The dates for Kwanzaa were chosen so as not to conflict with Christmas but to correspond with the end-of-the-year celebrations in the United States, allowing people to bypass the commercial buying period while taking advantage of the seasonal holiday spirit.
Atkins said he, his wife, Artie, and their two sons have hosted the celebration since the mid-1990s because "it's our way of saying thanks to the community."
Instead of food or gifts one would give on Christmas, on Kwanzaa, "a gift to someone might be a story or a handmade craft," Atkins said.
The Atkins had about 50 people at their house, mostly from Danville and Lexington, to indulge in a wide variety of food, tea, punch and soft drinks, and to make crafts and share stories.
On each day of the holiday, a candle is lit until all seven candles on the kinara are kindled. There are three red candles, three green candles and one black candle.
The center black candle is lit first, representing the color of the people Kwanzaa celebrates. Lighting then alternates between red and green candles, beginning with the outermost red candle and moving toward the center.
The red candles symbolize the blood and struggle that people had coming to the United States from Africa, and the green ones represent the earth and the African harvest.
While it often falls during or just before the Christmas season, Chanukah, the Jewish holiday praising religious freedom, has evolved to become much more of a gift-giving holiday than was originally intended. Contrary to what many believe, it is not the major Jewish holiday of the year.
Chanukah, which began on the night of Dec. 21 and will conclude Monday night, originated more than 21 centuries ago when a small band of faithful Jews defeated the powerful armies of the Seleucids (Syrian-Greeks) to reclaim the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and rededicate it to the service of God.
They lit the temple's menorah, a seven-branched gold candelabra, with a single dish of olive oil left in the temple. The one-day supply burned for eight days until new oil could be prepared, leading to the tradition of lighting eight candles, one for each night of the holiday.
Depending on the lunar calendar used by Jews, Chanukah can start as early as Nov. 28 or as late as Dec. 26.
Other Chanukah traditions include eating foods fried in oil, giving money or charity, and playing games with a dreidel, a spinning top that has four Hebrew letters on it that, combined, read, "A great miracle happened there."
Centre College religion professor Beth Glazier-McDonald, raised Jewish near Allentown, Pa., celebrates the holidays with her family. Last year she helped students prepare a service at Centre College that included Hillel, the University of Kentucky Jewish student organization.
She said she knows of only 10 or 11 students who identified themselves as Jewish on their applications, the highest number in recent memory, and doesn't think the number in Boyle County is much higher.
Without a synagogue in Danville, Glazier-McDonald and her family attend Temple Adath Israel in Lexington.
She said Danville is "a great community" and is open to different ethnic and religious groups, but can be uncomfortable for a non-Christian.
As an example, she said, "There's a lot of religious music in schools that I don't think is necessary to expose all children to."
Small in numbers, most of the local Muslim community used Christmas as an opportunity to celebrate family and peace, Centre College government and international studies professor Nayef Samhat said.
Samhat celebrates Muslim and Christian holidays with his wife, Prema, raised Episcopalian. He said Muslims in western societies generally observe Christmas but in a different way than Christians.
"Typically, they will take that day and join with their families and perhaps have a special dinner," he said.