Preparing Your Home for the Holidays

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No matter the event, the color scheme, the food spread or the songs, one thing is true of the holiday season: we want to create a place to gather together. Giving attention to the details in the time leading up to hosting for the holidays will make festivities all that much more fun and manageable.

Hanukkah, or Chanukah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, is deeply rooted in tradition. It celebrates the Maccabees’ reclaiming Jerusalem. To commemorate the eight days of candlelight that came from just one small jar of oil, a candelabra called a menorah is present in the home. Menorahs are available in a wide range of materials and styles so you can choose one that best suits your preference and home décor. Everything from understated menorahs to elaborately engraved menorahs reminds everyone of the most important part of the festivity. If you opt for a modern, electric or LED menorah, it’s best to remember that menorah candles should be lit with an actual flame each evening after nightfall during the holiday.

In remembrance of how the Maccabees’ small jar of oil lasted eight days, many of the foods cooked for Hanukkah feature plenty of dishes cooked in oil. Treats such as potato latkes with apple sauce, blintzes, cheese fritters and donuts will all be welcome on your festive table. Decorate with the traditional Hanukkah colors of blue and white and throw in metallics such as silver and gold for added accents. An easy way to incorporate metallic is scattering gelt, or small amounts of money that are given to children in hopes they donate to charity. You can channel this by stringing up coins, real or DIY, or chocolate coins as a fun twist.

Another multi-day celebration, Kwanzaa, is a time of reflection that spans seven days. The cultural holiday originated in the United States in 1966. It’s a celebratory week for African-Americans to bridge their ancestral heritage with today’s families and communities. A candle is lit each day and gifts are exchanged on the final day.

Seven basic symbols are associated with Kwanzaa: Mazao (crops), Mkeka (mat), Kinara (candleholder), Mahanadi (corn), Mishumaa Saba (seven candles), Kikombe Cha Umoja (Unity cup), and Zawadi (gifts). If you celebrate the holiday, you’ll want each of these symbols represented in a central spot in your home. Cover a table with traditional African cloth or Kwanzaa colors of red, black and green and then place the Mkeka upon it. Next add the Kinara and then place the Mishumaa Saba within it. These candles should be placed in a specific order: one black candle in the center, three red candles on the left side and three green candles on the right. Then the Mazao are placed on the Mkeka. Finally, the Kikombe Cha Umoja is added and used as the primary drinking cup during the feast on the sixth night of celebrations.

Decorate around the room with Kwanzaa flags called Bendera. You can find these online or choose to craft them as a fun activity for you and your family. Different greetings are associated with each day of Kwanzaa, as are the seven candles. And to make the most of Kwanzaa, make it your own! On the sixth day, the ceremony can include drumming and music, readings, discussions, artistic performances and more. Gifts are given on the seventh day and usually have an artistic or educational nature.

The celebrating can last for days. Adding natural elements to your home will make it feel festive and everlasting. Branches, pine cones, eucalyptus wreaths and brightly colored fruits and flowers will put your home right in the Christmas spirit. Use scents to create the Christmas mood. There is no shortage of holiday-scented candles or air fresheners, not to mention freshly baked cookies frequenting your kitchen, but there are also plenty of ways to make your own scents. Simmer cranberries, tangerines, cinnamon sticks, ginger, vanilla and one small branch of fresh pine together to give your favorite season a smell. Experiment with ingredients to find what scents you love. Or simply hanging sweet-smelling garland can do the trick, too.

Be strategic with lighting. Chances are that with a room full of people, plus your stove and oven working to keep up with hungry guests, your home will get toasty. Small twinkle lights or candles quickly create a festive mood without adding much extra heat to the space.

Amid different food, décor and traditions, there’s an inherent need to be around those we love this time of year. Make sure your home encourages plenty of seating for conversation, storytelling and songs. Use ottomans as extra seating or use a cocktail table as an additional serving station. Nothing’s off the table when preparing for the holidays! ■

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