With the winter holidays upon us, we thought it appropriate to look at how people celebrate this special time of year, both here in Benicia and around the world.

Holiday Celebrations Near

by Mary Hand

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year has gained more importance over time. Yes, there is a distressing amount of commercialization, but despite that aspect, people have come to view the holidays as a respite from the stress of local and worldwide angst. Certainly, the holidays arrive with stress of their own, but for the most part, it’s a happy stress. It’s an excuse to pull away from the pounding ugliness of the worldwide tragedies and instead focus on the beautiful and the fun. Really, it’s okay to do this. We need it.

Benicia is a cozy berg that cherishes its holidays and traditions.

A lot of energy is spent on decorating and parties and gift giving. It’s lovely to stroll down First Street and look at the holiday windows, perhaps stop for a cup of hot chocolate and one of the bakeries. One of the perfect times to do this is at the annual Holiday Open House. First Street merchants along with Benicia Main Street host this popular open house at the beginning of the Christmas Season.  Merchants offer beverages and treats and show off their holiday goods while costumed carolers sing traditional Christmas tunes.  Live entertainment and Christmas Tree lighting add a festive atmosphere to this family event.

Music is also an integral part of the holidays in Benicia including an annual concert from our renowned local children’s choir, Voena.

This year’s concert will be at the lovely St. Peter’s Chapel on Mare Island, the oldest Navy chapel on the West Coast and the 2nd oldest in the United States. VOENA’s debut in this concert series will envelop this extraordinary space with angelic voices in the presence of an astounding collection of Tiffany stained glass, dressed in full Victorian attire! 

Let us not forget The Nutcracker, a holiday favorite. Benicia Ballet will once again present The Nutcracker in all its glory, with Tchaikovsky’s familiar score and the Sugar Plum Fairy, Mouse King and Dancing Snowflakes! For a different take on dance, The Christmas Ballet by Smuin Ballet is a holiday favorite — celebrate the festive season with a show that’s a little ballet, a little Broadway, and a whole lot of fun.

The Second Annual Chanukah Celebration will take place on the fourth night of Chanukah at the City Park Gazebo on December 10 at 4:00 pm.

The menorah will go up at the Gazebo on the 5th and will be lit on the 7th. The events included in the eight days are the fourth night lighting on the 10th, the congregation B’nai Israel, Rabbi David White and friends bless the candles and sing holiday songs on the sixth night on the 12th, Benicia Solano Jewish Women’s Network hosts the annual Megan Campbell Memorial Menorah lighting and Chanukah story telling and songs on the 13th, and the 14th is hosted by Solano Napa Hadassah Chapter, who will light the candles on that final night.

Benicia Ballet dancer leaps through the air in a grand jete in The Nutcracker

Holiday Celebrations Far

by Jeannine Mendoza, Ed.D

The holiday season has arrived once again, and with it, interesting and unique winter traditions that take place all over the world.

During the shortest days of the northern hemisphere, many of these celebrations involve lights, fire displays, or other types of illumination. People everywhere embrace these cheery annual traditions, and here are a few of the more interesting ones to be found.

A Philippines Christmas celebration is not complete without the beloved “parol” or “paritaan,” an elaborate lantern made from capiz shells or Japanese paper and originating from the Spanish colonial era. These lanterns are carried to “Simbang Gabi,” or Midnight Mass each Christmas Eve, representing Mary and Joseph’s search for a place to spend the night.  Besides the use in processions, parols have evolved to become seasonal decorations that adorn homes and other buildings. Initially, parols were star shaped, representing the Star of Bethlehem, but nowadays they come in a variety of sizes and shapes, and the color selection varies depending on the  region. More recently, electric lights have replaced candles to make parols safer and more brilliant.

Mexico also has a similar tradition, Las Posadas, where celebrants travel from home to home, singing and seeking shelter for the Holy Family.

They finally stop at a predetermined house where they enjoy tamales and hot drinks. Sometimes these celebrations include fireworks as well. Las Posadas is also a tradition in other Latin American countries. These celebrations typically take place from the 16th to the 24th of December, during Advent.

Kwanzaa is a holiday in the USA that celebrates African American culture and heritage.

An exchange of gifts, a lighting of candles and most importantly, an opportunity to honor the seven principles of unity, self-determination, teamwork, sharing, purpose, creativity and faith are the basis for this holiday.  

Jews worldwide celebrate Hanukkah, the festival of lights that mark a miracle that occurred many generations ago where the wicks of a menorah lasted eight nights when there was only enough oil for one night. Fried foods like latkes and sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts) are eaten, special songs are sung and children play the dreidel game.  This celebration  lasts for eight nights.  On the first night one candle is lit, and the next night two candles are lit, and so on until the eighth night when all eight candles are burning brightly. This holiday also includes gift giving and the singing of special songs.

These annual customs add meaning to our lives and provide an opportunity for people to get together and enjoy themselves despite the chilly, short days of winter.  These seasonal holidays also give us all an opportunity to celebrate and share good times with our loved ones, and build priceless memories that will be cherished in years to come.

A boxer dog in an armchair next to a cozy fireplace

Fireplace images by Michael Van Auken