The holidays have snuck up on us once again, and in the multicultural hub that is Orange County, there are a few main religious and cultural holidays that make up for a lot of the community festivities and gatherings that we see each holiday season.

Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa each hold valuable traditions that create a time for high spirits and family fun. Here’s a refresher on some of the season’s most noteworthy holidays and their backstories, as well as some events going on in the O.C. (and just beyond) this year in honor of them.


Perhaps the most widely known holiday of the month and observed by billions of Christians and non-Christians around the world, Christmas is celebrated on Dec. 25 each year to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ, whose teachings are the basis of Christianity.

In the fourth century, Pope Julius I officially selected Dec. 25 as the day to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Long before his birth however, people would rejoice anyway around this time in light of the winter solstice, meaning longer days were coming and winter was nearing its end. This overlap helped increase Christmas’ popularity and the practice of its festivities quickly spread around the globe.

Modern typical Christmas traditions include gift giving, gathering with family and friends, putting up decorations (Christmas trees, nativity scenes, poinsettias, wreaths, etc.) and feasting with your loved ones.

Many people do begin celebrating the holiday on the day prior, commonly known as Christmas Eve, following the idea that Jesus’ birth actually took place at sunset on the 24th. This idea follows a more traditional calendar, since a Christian liturgical day technically begins and ends at sunset each day. 

For many Latinx and Filipino families, this eve is also known and celebrated as Nochebuena. Nochebuena can begin with a mass before dinner, or more traditionally, a mass at midnight known as “La Missa del Gallo.” The rest of the night then consists of eating various foods, listening to music and dancing.

Whether one is religious or not, Christmas is ultimately a time for gathering and spreading joy, love and peace with one another. 

Santa Ana Winter Village

In the heart of historic downtown Santa Ana, the second annual Santa Ana Winter Village is back this year with more holiday entertainment and activities for the whole family. 

Through Jan. 8, families can participate in outdoor ice skating in front of the city’s Civic Center, shop from local vendors, munch on snacks from local food trucks and enjoy live entertainment. Building upon its debut last year, this year’s winter village introduced a new tree lighting with a larger tree now located in the Plaza of the Sun, more decorations, photo ops and new vendors. The city also introduced themed date nights on Thursdays as well as nonprofit nights on Fridays, featuring a different local organization each week that donations can be made to.

Admission to the village is free, but some special activities such as ice skating or merchandise will have additional costs. Hours vary depending on the day, so for more information visit the city’s official site.

Paul Eakins, Santa Ana’s public affairs information officer, is glad the city can now provide a holiday attraction closer to home for residents. 

“The event is much more accessible for many of our residents because they don’t have to go to another city to find similar holiday events, as they always had to in past years,” Eakins said.

Fiesta Navidad at Segerstrom Center 

A major aspect of Christmas celebrations is without a doubt the music that embodies the spirit of the holiday. Combining music and dance for a traditional holiday performance, the Grammy Award-winning Mariachi Los Camperos is back for another year at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts this Friday night as part of the Fiesta Navidad celebration. This vibrant celebration of Mexican holiday traditions has been entertaining audiences for over 25 years and is a beloved event for the center, said Carla Cruz, senior director of communications at SCFTA.

Music is universal and the Center prides itself in bringing diverse programming season after season,” Cruz said.

For ticket information, visit the SCFTA website.


Ending on Dec. 26, Hanukkah, also known as Chanukah, is an eight-day Jewish celebration that commemorates the recovery and repossession of Jerusalem from Greek-Syrian oppressors in the second century B.C.E.

The Hebrew word Hanukkah directly translates to “dedication” in English, which perfectly encapsulates the true meaning and miracle of the holiday itself. During the temple of Jerusalem’s rededication all those centuries ago, the Jews one night found themselves with just enough oil to keep their menorah lit for one day. To their surprise, that low oil supply somehow ended up lasting them an entire eight days, which bought them enough time to gather more oil and resources. 

This miracle resulted in the declaration of Hanukkah, in which Jews would each year take time to be thankful for this almost-impossible blessing, as well as remember the overall dedication it took to gain control of their temple once again. The holiday begins on the 25th of Kislev according to the Hebrew calendar, typically falling in the Gregorian calendar’s November or December months. This year’s Hanukkah commenced on Dec. 18.

Central to the holiday and perhaps its most notable symbol is a Hanukkah menorah, which consists of nine candleholders rather than a traditional menorah candelabrum which holds seven. A new candle is lit for each night of Hanukkah using the flame of the shamash, the ninth candle on the menorah.

Other notable Hanukkah traditions include playing spin the dreidel, feasting on foods primarily fried with oil (to honor that miraculous long lasting oil from the second century B.C.E.) and enjoying live music.

Though many public local events for Hanukkah have passed, people across O.C. will gather with friends and family and honor this high-spirited holiday with fried foods (latkes and doughnuts), group games and lighting the menorah together.

Chanukah Concert 

Newport Beach’s own Chabad Center for Jewish Life will be hosting a Chanukah concert on Dec. 25 featuring the Israeli-American Jewish rock band, Moshav. Along with live music, the event will feature a menorah lighting, Chanukah crafts and gifts for children. Fried doughnuts and dreidels will also be provided.

There will also be a gelt drop, a Jewish tradition where gelt (foil wrapped chocolate coins) is dropped from a high place.

Visit the temple’s site for more information on the event and how to attend.


Candles are lit every night of Kwanzaa, each representing one of the guiding principles. Credit: Photo courtesy of Tim Caldwell

More of a cultural holiday, Kwanzaa is centered around honoring African American culture and community. Maulana Karenga, a current professor and chair of the Department of Africana Studies at Cal State Long Beach, founded Kwanzaa in 1966 during a treacherous time for those in America who identified as African American. Kwanzaa emerged parallel to the civil rights movement, encouraging those most targeted at the time to stick together and to embrace their familial, social and cultural values.

Kwanzaa is celebrated for seven days from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1, with each day being focused on one of seven central Kwanzaa principles. The seven principles or values are known in Swahili as “Nguzo Saba” and consist of ujima (responsibility), ujamaa (cooperative economics), umoja (unity), kujichagulia (self-determination), nia (purpose), kuumba (creativity) and imani (faith).

Traditions include lighting a seven-branched candleholder, a kinara, with one candle for each of the seven nights, each candle representing a different principle. Families also celebrate the holiday by eating a variety of African-inspired foods such as Ghanaian groundnut stew, curry dishes, jambalaya, Nigerian jollof rice and more.

With their popularity seemingly on the decline, especially with neighboring holidays such as Christmas and Hanukkah, Kwanzaa traditions are not as widely known as they once were during their height in the ‘80s. Unfortunately, this may make it hard to find a community without many events being hosted in celebration of the Kwanzaa holiday. 

To learn more about this cultural celebration of the African American population, which in the 2020 census accounted for 12.4% of all people living in the U.S., visit the official website for Kwanzaa.

AACCLB Kwanzaa Celebration

The African American Cultural Center of Long Beach will be hosting a two-day Kwanzaa celebration on Dec. 27 and 28, celebrating the two principles of kujichagalia (self-determination) and ujima (collective work and responsibility). Doors open at 5 p.m. on both evenings with program activities including a candle lighting ceremony, an African marketplace with local vendors, jazz performances, a West African drum and dance class, a Black artist showcase and more. Award-winning storyteller and world traveler Djeliba Baba will also be featured at the center’s celebration.

Admission to the Kwanzaa celebration is free, however RSVPs are recommended and can be made here.

Crystal Henriquez is a contributing for Arts & Culture at Voice of OC. She can be reached at

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