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American Holidays, Traditions and How to Make the Most of the Holiday Season!

Hanukkah, Christmas and Kwanzaa - American holidays

The holiday season is here! Whether you celebrate Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or Christmas, December is a busy month for American holidays! In this blog post we will look at the main holidays celebrated in the United States, compare Christmas in New York and Christmas in Miami, reflect on the Zoni Christmas party and look forward to New Year’s Eve! Are you ready to celebrate?

Tell me about Hanukkah!

If you are studying in the United States, you have definitely heard of Hanukkah! Maybe you have even seen the blue and white decorations in stores? But do you know what it actually is? Hanukkah (Also called Chanukah) is an eight-day festival celebrated by the Jewish community. This year Hanukkah begins on December 22 and ends on December 30.

Hanukkah is celebrated over 8 nights. On each of these 8 nights Jewish people light a candle on a menorah (a special candelabra), say prayers and eat Hanukkah foods. Usually, each household has a shared menorah but in some cases each person has their own. During Hanukkah you will often see Menorah in the windows of Jewish homes. Traditionally, most
Hanukkah food is fried. Common foods include things like potato latke (like a hash brown) with applesauce or sour cream, Loukoumades (deep-fried puffs dipped in honey or sugar) and jelly-filled sufganya (doughnuts).

Other Hanukkah traditions include the giving of “Hanukkah gelt” (money) to children who have been well behaved and have studied the Torah. These days children also receive gifts similar to the way children receive Christmas presents.
Another interesting Hanukkah tradition is the dreidel game. Children to play with a dreidel (a four-sided spinning top with Hebrew letters on it) for coins (real or chocolate), candy, nuts or other small gifts.

Kwanzaa? What is that?

Kwanzaa is a holiday you may have not heard of before, but if you live in New York you have probably seen Kwanzaa cards and decorations for sale. Kwanzaa is a week-long celebration observed in the United States to honor African heritage. Recently, Kwanzaa has gained popularity in other countries including France, Canada, Jamaica, Brazil and other countries in Latin America. It is estimated that between 12 and 30 million people celebrate Kwanzaa around the world! Kwanzaa is celebrated from December 26 to January 1 and ends with gifts and a feast.

Kwanzaa was created by Maulana Karenga in 1966. The name Kwanzaa comes from the Swahili phrase “matunda ya kwanza”, which means "first fruits of the harvest". Kwanzaa was started as an alternative to Christmas, however as many African Americans have strong Christian beliefs, the focus was changed. Kwanzaa is now a celebration of family, community, and culture.

Kwanzaa is based on the seven principles of African heritage: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith. There are a number of symbols that are very important to Kwanzaa. These include the Mkeka (mat), a Kinara (candle holder), Mishumaa Saba (seven candles), mazao (crops), Mahindi (corn), a Kikombe cha Umoja (unity cup) and Zawadi (gifts).

Although Kwanzaa is still quite a new holiday, in recent years it has gained in popularity. In 1992, Hallmark released its first Kwanzaa card. These days you find Kwanzaa cards alongside the Christmas and Hanukkah cards practically everywhere!

So What is Special about American Christmas?

Christmas is widely celebrated in the United States. Although Christmas around the world is relatively similar there are a few traditions that are typically American. One of the most obvious are the Christmas decorations! People in the United States are very enthusiastic about decorating their homes with lights, inflatables and larger-than-life decorations. Entire streets and neighborhoods become Christmas wonderlands!

There are a number of typically American Christmas food activities! One of these is popcorn threading. Popcorn is threaded on a string then used to decorate the Christmas Tree! Another tradition that is catching on around the world is making gingerbread houses! Families bake gingerbread and then assemble and decorate houses that get eaten on Christmas!

Have you ever tried Eggnog? This traditional Christmas drink is made from milk or cream, sugar, alcoholic spirits, spices, vanilla or nutmeg and of course raw eggs! Many families make their own eggnog, but if you want to try it, you can also buy bottles of eggnog ready-made!

A traditional Christmas gingerbread house

A Very Zoni Christmas!

Another Christmas tradition is the Zoni Christmas Party! This year the party took place on December 20 and at the Zoni Manhattan campus. Hundreds of students from Zoni’s campuses in New York and New Jersey came together to celebrate the end of 2019 with Zoni staff and teachers. The Christmas Party is always a great way to acknowledge the hard work
and achievements of the students and the commitment of Zoni’s teachers and staff to making Zoni and exceptional place to study and learn. After an amazing Christmas dinner, DJ Jeronimo got the party started! Everyone had a fantastic time and it was great to see students from various campuses socializing and practicing their English with each other.

More photos of the Zoni Christmas Party can be found on our Instagram and Facebook channels.

Students enjoy the Zoni Christmas Party

Christmas in New York

New York Christmas is famous around the world! Christmas movies such as Elf, Serendipity and When Harry Met Sally were all set in New York! In fact, did you know that the movie Miracle on 34th Street was set just down the street from Zoni Manhattan? Christmas in New York is really something special and there are plenty of FREE activities to help you make the
most of this magical time of year.

New York stores are known for their amazing Christmas window displays! The lights are kept on day and night, meaning that you can enjoy them any time (It’s a perfect after class activity)! New York locals recommend the following route: Start at Park and 61st. Then walk towards Madison Avenue, to look at the window at Hermès. From there, walk to the Plaza Hotel and Bergdorf's on Fifth Ave. Then, walk to Tiffany's, Cartier, Harry Winston and finally to Saks Fifth Avenue at 49th Street. If you are feeling energetic you can continue to the Rockefeller Center to see the giant Christmas tree and ice-skating rink.

Manhattan is also home to outdoor shopping villages during the holiday season. These villages offer unique holiday gifts and treats. The Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park – a very short walk from Zoni Manhattan is known as one of the best! In addition to tons of little shops there is also a free ice-skating rink! The village and ice-skating rink are open daily – with longer hours on the weekends. Although the village will close in early January, the ice-skating rink will stay at Bryant park until March 2020.

Another fun thing to do (that doesn’t cost a lot) is to check out the lobby displays at some of New York’s most famous hotels! Most hotels really go crazy with their decorations and you don’t have to be a guest to enjoy them! Buy a drink at the lobby bar – it can be something as simple as a cup of tea or hot chocolate, find a seat and enjoy the Christmas display! Remember the Plaza Hotel in the movie Home Alone? Why not go there and see it for yourself?

Christmas at the Rockefeller Centre

Christmas in Miami

While Zoni students in New York and New Jersey are likely to experience a white Christmas, students at our South Beach campus can expect temperatures of up to 80 degrees Fahrenheit (27 degrees Celsius)! The average December temperature in Miami is around 67 degrees Fahrenheit (19 degrees Celsius) – which is still pretty warm! In fact, it is still possible to swim in Miami around Christmas and New Year! This warm weather makes the way Christmas is celebrated quite different!

Christmas in Florida is known as the perfect time to see migrating birds and manatees. It is also a great time to visit the Everglades (although that some parks will be closed on Christmas Day). If you haven’t experienced Florida’s wildlife, Christmas is the perfect time to do it!

Why not visit the world’s largest Christmas-Themed Amusement Park and Carnival? Santa’s Enchanted Forest has over 3 million lights, an enormous Christmas tree and carnival rides suitable for all ages and tastes. Located at Miami’s Tropical Park, you can see the lights from the highway as you drive past! Tickets are not cheap, starting at around $40 per adult.

Do you want to see it snow in Miami? The place to do so is the “Magical Snowfall at Dolphin Mall”! Running until early January, Santa Claus with the help of his assistants (children) make it snow in Miami! This activity is completely free! So, if you haven’t experienced snow before, this is a good place to start!

Not strictly a Christmas event, the Luminosa Festival of Lights runs until early January 2020. See gorgeous Chinese Lanterns in a tropical Miami style! The Luminosa festival takes place on Jungle Island and is themed to reflect the island’s wildlife and nature. You must buy tickets for the Luminosa festival, which start at around $20.

Find out more about Christmas activities in Miami here

Celebrate Christmas in the sun at Zoni Miami

Let’s Welcome 2020!

The last holiday of the year is New Year’s Eve! Whether you are based in New York, New Jersey or Florida, New Year’s Eve is a big deal!

There are many ways to celebrate the New Year, but possibly the most famous (and most popular) is the Ball Drop at Times Square. Over a million people crowd into Times Square to see the ball drop. To get a good spot you must arrive very early! It is recommended that you arrive shortly after lunch on December 31. The only problem with this is that you cannot leave your spot – not to buy food, not to go to the toilet and not because of bad weather. Of course, you CAN leave your spot, but you will not be permitted to re-enter the viewing area (or at least there is no guarantee you will be able to get back into the same area). Once an area is full it is closed off and no more people are allowed in – even if people leave making space.

Another thing to remember is to dress for the weather. New Year’s Eve can be very cold in New York. It’s not uncommon for it to snow! This means you need to stay warm during the long wait. Another good idea is to pack snacks keep you going! Alcohol and bags/backpacks are not allowed so a jacket with lots of pockets is a must! If you are happy to be a little further back, arriving around 4pm is recommended.

New Year’s Eve in Miami is celebrated with parties and fireworks! Practically right outside Zoni’s South Beach campus, you can enjoy an enormous fireworks display! If you want a great view, pack a picnic and head to 9th Street and Ocean Drive. South Beach is not the only location for fireworks, Downtown will also host a large-scale display near Bayfront Park. The Downtown celebration also includes a free dance party and entertainment. There are countless options for parties in Miami and depending on the party, tickets range in price from cheap to extremely expensive! One thing is certain, if you are looking for a fun way to
welcome in 2020, Miami offers you lots of exciting opportunities.

No matter where you are the holiday season is a wonderful time of year! Gather your friends, classmates and families and celebrate! Zoni Language Centers wishes you happy holidays and a fantastic 2020! We are looking forward to all the exciting things the new year will bring!

Celebrate the American holidays in New York or Miami