December, with all its good cheer and festivities, is just around the corner. Yipee! Many of us are looking forward to celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah and New Year’s Eve, but did you know that there are many different December global holidays celebrated all over the world?
In addition to Christian and Jewish holidays, the end of the year is filled with other cultural, religious and secular holidays that make it truly a special month. To up your global IQ, we’re going to fill you in on some of the holidays around the world this month and also give you a few fun facts about traditional holidays that may surprise you.
So without further ado, let the December global festivities begin!
Hanukkah November 28th – December 6th, 2021
The Jewish festival of Hanukkah actually starts in November this year, as it’s celebrated on the 25th day of Kislev. The dates of Hanukkah vary slightly each year as this celebration is based on the Hebrew calendar and not the Gregorian Calendar. The word Hanukkah means “dedication” in Hebrew, which gives a clue to the origins of this eight-day festival. It’s also called Chanukah or the Festival of Lights.
This entire holiday is centered around the Maccabean revolt. In 165 BC, an army of Jewish rebels called the Maccabees defeated the Romans who had outlawed Jewish religious practices and occupied the holy second temple of Jerusalem. When the Maccabees won the temple back, they rededicated the holy building to God, and a miracle occurred: although they only had enough oil to light their lamps for one night, the oil lasted for eight days.
You may already know that it is customary to light a candle on the menorah during each night of Hanukkah, but here are a few facts that may surprise you:
This Jewish festival is never mentioned in the Torah and is not considered as important as Passover and Rosh Hashanah. But it became popular in the United States during the 20th century as many religions are celebrating the season in December. Eventually, even Jews in Israel began to follow the trend, and Hanukkah became more important than it once was.
The letters on the spinning dreidels have a Hebrew character on each side (Nun, Gimel, Hay and Shin) that is an acronym for “A great miracle happened there.”
Dreidels are symbolic because before the Maccabean revolt, studying the Torah was illegal. In order to disguise the practice, Jews would study the holy texts while pretending to gamble with dreidels.
Traditional foods of the festival include potato pancakes (latkes), noodle casserole (kugel) and (surprise, surprise) jelly doughnuts!
Bodhi Day – December 8th
Bodhi Day is a Buddhist celebration that honors the day that Budhha (also known as Shakyamuni or Siddhartha Gautama) first experienced enlightenment (or “Bodhi”) through meditation.
Siddharth was born an Indian prince who was shielded from the suffering of the world until one day, he traveled outside the palace walls and confronted sickness and death. Shocked by what he saw, he left his life of privilege in search of answers.
Siddhartha finally vowed to meditate under a banyan tree until he found the root of suffering and how to free himself from it. Though accounts of his experience vary according to different traditions, all agree that after 49 days of unbroken meditation, he experienced Nirvana and became a Buddha or Awakened One.
Bodhi Day is celebrated throughout the Buddhist world through activities such as meditation, the reading and chanting of Buddhist texts (or sutras) or performing kind acts toward other beings. In some countries, the day is marked with a traditional meal of tea and cakes along with readings.
Though not celebrated through grand parades or gifts, this thoughtful day is an inspiration for many Buddhists. It’s also a reminder that by studying the teachings of Buddha, all can advance on the path to enlightenment.
Our Lady of Guadalupe Day – December 12th
The origins of the Catholic feast day come from Mexico, where the day is widely celebrated. According to Christian tradition, the Virgin Mary appeared to an Aztec Indian named Juan Diego on December 9th and 12th of 1531.
Asked by the Virgin to build a church on Tepeyac Hill, Juan brought his story to the bishop. But the holy man said he needed proof of Juan’s encounter and asked for a miracle first.
When Juan returned to the hill, he found roses where there had only been cacti before. He brought the bishop the flowers and an image of the Lady of Guadalupe that appeared on his cloak. Convinced, the bishop built what is now known as the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe – one of the most visited sights in the Catholic world.
Though celebrated throughout the Catholic world, the biggest festivities are held in Mexico with processions, singing and dancing that start the night before. On December 12th, people attend mass, and children wearing traditional costumes are blessed.
Deeply embedded in the culture of Mexico, the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is a common sight and an image of inspiration for Mexicans of the Catholic faith.
Santa Lucia Day – December 13th
Santa Lucia or Saint Lucy Day commemorates a 4th century Christian Martyr. According to tradition, Santa Lucia brought food to persecuted Christians hiding in the catacombs of Rome. She was said to wear a candle-lit wreath on her head to light her way and carry as much food as possible.
This Christian feast day is celebrated in various countries around the world but is most popular in Scandinavia and Italy. As a part of the celebration, a young girl is selected to represent Santa Lucia. She wears a white robe, a wreath of candles and leads a procession of women, each dressed in white and carrying their own candle.
The women usually sing a Santa Lucia song to the melody of the traditional Neapolitan song “Santa Lucia.” Sometimes they may also carry cookies or saffron buns which are said to symbolize bringing the light of Christ into the world.
Whether you are Christian or not, this beautiful tradition is a moving spectacle to behold and a universal symbol of remembering the light during the darkest month of the year.
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Pancha Ganapati – December 21st – 25th
Pancha Ganapati is a modern-day Hindu festival in honor of the elephant-headed deity Ganesh, known as the remover of obstacles, lord of good fortune and patron of arts. The holiday was created by guru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami in 1985 as an alternative to Christmas for Hindus.
However, as the late holy man’s temple is in Hawaii, this is not a festival that is commonly celebrated in South Asia. During the five days of the holiday, many western Hindus create shrines to Ganesh in their homes and decorate them with lights, tinsel and ornaments.
Each morning Ganesh is decorated by children in the colors that represent his five powers (or Shaktis): golden yellow, royal blue, red, green and orange.
On the yellow day, families try to fix strained relationships and make amends to create an atmosphere of love.
On the blue day, apologies and amends are made to close friends and far away relatives to restore harmony.
The red day is about settling disputes with coworkers and business associates.
On the green day, families seek joy through music, art, drama and dance and make plans to beautify their homes.
Finally, the orange day is about bringing forth love through charity. As the gifts are opened, families are supposed to experience the loving spirit of Ganesh, which will inspire them in the year to come.
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The Winter Solstice – on or about December 21st in the Northern Hemisphere
As you probably already know, the winter solstice marks the shortest day and longest night of the year. From that day forward, each day grows proceedingly longer until the summer solstice on June 21st.
Since before the dawn of history, this darkest day of the year was considered extremely significant and has been celebrated by many cultures in different forms. Often thought to symbolize the death and rebirth of the sun, it is considered a time of new beginnings and the birth of light.
In Iran, this day is known as Yalda Night (the longest and darkest night of the year). In that part of the world, families usually celebrate in the home of the eldest relative by eating, drinking and reciting poetry together. Nut, pomegranates and watermelons are typical foods served.
Among the Hopi Indians of the Southwest, this day is known as Soyal. Customs include dancing, purification rituals and sometimes gift-giving. At this time, the Hopi also welcome kachinas, protective spirits of the mountains.
In China, December 21st – December 23rd are known as Dong Zhi. This holiday marks the end of the harvest season and is also related to the concept of yin and yang – after the solstice, the abundance of darkness is slowly balanced out by the returning light of the sun.
On this day, many families gather together for a big meal with traditional foods like rice balls or tang yuan.
In Japan, the winter solstice is known as Toji. A winter squash called kabocha is eaten, and people often take a hot bath with yuzu fruits to ward off illness and refresh the spirit.
Those are just a few of the many traditions that you can find from around the world to mark this special day, but there are many more. A fact that suggests how closely culture is linked with the seasons of the year and the cosmos.
Festivus – December 23rd
For those who want to celebrate without all the pressure and consumerism, Festivus is growing in popularity as a parody Christmas alternative. This non-christian holiday was featured on a 1997 episode of Seinfeld called “The Strike.”
Celebrations begin with a Festivus dinner. Instead of a Christmas tree, you’ll find a plain aluminum Festivus pole. And rather than muster up feelings of love and generosity, common practices include “Airing of Grievances.”
The evening ends with labeling average, easily-to-explain events as”Festivus Miracles.”
Christmas – December 25th
For Christians, December 25th marks the birth of Jesus Christ. Here in America, we’re used to celebrating with Christmas trees, presents from Santa Claus delivered on Christmas Eve, parties and caroling. But it’s also interesting to look at some of the various Christmas traditions that take place around the world.
For example, in Australia, Christmas takes place during the summer. Camping is a popular way to spend Christmas down under, as is decorating a Christmas Bush – a native plant with small green leaves and flowers that turn red in summer.
In the United Kingdom, there is no Santa Claus. Instead, Father Christmas comes to deliver presents.
In Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, they have thirteen Santas known as Yule Lads. In the thirteen nights before Christmas day, one arrives each night to leave small presents for children in shoes that are left on windowsills.
In the city of San Fernando in the Philippines, Christmas is celebrated with a dazzling lantern festival known as Ligligan Parul. Each giant lantern consists of thousands of spinning lights that illuminate the night sky. Due to the festival’s fame, the city is known as the Christmas capital of the Philippines.
In Newfoundland, friends dressed in costumes may knock on your door and perform comedy sketches until you can guess who they are. Now there’s a twist!
Those are just a few of the different traditions from around the globe, but there are many more ways this popular yuletide holiday is celebrated.
Kwanzaa – December 26th – January 1st
Kwanzaa is an annual celebration of African American culture that was created by Dr. Maulana Karenga in 1966. The festival is based on several different harvest celebrations from Africa, and the word Kwanzaa actually means “first fruit” in Swahili.
Of course, each family celebrates Kwanzaa in their own way, but activities might include things like singing, dancing, storytelling and poetry reading. On each of the seven nights of this holiday, a child also usually lights a candle on the Kinara.
Afterwards, families might discuss one of the seven principles of African culture that include Unity, Self-determination, Collective Work and Responsibility, Cooperative Economics, Purpose, Creativity and Faith.
Finally, an African feast known as Karamu is held on December 31st.
Omisoka – December 31st
In America, we often celebrate the arrival of the New Year with a big party and champagne or by tuning in to watch the ball drop in Times Square. But did you know that in Japan, December 31st is considered the second most important holiday of the year?
On this day, it’s common for families to gather together and share a meal of udon or soba long noodles for good fortune and long life. Then at midnight, many people visit shrines or temples.
In Shinto shrines, they often pass out a sweet and creamy, fermented rice drink known as amazake. In Buddhist temples, large cast bells are struck 108 times to signify release from each of the earthly desires that cause human suffering.
Let the Celebrations Begin!
We hope you’ve enjoyed our world tour of December celebrations. Although the customs and origins of each festival may be different, at the core of almost all of these special days is the theme of light, hope and renewal.
In other words, we all have a lot in common!
Whether you’re celebrating Christmas, Kwanzaa, Bodhi Day or another winter holiday, we hope that the beautiful and varied customs may be an inspiration to you as you gather with your family and friends and cross over into a New Year.
Happy holidays, everyone!
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