6 Ways to Make the Holidays More Meaningful

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Start a discussion of where traditions come from with info from the experts at patheos.com, a site dedicated to world religions.

Why do people light candles each night of Hanukkah?

"We light them to remind ourselves of an ancient miracle that occurred after invaders of Israel tried to force the Jewish people to practice a different religion. When they refused, the invaders ransacked their temple, destroying almost everything. The Jews pushed them out, then hurried to restore the holy site. The first time they lit the oil lamp, there was only enough oil for one day. Yet to their surprise, it burned for eight days and nights."

Rabbi Keith Stern, leader of Temple Beth Avodah, in Newton, Massachusetts

Why does Kwanzaa last for seven days?

"Inspired by many African nations that hold weeklong harvest celebrations, Kwanzaa was created in the U.S. as an African-American holiday. It draws on these traditions in order to connect African Americans to their African heritage. Each day of Kwanzaa is dedicated to a different principle (including unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith) to help us honor our family, community, and culture."

Anthea Butler, Ph.D., associate professor of religion at the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia

Why do people exchange Christmas gifts?

"Each year, Christians honor the birth of Jesus more than 2,000 years ago. Shortly after Jesus was born, Magi, often called the wise men, came from the East to Bethlehem and offered the infant gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. As part of the Christmas celebration, we give gifts too—to our friends, family, and the poor and hungry—as a way of remembering the gifts given to Jesus."

The Rev. Emile R. "Mike" Boutin Jr., copastor of the Church of the Blessed Sacrament in Walpole, Massachusetts

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