- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 23, 2000

Capitol Hill resident Dietra Montague lights the first Kwanzaa candle of her seven-branched kinara Tuesday.

Shelley Guggenheim, director of B'nai B'rith's museum shop in Northwest, lighted the shamas — the first candle — for her husband, Joe, and son Simon at the family's Hanukkah menorah lighting Thursday in Bethesda.

Shireen Dodson of Northwest finished decorating her family's 10-foot-high Christmas tree on Dec. 17. She chose 100 black angels, kings, babies, glass Santa Clauses, papier-mache balls and decorations by local artist Martha Jackson from a collection of 1,000 decorations.

Mrs. Dodson, former associate director of the Anacostia Museum and Center for African American History and Culture, started collecting black-oriented ornaments in 1980 with the birth of her first child. She also had just bought a fiber optic-lighted angel from Neiman-Marcus.

Her husband, Leroy Fykes, struggled to place it at the top of the Christmas tree, but it proved too big. Instead, the couple displayed the angel in its ruby-red silk nearby on the piano.

Followers of these three spiritual and cultural traditions celebrate them at the end of each year, and these holidays all have their decorations and symbols.

Hanukkah is the Jewish Festival of Lights, an eight-day commemoration of the rededication of the Temple by the Maccabees after their victory over the Syrians. Kwanzaa combines traditional African practices — such as joy in the harvest of the first crops — with affirmation of American blacks' ideals and ambitions. Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ.

Angel figures are among the most popular of Christmas decorations. Their significance comes from events surrounding the birth of Jesus.

The Roman Emperor Augustus had decreed that the whole Roman world had to be counted. He commanded everyone to return to their own towns to register. Among them were Mary and Joseph, Christ's earthly parents, who returned to Bethlehem for the census. The town was crowded and they had to take refuge in a stable on a frigid night, and that became the site of the Nativity.

Matthew says an angel appeared to nearby shepherds to tell them of the birth. A heavenly star — it is usually simulated as a decoration on the highest point of the Christmas tree — led the Magi, or gift-bearing wise men from the East, to worship the child.

Handmade angels decorate both the "Enchanted Wonderland" and "Nutcracker Suite" Christmas trees at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History at 14th Street and Constitution Avenue NW. Museum volunteers decorated the "Nutcracker" tree with angels and characters from E.T.A. Hoffmann's "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King."

Fabric artists hand stitched or knitted them. One girl ornament wears a skirt filled with tiny dolls. A winged angel-decoration boasts a small hat. Another ornament sports a nutcracker wearing an enormous fur hat.

Angels and snowflakes nearly cover the 8-foot-tall "Enchanted Wonderland" tree placed near the museum's Constitution Avenue entrance. The folk story is about a rabbit family that called on Jack Frost to send a blanket of snow to cover its bare fir tree. He obliged with the many dolls dressed in silver and white lace that seem to dance over the fir.

The monumental "Angel Tree" and its decorations at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City are among the most glorious picturings of the Nativity. It stands in the museum's soaring Medieval Sculpture Hall. Figures sculpted by leading Baroque artists of 18th-century Naples, Italy, surround and embellish it.

The Baroque was a theatrical, motion-and-light-filled style that gave the creche drama and dynamism. The fine craftsmanship of painted terra cotta, intricately carved wood and handling of luxurious fabrics adds to the richness of the tableau.

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