Celebrating Arkansas: Holiday Traditions

01 Dec 2023 in

Embrace the true spirit of the holidays this winter by discovering many of the ways that Arkansans celebrate. Our newest installment in the “Celebrating Arkansas” series explores the incredible and diverse holiday season in the Natural State. From hundred-year-old traditions to new ones being made, there’s no shortage of Arkansans making the most out of this time of year. Our winter episode premieres Monday, Dec. 4 at 7 p.m. To celebrate, we’ve put together a list of popular holidays and some of the ways in which people celebrate them!

The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah is far more than just the menorah candles that have come to symbolize it. Its rich history is rooted in the Jewish commemoration of the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. The holiday spans eight days, with families lighting one candle on the menorah every day until the holiday is over. Hanukkah is also known as “The Festival of Lights,” a fitting title for the joy shared during its celebrations. Hanukkah will begin at nightfall on Thursday Dec. 7 and end at nightfall on Friday Dec. 15.

There are many different foods that are prepared during Hanukkah celebrations, one of the most popular being Latkes. While every Jewish family is likely to have their own special recipe, the basic ingredients remain the same: potatoes, onions and oil for frying. The oil commemorates the oil in the temple lamps. These fried potato pancakes are often served alongside applesauce and make a worthy addition to the holiday menu.

Christmas is one of the most widely celebrated holidays in the world, with no signs of losing its popularity any time soon. We all know the basics of Christmas, from the lit-up trees to the nativity scenes, it’s fairly easy to spot the decorations and traditions that we’ve come to associate with the holiday.  

One of the most easily recognizable decorations is ornaments for the Christmas tree. While you can certainly purchase ornaments from the store, some families enjoy crafting their own homemade ornaments to make their tree utterly unique. If you’re feeling creative this holiday season, drop by a local craft store to grab construction paper, pipe cleaners, paints, glue, paper clips for makeshift ornament hooks, sequins and anything else that you might like to see adorning your family’s tree this Christmas.  

Kwanzaa is a fairly new winter tradition. Started in 1966, Kwanzaa is an annual celebration of African American culture that is celebrated from Dec. 26 to January 1. Created by activist and university professor Maulana Karenga, it draws on various Southern African celebrations. Each day of the holiday is dedicated to one of the seven principles of Kwanzaa: unity, self-determination, responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.  

Each day of the holiday, the family comes together to light one of the candles in the seven-branched candleholder called a kinara, and on Dec. 31 the families partake in a community feast known as karamu. Although it was first started for African Americans, people in other nations of African descent celebrate as well.

New Years Eve is a time of reflection and celebration, as families worldwide come together to welcome in a new year filled with new memories to be made. While not everyone holds family dinners on New Years, there is a traditional menu that is followed by many. Dinners consisting of pork, cabbage and black-eyed peas are common in the homes of many Arkansans. While side dishes vary, these three staples are what make the New Year’s dinner official for all those who celebrate.

The “Celebrating Arkansas” winter premier will air on Dec. 4 at 7 p.m.  

Watch live and on demand at myarpbs.org/celebratingarkansas