“It’s the most wonderful time of year!” As one of the most repeated exclamations we hear as we enter into the winter months each year, we often associate the joyfulness with gatherings, family, friends, and celebrations! While many of us may be celebrating the Christmas holiday, have you stopped to think about all the other interesting holidays and observances celebrated around the world? Few months present as many celebrated holidays around the world as December does. As we deck the halls and light up our celebrations with our own traditions, consider adding in some of these fascinating traditions into your gatherings this year! Happy Holidays!
St. Nicholas Day
This celebrated day is a popular occasion for kids across Europe, celebrated on December 6. In the days leading up to this holiday, you’ll find shoes and boots lining fireplaces and front steps at night filled with small presents to find each morning. On the eve of St. Nicholas Day is when children receive their large gift. Many European cities celebrate with different activities beyond just gift-giving, including parades, feasts and festivals!
During an eight-day celebration, this Jewish holiday commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt. This holiday is also referred to as the Festival of Lights as the traditions include lighting a Menorah each night during the celebration. Throughout the observance, families savor in fried foods, spin a top called a dreidel, and more recently exchange gifts.
This holiday celebrates African-American heritage over a seven-day period intended to reflect on their roots and foster unity. Started in 1966, it is observed from December 26 to January 1 every year. Represented with the colors black (the people), red (their blood), and green (the earth and future), each day represents a different principal focus and concept for each person to dedicate themselves to. The week is enjoyed with feasting and gatherings, but is also an occasion for reflection, conversations, contemplation and camaraderie.
Between December 16 and December 24, you’ll find a celebration in Mexico full of life! Los Posadas memorializes the journey that Joseph and Mary made in search of a safe refuge for the birth of Jesus. Each evening during the festival, a small child dressed as an angel leads a procession through the streets of the town. Mass is held each day after the procession, ending the service with piñatas filled with candy, toys, and sometimes even money.
Saint Lucia Day
Celebrated in Sweden, Norway, and parts of Finland on December 13 each year, this festival of lights honors one of the earliest Christian martyrs, St. Lucia, who was killed by the Romans due to her religious beliefs. The festival begins with a procession led by a St. Lucia designee who is followed by young girls dressed in white and wearing lighted wreaths and boys dressed in white pajamas singing traditional songs. It is meant to bring hope and light during the darkest time of the year.
First celebrated in 2001, this Humanist holiday is celebrated on December 23 each year. It was created to express the positive, secular, human values of reason, compassion, humanity and hope. It provides a vision of a happy, just, and peaceful future for our world and a future where people can build by working together, drawing on the best of our human capacities. Charitable giving is a common theme of many of the celebrations, either through donations or volunteering, but there are no specific activities involved in the holiday to promote invention and creativity by each individual.
Winter Solstice (Yule)
Officially marking the first day of winter, the Winter Solstice occurs on December 21 each year, the longest night of the year. It is celebrated by many around the world as the return of the sun, a light in the darkness. As the days finally begin to get a little longer following this holiday, it is also a time to celebrate with family and friends and revel in the spirit of giving during the holidays, referred to as Yule. Rituals, cleansing, and resetting are often the emphasis behind these festivities and are represented in many ways!
Bringing a second day of Christmastide, this holiday is recognized the day after Christmas in the United Kingdom and many other British commonwealth countries. In spite of its peculiar name, the day, in fact, has nothing to do with boxing. There are two common myths of how this day developed. One theory shares that it was the day of presenting servants with gifts as well as a day off, but another popular opinion is that it arose from the tradition of making charitable donations during the Christmas season. In recent years, the holiday has come to be celebrated in many ways around the world from a day of watching sports, to major discounts for shopping, and large dinners with families. A day to truly unwind!
The festival for the rest of us, Festivus! Celebrated on December 23 each year, this wacky holiday originated from a 1997 Seinfeld episode in which they decided to stage a war on Christmas and the commercialized way it’s become. Thus, Festivus was born, quickly spreading its comedic joy around the world. As an alternative to the pressures of the commercial feel of the holiday season, this parody of a holiday is a form of playful resistance through a large dinner and airing of grievances and feats of strength.