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5 min read - Wednesday 22nd December 2021 

It’s not all about Christmas! The Art of Winter Festivities

By Lois Freeman

The month of December is saturated with the art of Christmas. Nativity scenes beam through church windows and down every city street is an artfully decorated christmas tree, or a house laden with lights. As over 2 billion of us ready ourselves for a month of celebration defined largely by the Christian faith, communities across the globe also use art to celebrate their own winter festivities.


Hanukkah- Sunday 28th November until Monday 6th December



Image description: The Menorah of ‘Hanukkah’ - One central candle above the star of David, with 8 other candles either side.


The Jewish festival of Hanukkah celebrates the historic victory of the Jews against the Syrian-Greeks through a ritual of nightly candle-lighting, prayers, and special fried foods - Potato ‘Latkes’ and jam-filled ‘sufganyas’. The festival, which translates to ‘dedication’, honours the subsequent reclamation of the holy temple in Jerusalem, and the reassertion of Jewish religious beliefs.


When they lit the Holy Temple’s Menorah, with the single days worth of uncontaminated olive oil left there by the Greeks, it lasted for 8 days. This miracle dictates how now, during the  ‘festival of lights’, the iconic Menorah is lit each night, candle-by-candle, until they all burn together on the eighth day. Such celebration demonstrates how light can be used artistically as a shared symbol, visually broadcasting a story of reclamation through the homes of modern-day Jews.


Kwanzaa- Sunday 26th December until Saturday 1st January


The 7-day, American holiday of ‘Kwanzaa’ is a celebration of both Continental African and African American culture. The festivity originated in 1966 as a creation by Dr. Maulana Karenga to help rebuild communities in response to riots in Los Angeles. It is an exuberant holiday fuelled by colour and creative expression, promoting pride in heritage and multiculturalism.


Kwanzaa has a strong focus on artistic expression through song, dance, storytelling and poetry. There are Spotify playlists dedicated to the festival and live poetry readings across America. It’s sixth ‘core principle’ is ‘Kuumba’ or creativity, which mandates that we must do everything we can to ‘leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it’.


On day six of the festivities, each person creates something to share with their family, to rejoice in the joy, education and understanding that art can bring. The holiday also has a strong aesthetic drive, encouraging people to ‘select the most beautiful objects of art, colourful African cloth, fresh fruits and vegetables’ to represent African culture in the best way possible.



Image description: A community plays African drums to celebrate Kwanzaa.


Chinese New Year - Tuesday 1st February until Friday 11th February

Celebrated by more than 20% of the world, Chinese New Year began as a ceremonial day of prayer and has evolved into a vibrant festival of food, colour and light. Fireworks are used to light up the sky to honour the myth of the man-eating sea monster Nian, who was famously fought off with red objects, bright lights and firecrackers. The colour red has since symbolically developed into a weapon against evil spirits and can be seen in the red lanterns and strings of chilli peppers which line the streets, the red paper pasted on people’s homes, and the red envelopes filled with money and given to children.


The art of Chinese New Year seeps into its every aspect - from cleaning and cooking to collective street art. Many cleanse their homes of the year's bad energy through the ritual of a deep spring clean. Beautifully folded Chinese dumplings or yuanxiao (glutinous rice balls) are traditionally consumed for breakfast, lunch and dinner and lion and dragon dances form parades through towns and cities, bringing good luck for the new year.


Image description: A Chinese New Year parade with colourful dragons and red lanterns.


Art manifests itself in more holidays than just Christmas. It is felt through the celebrations of all winter festivities across the world. Communities cook enchanting fried delights, create history-rich theatrical performances and display reams of lights and decorations to evoke their own myths and legends.


Gatekeeper Magazine© 2021