By Carla Branch, James Cullum and Nancy Wilson
There are signs of the holiday seasons and Alexandria’s diversity throughout the City. There is a Christmas tree in Market Square, a menorah at the Crown Plaza, Kwanzaa decorations at the Black History Museum and a Civil War era Santa Claus at Fort Ward.
On Sunday, the third night of Chanukah, Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille and Vice Mayor Kerry Donley joined Virginia Delegates David Englin and Charniele Herring to celebrate the lighting of the City’s menorah with Rabbi Mortechai Newman. This year’s family celebration was held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel and introduced all in attendance to the joys of this Jewish tradition.
Chanukah, more commonly known as Hanukkah, celebrates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after its desecration by Syrian forces. The eight day celebration also commemorates the “miracle of the container of oil”. According to the Talmud, after the victory of the Maccabees over the Seleucid Empire, there was enough consecrated oil to keep the Temple’s eternal flame lit for one day. The oil burned for eight days, which is the amount of time it takes to prepare and consecrate fresh olive oil.
The holiday is observed with the lighting of a Menorah, a nine-branched candelabrum. The celebration may occur at any time from late November to late December.
Saturday was a day for learning about Kwanzaa, it’s traditions and decorations, at Alexandria’s Black History Museum. The day began with a demonstration of Kwanzaa crafts and ended with the screening of the film, “The Black Candle.” It is the first feature film on Kwanzaa.
“I wanted to tell a story that hadn’t been told yet about a people, their journey and where they were going,” said the film’s director/producer M.K. Asante Jr.
This particular film takes a look back at the black experience in America and the development of Kwanzaa worldwide. “The Black Candle” begins with the question, “What is Kwanzaa?” leaving it open to interpretation by several African Americans. As the film progresses, the audience is educated on the seven principles of Kwanzaa and how much the holiday has grown from its humble beginnings in Los Angeles in 1966.
The film is part of the “Movies with a Mission” series, which is produced and distributed by SankofaSpirit in Atlanta, Georgia.
From December 26, 2009 to January 1, 2010, more than 40 million people will celebrate Kwanzaa. Each day of the holiday is dedicated to one of the Seven Principles of Kwanzaa:
- Umoja (Unity) To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation and race.
- Kujichagulia (Self-Determination) To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves.
- Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility) To build and maintain our community together and make our brothers’ and sisters’ problems our problems and to solve them together.
- Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics) To build and maintain our own stores, shops and other businesses and to profit from them together.
- Nia (Purpose) To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.
- Kuumba (Creativity) 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.
- Imani (Faith) To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.
Santa At Fort Ward
During the American Civil War, combatants spent four Christmases in cold encampments. One of those was Alexandria’s Fort Ward, which, along with dozens of other fortifications, provided a defensive perimeter around Washington. It is well documented that Santa Claus came to visit many of the soldiers in these camps. On Saturday, Santa visited Fort Ward just as he might have done nearly 150 years ago.
The Santa who visited Fort Ward this weekend is based on an illustration by “Harper’s Weekly” illustrator Thomas Nast. A staunch Unionist, Nast depicted Santa Claus entertaining Federal soldiers by showing them Jefferson Davis with a cord around his neck. Abraham Lincoln referred to a politicized Santa as “the best recruiting sergeant the North ever had.” More moderate illustrations showed soldiers decorating camps with greens and firing salutes to Santa. Nast fixed Santa’s home and toy workshop address at the “North Pole” “so no nation can claim him as their own,” he said.