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Christmas music is seeping into malls across America, which means that if you're only worried about your turkey, you're behind the game. (Everyone is already shopping on Thanksgiving anyway.) However, December isn't just about Christmas trees and Elf marathons; there's a great deal of cultural—and, subsequently, gifting—differences depending on what holiday you're buying for.
Before dawn breaks on the Black Friday madness, make sure you've got your gift lists straight between what's appropriate to give for Hanukkah, Christmas and Kwanzaa. To help, we put together a cheat sheet complete with sage advice from women who celebrate these holidays themselves: Yelena Shuster, a freelance writer who grew up in the orthodox Jewish tradition, Sarah Buss, a children's minister at C3 Church in North Carolina, and Ericka Goodman, a fashion editor at Ebony who celebrated Kwanzaa as a child and is now looking to bring its traditions into her own household.
Check out our guide below to get an inside look at the gift giving traditions of three major holidays celebrated in December.—Erika Graham
Starts: Wednesday, Nov. 27
Ends: Thursday, Dec. 5
What it is: Also called the Festival of Lights (or Chanukah, or, this year, Thanksgivingukkah), Hanukkah is the Jewish celebration of their victory over the Syrian oppression in 165 B.C. It's characterized by eight days spent lighting the menorah, eating traditional foods, and spinning the dreidel. "At day school, it was a fully religious production: lighting the menorah with blessings in Hebrew and a school-sanctioned break for soufganiot, jelly doughnuts! At home, we celebrated with my babushka's homemade latkes garnished with Soviet-sanctified sour cream," Yelena told Racked. "Now, I try to mix both by lighting the menorah in Hebrew, indulging in a Krispy Kreme, and attempting my own latkes without burning the apartment down."
Typical gifts received: "Gelt, aka Yiddish for cash. Also those chocolates wrapped in gold foil to look like coins, a classic I'll never outgrow."
Strangest gift received: "Clearly, it was so strange that I've blocked it from memory. I do, however, recall an after-hours dreidel gambling session with a few friends from elementary school. Pennies—and innocence—were lost."
Top item on your gift list: "As opposed to the customary eight days of presents (ain't nobody got time for that), I treat Hanukkah like any other gifting occasion and always ask for a Broadway show. On my splurge list is also a new leather satchel, black knee-high boots, and gloves. A girl can never have enough of those!"
Photo via Wikimedia
Starts: Tuesday, Dec. 24
Ends: Wednesday, Dec. 25
What it is: "Christmas is celebrated to honor the birth of Jesus Christ, the savior of the world," Sarah told Racked. "Other than the usual opening gifts and stockings, and Santa, my family did not have any traditions growing up. However, I do remember one Christmas where everyone in my house woke up on Christmas morning with a soot thumbprint on their foreheads. We knew Santa had been in our midst."
Typical gifts received: "As an adult, I receive the normal clothes, shoes, etc. Our family definitely loves to choose gifts that are meaningful for the recipient. One year, my sister had a family cookbook made for each of the women in our family. It had all of our favorite, traditional family recipes, and pictures of our family going all the way back to my grandparents' wedding day."
Strangest gift received: "I was a school teacher for 15 years before becoming a children's minister. One year, I received a necklace from a student. It wasn't my taste, but in light of the fact that he was so excited to give it to me, I wore it the whole day. At the end of the day, while working in the carpool lane, I helped this student to his car. It was then that his mother informed me that the necklace was her's and that he had taken it from her jewelry box that morning. I was a bit caught off guard, but took it off and returned it to the mom."
Top item on your gift list: "I have an old chest that belonged to my grandparents. It was an ugly, army green color. My mom is hopefully having it restored for me, so that I can use it in my home."
Photo via Luther.edu
Starts: Thursday, Dec. 26
Ends: Wednesday, Jan. 1
What it is: "It's based on seven principles and is celebrated for seven days. There is a principle observed per day of celebration, which are: Umoja (Unity), Kujichagulia (Self-Determination), Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity) and Imani (Faith)," Ericka told Racked. "Growing up, we celebrated in school, at home and in various youth groups. There would always be traditional music, African clothing and most importantly a presentation or ceremony that gives respect and gratitude to our ancestors. For instance, a Kwanzaa ceremony may include drumming and musical selections, libations, a reading, and there's always a moment dedicated to our history in general. Many times our own family members whom have passed on are honored. The celebration normally goes beyond just your household, it's something a neighborhood or community center might gather for, and there's normally a potluck based feast."
Typical gifts received: "As a child, you are taught to make your own gifts for Kwanzaa, especially gifts that promote or show respect to our ancestors. I remember making little books for my cousins during Kwanzaa that spoke to African and African-American traditions. I even bound them myself! Some other gifts you'd receive are things like African folklore books, jewelry (especially in red, black and green colors), cookbooks, traditional Kente clothing and home decorative with an African aesthetic. In general, all gifts should show respect to the ancestors and hopefully be from black-owned shops or handmade, which promotes the principles of Ujima and Ujamaa. But honestly, anything that is made with love and gives homage to our ancestors and culture is most important."
Strangest gift received: "I've witnessed a few poor, misinformed souls give things like Black Santa T-shirts and mugs for Kwanzaa. So not right! Kwanzaa is not a substitute for Christmas! I repeat, not a substitute. This is not Black Christmas, many people celebrate both holidays."
Top item on your gift list: "I definitely need to spruce up my house, I'm newly married and we need some art that we can keep in the family and pass down. I'd love a few African or African-inspired paintings and sculptures. And I'd like a Kinara candle holder for my household."
These interviews have been edited for length and clarity.