Author Archives: WCPLtn
By Jessica Dunkel, Reference Department
We all have our own reasons to learn a new language: traveling and exploring new worlds, connecting with loved ones (or strangers) at home and in faraway places, exercising the untapped power of our brain, being able to watch foreign films without those pesky subtitles, and the list goes on. For some, learning a new language is not a luxury but a necessity for survival and connection in a new country. If your goal is fluency or simply mastering a sentence in Japanese for fun, Powerspeak Languages is a proven and powerful way to gain quick language proficiency.
What is it?
Powerspeak Languages is an online program that offers fluency through immersion. Rather than rote memorization or the dreaded flash card, Powerspeak uses pictures, audio, video, and interactive lessons and games for a deeper, more culturally authentic learning experience. Their aim is to transform you into a global citizen who truly understands the language in a cultural context.
Languages include: Spanish, French, German, Italian, Russian, Mandarin, Japanese, and Korean. English as a second language (ESL) is also available for Spanish and Mandarin speakers.
Other neat features:
Powerspeak allows you to choose how far you want to take your learning experience. You can begin with the regular activities and, if you want to take it to the next level, choose the More Practice feature to review what you’ve learned. The Dig Deeper feature helps you go above and beyond for maximum language proficiency.
Powerspeak combines both written material and audio samples to improve your reading and listening/speaking comprehension. For those of us who are visual learners, they also include photos of things like food, transportation, and places you’d actually encounter within the country.
Ok, that’s awesome. But is it free?
Of course! One of the barriers for all second language learners is the expense of classes and study materials. But through the library’s website, you can create your own online profile entirely for free! You can even create your own profile to keep track of your progress as you master your new language.
Why am I still reading this? I’ve got language learning to do!
And here’s how:
- Go to our Library’s homepage: http://lib.williamson-tn.org/
- To the left of the screen, click on eLibrary Digital and then Databases by Title
- Click on O – P and select Powerspeak Languages
- Your log-in will be your Williamson County Library card number
- Create an account and make sure to log in every time you use Powerspeak so it will keep track of your progress. (Click the “Returning User? Log in!” button on the top right hand of the home screen to log in after you’ve made your profile).
As always, please call 615-595-1243 with any questions.
By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department
Last year they asked me to make up a list for the New Year Reading Challenge. Apparently I did a good enough job that they’ve asked me to do it again. Last year I talked about all the benefits of reading. How it can help with empathy, stress, high blood pressure, and even reduce risk of Alzheimer’s disease. These are all great and laudable reasons to read, but the main thing that I’d like to work on this year is fostering a love to read. According to a Gallup poll, between 1978 and 2014 the percentage of people in the United States that hadn’t picked up a book in a year or more close to tripled from 8% to 23% [i](and they even counted the audiobook listeners as readers). That it has tripled is bad enough, that it is nearing a full quarter of the population is startling.
The average number of books read per capita was 12 in 2015, but the voracious readers inflated that number a bit and the most common given response to a survey of readers when asked for the number of books they’d read in the last year was four[ii]. Four?… Four! How in the world am I supposed to make a book challenge list to attract the average person when they only read a book a season?
I realized that this blog is usually read by readers. We word hungry book people that push the average up to twelve books a year. This year I thought I’d make it both a little easier and a little harder. There are two less books this year, but the suggestions are more specific. If you can read two books a month, regardless of the themes below, great! But if you like to push yourself, try to keep up with the challenge and if you need help finding a book ask your local librarians for help. We’ve always got suggestions.
- It’s a new year, read something new. Pick a book that was published in the last 2 months.
- Renew your spirit for the New Year, read something that inspires you.
- It’s African American History Month. Read a book by an African American author.
- Read a book with a romantic theme or subplot, It doesn’t have to be a romance novel, just a little love will do.
- Award Season is wrapping up. Read a book that has won an award. 
- For Women’s History Month, read a book by a female author or with a female main character.
- Read a collection of poetry for national poetry month.
- Spring has arrived, read an article in a periodical about nature
- Free Comic Book Day is May 6th. Read a graphic novel, comic book or manga.
- Teacher Appreciation week is in May. Read a book that is required reading for school. 
- Get a book recommendation from a dad.
- Read a book about the outdoors, whether it’s a story, travel guide or field guide.
- July 4th celebrates independence, be free to read a book of your choice.
- Find a beach read, something fun and enjoyable, regardless of whether you are going to the beach.
- It’s hot in the south in august. Read something form a southern writer.
- Go back to school by reading a book you loved or were supposed to read in high school or college.
- Harvest time brings to mind great food, find a book about food or cooking that you might enjoy.
- Read a book that has been banned in September to celebrate Banned Books Week 9/29-10/6/18
- Read a book about something that scares you. It doesn’t have to be H.P. Lovecraft, just that you challenge your fears.
- Halloween means treats and sweets. Try a little brain candy. Read a book just for its entertainment value.
- Election season is close at hand. Read about the issues and the candidates.
- Find a book about someone, somewhere or something less fortunate to help you be thankful for what you have.
- Find a book that takes place in winter to match the weather outside.
- Add Jolabokaflod to your holiday calendar. Give books as gifts on December 24th and spend some time reading one.[iii]
-  Some links to great award sites are available here: http://www.bookspot.com/awards/
-  Here is a list of common Required reading books: https://www.goodreads.com/shelf/show/high-school-required-reading
- [i] https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/01/the-decline-of-the-american-book-lover/283222/
- [ii] https://www.irisreading.com/how-many-books-does-the-average-person-read/
- [iii] Jolabokaflod is the Icelandic tradition of giving books as presents on Christmas Eve and reading as a family for the rest of the night.
By Stephen McClain, Reference Department
Looking for a new job can be either a frustrating experience or an exciting change. Many patrons use the library computers to access job applications or search for a new career. The reference staff is available to help those who are searching for jobs, but there are also many online resources that can answer simple questions and help with the application process. The Career Transitions website is a useful and powerful resource in helping to find a new career. To visit this website, go to www.wcpltn.org, move the mouse over eLibrary (on the left side of the page) and a drop down menu will appear. Click on Databases by Title and then select C-D. From there, click on Career Transitions, which is at the top. Here you can create an account that will save all of your information, but before doing that, it might be best to click on Take a tour of Career Transitions at the top right of the page.
Taking the tour will walk you through the processes of searching for jobs, writing a resume, writing a cover letter, tips and advice on interviewing, and also includes a simulated interview. If you are looking to start a new career and not sure what to look for, the next section provides an area to assess your career interests. After determining your interests and expertise, you can browse career paths and get an idea of what type of salary to expect with your particular experience and training.
Following this section, the tour continues with an area on discovering a new career. In this section, you can assess your career interests by taking a short survey. After deciding your areas of interest, you may browse career paths, salary and growth rates based on your selections or you can match your work experience to a new career.
Finally, there is an area to search for schools and programs within a specific geographic area. Simply type in a job or career title (such as Electrician), select the distance you wish to search with your zip code or state and click the green Search button. If there are any schools, programs or courses within the area that you selected, this should produce a list of those results.
- Many new job seekers, or those returning to the work force, have questions regarding resumes. On the Home page, click on Write a Resume. Here, you can write a professional resume by simply filling in data about yourself and your work experience. Before beginning to create a resume, it may be helpful to gather all of the necessary data, such as name and contact information regarding previous employers, education, and references. Start with your contact info. Type in your personal data and click save. If everything is correct, click the green “Go to next Section” button. Follow the steps and if at any time that you may have a question, click on “What Can I Do Here?” at the top right of the page. This area may answer many common questions regarding building a resume. There are also many helpful articles linked on this page in reference to writing a cover letter, uploading your resume to the web, and information on professional portfolios.
- Many job seekers ask whether or not they need a cover letter when applying for a job. If the job application does not specifically ask for a cover letter, odds are it is not a requirement. However, including a cover letter can only help your chances of being considered for the position. Click on “Write A Cover Letter” (next to “Write A Resume”). The process is very similar to that of writing a resume using the Career Transitions website. There is also a link to samples of cover letters if you need some help or ideas.
- The Interview Simulation tab is a great way to prepare for the experience of an actual job interview. Clicking on this tab will first give you an overview of the simulation. Once beginning, users will choose a profile based on the individual’s personal level of experience. Then you will learn about the fictitious “company,” the open position and your profile. Based on this information, you will be asked questions regarding the job opening and your experience. You can choose whether to listen to audio or read the questions. After the questions are presented, three possible responses are given. You, as the interviewee, are to choose the best and most appropriate response. After responding to all of the questions, the simulation interviewer decides whether or not to conduct a second interview and feedback is offered regarding your responses.
With these simple tools on the Career Transitions website, you can create professional resumes, cover letters, gain valuable interview experience and will soon be on your way to an exciting new career. Visit www.wcpltn.org to get started.
By Katy Searcy, Children’s Department
With the year coming to a close, I’m going to share some of my favorite books of 2017 with you. I typically read all kinds of books, so there should be something for everyone on this list. Keep in mind that this is all subjective, though, and that I certainly haven’t read even close to all the books released this year. Another librarian might have some better recommendations for you, and I can promise you that he or she would be thrilled for you to come in and ask his or her personal favorites. So without further ado, I present Katy’s Best Books of 2017:
Let’s start with what I’d say is the best young adult book I’ve read all year. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas is the story of sixteen-year-old Starr Carter, who witnessed the fatal shooting of her unarmed childhood friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Soon afterward, Khalil’s name is a national headline, and all anyone wants to know is what really happened that night. But the only one alive who can answer that is Starr, and what she does or does not say could endanger her life. This book is FANTASTIC, and that’s not a word I use lightly, much less in all caps. It’s well-written and emotionally-charged and funny and so important.
This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel is a tender, emotive family saga that I did not want to end. Instead of flying through it like I usually do with books I love, I read this book slowly, relishing each sentence and savoring the relationships between Rosie, Penn, and their five children. When Rosie and Penn and their four boys welcome the newest member of their family, no one is surprised it’s another baby boy. At least their large, loving, chaotic family knows what to expect, but Claude is not like his brothers. When he grows up, Claude says, he wants to be a girl. Rosie and Penn want Claude to be whoever Claude wants to be. They’re just not sure they’re ready to share that with the world, and soon the entire family is keeping Claude’s secret. Until one day it explodes.
I have to admit that my interest in Life on Surtsey: Iceland’s Upstart Island by Loree Griffin Burns is heavily biased by the fact that I had the chance to actually see Surtsey, a tiny new island off the coast of Iceland, this past summer. I only saw it from a distance because Surtsey is closed to the public in order to provide scientists with the opportunity to study how life takes hold in a sterile environment. Like the author, my family was visiting Heimey when we took a taxi to another part of the island, and the driver pointed out Surtsey to us, telling us how he watched its creation via volcanic eruption as a boy in 1963. Needless to say, I was ecstatic when this book came out, and I’m thrilled to recommend it to you today as it is an outstanding title for budding scientists, young biology and geology enthusiasts, or those traveling to Iceland who are looking for interesting facts about the country.
From the author of The Day the Crayons Quit (And come on, who doesn’t love that book?) comes The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors by Drew Daywalt, a rollicking and ridiculous picture book about how the game of Rock, Paper, Scissors began. This book is loud and absurd and hilarious, and it demands a full-on performance.
Everyone who knows me knows that I absolutely love a good dark, disturbing read. Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson perfectly filled that gap for me. Mary B. Addison allegedly killed a baby when she was nine years old. She doesn’t say as much, but the media filled in everything people needed to know. There wasn’t a point in setting the record straight before, but now Mary has Ted, who she meets on assignment at a nursing home, and their unborn child to think about. In order to find her voice, Mary must confront the person she distrusts the most: her Momma. Like I mentioned earlier, this book is dark, gritty, and disturbing, and it’s not for everyone. However, it blew. Me. Away. I started reading it during my lunch break one day, and it pained me so much to put it down that I read until I finished it as soon as I got home.
I’m not usually a big fan of holiday books, but A World of Cookies for Santa by M.E. Furman was so good that it instantly made my “Best Books” list. This book takes you across the globe, from the Philippines to Malawi, to see all the treats that await Santa on Christmas Eve, and it even includes recipes to make some of the treats you encounter. (The pineapple macadamia bars from Hawaii were a big hit with my family at Thanksgiving!) With interesting Christmas factoids about each country and vibrant illustrations, this book is sure to fill the whole family with holiday cheer!
The newest book by the author of the award-winning Roller Girl, All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson is another graphic novel that accurately depicts the trials and tribulations of fitting in when you’re eleven. Impy has grown up with two parents who work at a Renaissance Faire, and she’s eager to start her training as a squire. First, she’ll have to prove her bravery, and she knows just how to do this: go to public school after being homeschooled all her life. Impy thought she had middle school figured out, but as it turns out, it’s not easy making friends or fitting in. She’s always thought of herself as a brave knight, but could she really be a dragon instead? I love how thoroughly Renaissance Faire culture is woven into the story, complete with illuminated manuscript-style chapter headers and language like “Methinks she plans on throwing you in the stocks!”
When’s My Birthday? by Julie Fogliano is the birthday book of all birthday books. As I read it, I could vividly imagine a breathless young child excitedly chanting beside me, “When’s my birthday? When’s my birthday? How many days until my birthday? Will my birthday be on Tuesday? Will my birthday be tomorrow? Will my birthday be in winter?” This book is absolutely adorable, and it will definitely be loved by readers of all ages.
If you’ve read the popular, empowering Dumplin’, you probably couldn’t wait to get your hands on the author’s latest work, Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy. And honestly, I think it’s even better than Dumplin’. Ramona was only five years old when Hurricane Katrina destroyed her home. Now a 6’3” teen, she lives in a dilapidated FEMA trailer with her well-meaning but ineffectual dad, her pregnant sister, and her sister’s boyfriend. She had some money saved up to get herself out of there after graduation, but when her sister got pregnant, she felt the weight of responsibility more than ever and knew she would have to put her plans on hold. But then Ramona’s childhood friend Freddie returns to town, and her life gets even more complicated. I know this story sounds like it’s depressing and that you may not find much appeal in what appears to be a story about a kid in poverty who’s unable to escape, but I just have to say that you would be so very wrong. With tons of small-town hijinks, swoon-worthy romance, and plenty of diversity, this book is a lot of fun!
I just had to snatch Me and Marvin Gardens by Amy Sarig King (or A.S. King), who is another of my favorite young adult authors, when I saw she had written a middle grade novel. Obe Devlin is having a hard time. His family’s farmland has been taken over by developers, his best friend abandoned him for the development kids, and he keeps getting nosebleeds from that thing he won’t talk about. So Obe hangs out by the creek near his home, picking up trash and looking for animal tracks. One day, he notices an animal he’s never seen before, an animal that only eats plastic that could very well change everything. This is a sweet coming-of-age story that tackles big topics such as bullying, alcoholism, and environmentalism without feeling heavy handed, out of place, or age inappropriate.
Remember how I mentioned that I like disturbing books? Here’s another that isn’t for the faint of heart. Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed is a bit of a cross between The Giver, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Never Let Me Go. Years ago, the ancestors escaped the ravaged Wastelands to colonize a small island and start a new society. They wrote Our Book to outline the strict hierarchy and structure that would dictate their lives, and their descendants still follow those rules. Life in this society can be difficult, especially for girls, so the children are given a taste of freedom in the summer, allowed to live wildly until they return home in the fall. But at the end of one summer, Caitlin Jacob sees something so shocking that she must share it with the other girls. This book is horrifyingly creepy and hauntingly compelling. The more I read, the creepier it got, and I couldn’t tear my eyes from the page.
So maybe I’m a little biased when I recommend We Are Okay by Nina LaCour, but LaCour is one of my favorite young adult authors. It’s a quiet story about Marin and Mabel, two best friends who haven’t spoken since the day Marin left her old life in San Francisco for college in New York. Something happened to Marin in the final weeks of summer, something that left her broken, alone, and unable to face anyone. But now Mabel is coming to her, and Marin must come to terms with what happened whether she wants to or not. Marin’s grief and loneliness is palpable in this beautiful, poetic story about love and loss. Nina LaCour’s writing is spectacular, pulling you into each page and forcing you to feel everything Marin feels.
If you’ve ever been afraid when faced with a new adventure, Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall will surely tug on your heartstrings. Jabari has finished his swimming lessons and passed his swim test, and today’s the day he’s finally ready to jump off the diving board. “Looks easy,” he says as he watches the other kids jump, but when his dad encouragingly squeezes his hand, Jabari squeezes back. This book is a tender portrayal of a determined little boy and a patient, emotionally attentive father that’s perfect for sharing with children of all ages.
I was on a speculative fiction kick earlier this year, during which time I blew through American War by Omar El Akkad. Sarat Chestnut is only six when the Second American Civil War breaks out in 2074, but even she knows that oil is outlawed, that her home state of Louisiana is half underwater, and that unmanned drone bombers fill the sky. When her father is killed and her family is forced into Camp Patience for refugees, she begins to grow up shaped by her particular time and place. But not everyone at Camp Patience is who they claim to be. Eventually Sarat is befriended by a mysterious functionary, who turns her into a deadly instrument of war. Chilling and thought-provoking, this is another book I couldn’t stand to put down, and it’s easily my favorite fiction book of the year.
By Lance Hickerson, Reference Department
WARNING! Dangerous, do not approach. If seen, call Santa immediately.
**The Rogues Gallery is the cast of colorful and numerous Recurring Characters that show up to torment the heroes week after week.**
Zwarte Piet, (aka. Black Pete)
Active Areas: Belgium, Netherlands
Bio: He was formerly a Moorish servant from Spain, or a Turkish orphan, or Ethiopian Slave rescued by Saint Nick and now attending Saint Nick as a helper
M.O.: A Prankster who might whip naughty children with birch wood rods or put coal in their shoes. However, those especially naughty he could stuff in his sack and carry them off to Spain.
Père Fouettard, (aka. “Father Whipper”)
Active Areas: France
Bio: This rouge’s chilling past involves his killing and cooking three wealthy children who stayed at his inn. Saint Nicolas ended up resurrecting the three children and bringing Fouettard to repentance. Fouettard then became St. Nick’s helper.
M.O.: For those untouched by the good will of St. Nicolas, Fouettard doles out whippings to children who misbehave.
Active Areas: Austria, Germany
Bio: Thought to be from a nature goddess who affects humans only during Christmas. She rewards good behavior and punishes bad behavior.
M.O.: Good children might receive a silver piece in their shoes, while naughty children would receive something much, much worse. She would take out their insides by slitting open their bellies, and replace their entrails with garbage, straw and rocks which are sewn up to cause grievous pain. Oh for a mere lump of coal!
Active Areas: Alsace; Lorraine France
Bio: Trapp was supposedly a real man who was exiled into the forest where he would disguise himself as a straw-stuffed scarecrow and cannibalize children. He was struck down with lightening by the Lord.
M.O.: Trapp accompanies Santa to punish naughty children with beatings.
Active Areas: Iceland
Bio: She is a giant ogress who has powers that let her detect children who misbehave. Her favorite food is a stew of rebellious children.
M.O.: She is full of mischief and trouble, and likes to eat children who disobey their parents.
The Yule Cat
Active Areas: Iceland
Bio: The Yule Cat is ogress Gryla’s pet. And she is likewise dangerous and threatening.
M.O.: The Yule Cat encourages hard work. Children who do not work hard and are lazy will be eaten by the Yule Cat.
Active Areas: Germany
Bio: Belsnickel is from the word belzen meaning “to wallop,” along with nickel referring to St. Nicholas.
M.O.: He is a wandering man dressed in tattered furs wearing a mask and carrying a switch to frighten children into good behavior. He rewards good behavior with candy.
Active Areas: Found especially throughout the Alpine region and including Austria, Bavaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia
Bio: The half goat, half demon appearance of Krampus seems most likely to have grown out of early Alpine traditions related to the Horned God of the Witches of the region. Krampus eventually becomes a “side kick” of St. Nicholas in a rogue sort of way.
M.O.: He especially punishes unruly children with birch switches. But for really bad children Krampus might put them in a basket, drown them in a stream, and then devour them.
Every family has traditional holiday foods. Instead of using the holidays as an excuse for high-fat, high calorie feasting, use these 5 easy tips to remake your holiday favorites with good health in mind.
Holiday Tip #1: Control Portions
Set the holiday table with dinner plates 9 inches or so in diameter. No one will notice a decrease in portion sizes when you use smaller plates and glasses. Cut cake into 18 servings, make 4 dozen smaller cookies instead of 3 dozen larger ones, and use 4-ounce glasses for your favorite sparkling punch.
Holiday Tip #2: Double Up on Vegetables
Serve vitamin-packed, lower carbohydrate vegetables like asparagus, Brussels sprouts, or broccoli in large bowls. Put higher calorie mashed potatoes and winter squashes in smaller bowls and use a smaller serving spoon. Your family will unknowingly serve themselves smaller portions. Instead of meatballs and cheese logs, feature vegetable appetizers like marinated mushrooms, tomato bruschetta, roasted asparagus, etc.
Holiday Tip #3: Give Healthful Gifts
Give homemade gifts that are made with healthful ingredients. Bake breads that feature whole grains, send a basket of fresh fruit instead of a box of candy, or tie a bow around a bag of nuts instead of cookies.
Holiday Tip #4: Lighten Up
Lighten up favorite recipes. Use fat-free evaporated skim milk instead of cream in custard pies and sauces, boost flavor in casseroles with spices instead of butter or salt, and bake foods instead of frying them. No one will notice the changes!
Holiday Tip #5: Make Fruit the Star
Give colorful fruit a starring role. Serve fresh berries for a holiday breakfast, include fresh fruit such as pineapple, mango, kiwi, and red grapes on bamboo skewers for a holiday buffet. Offer dates and grapes instead of cheese and crackers, etc.
By Lance Hickerson, Reference Department
Holidays afford us time to relax, enjoy shows, catch up with friends, and share some of our favorite cuisine with special folks in our life. Funny thing, after those times of good cheer and catching up, one common post-festivity urge reported is the desire to stop into the library to simply browse around. Unfortunately, for many of these holiday moments, the library is officially closed. But please know, the back door is open. By this we mean the cyber door to all the library’s electronic offerings. Even on those “closed” holidays, the library still has some wonderful things available.
Here are just a few suggestions…
- Check out ebooks and audiobooks with READS!
- Browse online magazines.
- Explore Career Transitions if you’re thinking about new career opportunities.
- Learn a new word a day with Oxford Reference Online.
- Take a virtual tour of great artists without leaving home, through the helpful websites!
And there is a lot of online fun for children as well:
Online Fun Suggestions!
- Read digital picture books with our TumbleBooks Call us now for the id and password.
- Listen to an e-audiobook for teens and children via OneClick. All you need is your lilbrary card!
- Borrow an ebook via READS for Kids. Use the cute interface for young readers that lets them borrow chapter books and more.
- Explore new subjects in Kids Infobits with articles and reference books for young people.
- Play games and more in TEL4U.
- Learning can be fun for young ones with World Book Online. Try the Early World of Learning or one of the boxes labeled ‘Kids’.
So just remember, even though we are closed, the back (cyber) door is always open.
By Cindy Schuchardt, Reference Department
A popular holiday song assures us that this is the “most wonderful time of the year” and the “hap-happiest season of all.”1 Many people feel that way because they celebrate Christmas, marking the historical and (Christians believe) blessed virgin birth of the Christ child. Two other seasonal celebrations, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, also make this time of the year special for those who practice them. For this reason alone, they merit our recognition and understanding. While Hanukkah dates back to the second century BCE and Kwanzaa was first practiced in 1966, these celebrations have much in common beyond the double letter combinations in their names – and much to teach us all.
Hanukkah is an eight-day Jewish festival of lights that began on December 12 this year (2017). The festival commemorates the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem that had been destroyed by the Greek Seleucids. The Seleucids wanted the people of Israel accept Greek culture and beliefs instead of their own beliefs and religion. The overall theme of the celebration is one of triumph against overwhelming odds. Hanukkah participants now recount the story of how a single day’s worth of olive oil, used to light the Temple’s seven-branched candleholder, miraculously lasted for eight days.
Each night during Hanukkah, a candle is lit on a special candleholder called a menorah. There are nine flames on the menorah – one for each day of the festival and a center flame called the attendant (shamash) that is used to light the other candles. One candle is lit the first night, two the second night, and so on throughout the festival. The menorah is placed in a window or a doorway; each family has at least one menorah, but some households have a menorah for each person in the home.
Hanukkah is a distinctly religious holiday. Participants sing songs of worship and recite special prayers during the nightly menorah lighting festivities. Menorahs are also lit in Jewish synagogues and in many outdoor public spaces. Hanukkah participants are encouraged to gaze at the lights and think of the lessons they impart.
Food holds a special place in Hanukkah, as well. Fried foods are eaten to remind those present of the miracle of the oil. Two popular examples are potato pancakes (latkes) and jelly-filled fried donuts (sufganya).
Playing with a dreidel, a four-sided spinning top, is a popular pastime during Hanukkah. Each side of the dreidel is marked with a Hebrew letter. The letters used are nun, gimmel, hei and shin, an acronym for nes gadol hayah sham, meaning “a great miracle happened there.”
The giving of gelt (special coins) to children is also part of the tradition. The idea was to reward children for good behavior and inspire them to learn charity and give to others. Today, gifts are often exchanged during Hanukkah, as well.
Kwanzaa is celebrated from December 26 to January 1. It was founded in 1966 in Los Angeles by Dr. Maulana Karenga, professor of African Studies and activist-scholar. From its important beginnings in the U.S. with African Americans, the holiday has blossomed into recognition by the world African community and is today celebrated on every continent.
Kwanzaa is a celebration of family, community and culture, during which families and community members gather to celebrate Nguzo Saba, which is Swahili for The Seven Principles. Each day marks one of the principles, developed and described by Dr. Karenga as follows:
- Unity (Umoja) – To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation and race.
- Self Determination (Kujichagulia) – To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves.
- Collective Work and Responsibility (Ujima) – To build and maintain our community together and make our brother’s and sister’s problems our problems and to solve them together.
- Cooperative Economics (Ujamaa) – To build and maintain our own stores, shops and other businesses, and to profit from them together.
- Purpose (Nia) – To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their original greatness.
- Creativity (Kuumba) – To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.
- Faith (Imani) – To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.
Families who celebrate Kwanzaa choose a central place in the home to display the Kwanzaa Set. A table is covered with a colorful African cloth, and then adorned with a mat and a special candle holder called a Kinara. Seven candles are placed in the holder, one black candle representing the people, three red candles represent their struggles, and three green candles represent the future and the hope the results from such struggles (the African liberation colors). These candles also correlate with the seven principles.
The black candle in the center signifies Unity and is lit on the first day. The remaining candles are lit from left to right on the following days, showing how a unified people move through struggle to hope. Ears of corn and a Unity Cup are also placed on the mat, which is typically surrounded with books on African life and culture, as well as African works of art.
Different Peoples, Different Celebrations, Shared Light
I find it interesting to consider the common elements in Hanukkah and Kwanzaa: the Kinara and the menorah, the candles and the lighted oil, and the daily family observances. In a world that seems to be increasingly dark, there is something about this season inspires us to slow down and consider the lights. We ponder our shared humanity and our bonds as families and communities. I believe that learning about Kwanzaa and Hanukkah and the heritage of those who mark these events can only serve to bring us closer together. Have a blessed season, everyone!
If you enjoyed this glimpse at Kwanzaa and Hanukkah, then you may want to learn more. The library can help! Take a look at some of the resources available. Read the rest of this entry