symbol of Christmas when British royals with German roots continued the tradition.

Another activity that comes to mind when thinking of Christmastime is one thing that is the center of any family gathering: food. What is with all the food and goodies we make during the season to enjoy amongst ourselves and share with loved ones?

In medieval England, Christmas was celebrated during a 12-day festival, according to National Geographic, that saw that guests of the royal family feast on a hearty amount of food — but not only that. Other Christmas pastimes included plays, celebrations of Christ’s birth, gift-giving and decorations — sound familiar?

Christmas traditions made their way over the Atlantic and were at one point banned by Puritans for a little over a decade, not regaining popularity until the Civil War.


Kwanzaa celebrations begin the day after Christmas and last for seven days. Unlike Christmas, Kwanzaa is not for one religion; it is a secular celebration that focuses on African-American culture and heritage.

A source from National Geographic says that the word Kwanzaa means first in Swahili, which is a language that originated in East Africa and spread to more than 14 countries.

Kwanzaa runs from Dec. 26 through Jan. 1 and was introduced by Dr. Maulana Karenga in 1966. According to an African Studies Center webpage on the University of Pennsylvania’s website, the holiday celebrates life and has many similarities to Thanksgiving.

“Five common sets of values are central to the activities of the week: ingathering, reverence, commemoration, recommitment, and celebration,” the website states.

Participants celebrate with a banquet of food on Dec. 31. Other traditions give participants the opportunity to be expressive, with family activities that include Adinkra coloring pages, which are symbols that originated in Ghana that pass on traditional wisdom, according to the National Museum of African American History and Culture.


This Jewish holiday is also known as the Celebration of Lights. According to National Geographic, it dates back to more than two millennia to ancient Israel.

Today, the holiday starts on the 25th day of Kislev, which marks the ninth month of the Hebrew calendar that follows the lunar cycle. Jewish families will begin celebrating Hanukkah on Dec. 18, and it will last until Dec. 26.

Hanukkah celebrates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in the second century B.C.

A well-known tradition of Hanukkah includes the burning of a menorah that holds nine candles, each for the nine nights of the holiday. Another candle — called a shamash, according to National Geographic — lights the other candles.

The holiday is also celebrated by playing driedel, singing songs and exchanging gifts.

Hanukkah foods are hearty, something they share with the foods eaten during Christmas or Kwanzaa celebrations. Examples include potato pancakes called latkes, which are usually cooked with ingredients like onion, cheese and zucchini. Another food includes deep-friend donuts called Sufganiyah.