Discovering December: 7 Festive Holidays from Around the World
14 December 2023
Ever wondered what people celebrate in December other than Christmas? Check out our list of December festivities from around the globe 👇
When you think of December holidays, do you picture gingerbread houses and Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer? It’s no surprise if you did. After all, Christmas is celebrated in more than 160 countries around the world.
However, December is home to so much more than just our old friend Santa Claus. From Kwanza to St. Lucia’s Day, December is a time for reflection and celebration across nations, cultures, and peoples.
In this post, we dive into 7 December holidays from around the world to provide some insight into how different societies celebrate this wonderful time of family, community, and giving.
Kwanzaa is an annual celebration of African-American culture which is recognised between December 26 and January 1. Though it’s mainly celebrated in the United States, it’s gradually spread to other nations with large African populations such as the United Kingdom, Jamica, France, Canada, and Brazil.
The holiday first originated in 1966 by author and professor Maulana Karenga. Karenga drew heavily from many traditional African values and cultures when creating the holiday. In fact, the word kwanza comes from the Swahili phrase for ‘first fruits’. Karenga added an extra ‘a’ so each letter (and each candle of the Kinara) would symbolise one of the seven values of Kwanzaa:
- Unity (umoja)
- Self-Determination (kujichagulia)
- Collective Work and Responsibility (ujima)
- Cooperative Economics (ujamaa)
- Purpose (nia)
- Creativity (kuumba)
- Faith (imani)
2. Las Posadas
Las Posadas (meaning ‘inn’ or ‘lodging’ in Spanish) is an annual festival celebrated in Mexico and some parts of the United States between December 16 and December 24. The festival elaborately recreates Joseph and Mary’s journey from Nazareth to the stable in Bethlehem.
To recreate the biblical event, a child is dressed as an angel to lead the town’s people through the streets. More children follow with candles to stop at houses and sing songs. Afterwards, the children break open Piñatas shaped like wise men’s stars which are filled with lollies, toys, and even money!
Hanukkah is the Jewish Festival of Lights which dates all the way back to 175 BCE. It’s endured for thousands of years and is celebrated annually on the 25th day of Kislev (the ninth month of the Hebrew calendar) which usually occurs in late November to early December. However, it’s important to note that Hanukkah isn’t ‘Jewish Christmas’. Rather, it’s one of many important Jewish celebrations, such as Passover and Yom Kippur.
In 2023, Hanukkah begins on the evening of December 7 and ends December 15.
During the eight-day holiday, families gather each night to light the menorah, sing songs, and enjoy traditional Jewish foods such as deep-fried jam-filled donuts (sufganiyot), potato pancakes (latkes), and chocolate coins (gelt).
4. Bodhi Day
Bodhi Day is an annual Buddhist holiday recognised on December 8 which celebrates the enlightenment of Gautama Buddha back in 596 BCE. During this period, Buddha sat beneath a Bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya, Northern India, for seven days and mediated.
In modern times, Bodhi Day is celebrated in many parts of the Western World, predominantly Japan. In Buddhist homes during Bodhi Day, you’ll find coloured lights which are turned on each evening starting December 8 and continue for 30 days. Additionally, a candle is added each night to symbolise Buddha’s enlightenment.
Rice and milk are commonplace during Bodhi Day, commemorating the first meal Buddha ate after the week-long meditation. You’ll also find homes filled with beautiful mini-Bodhi trees!
5. St. Nicholas Day
No December holidays list would be complete without a cameo from St. Nick. This feast day is dedicated to St. Nicholas, a saint famous for his selfless nature, on December 5 or 6 in Western nations, and December 19 in some European countries using traditional church calendars.
St Nicholas Day is a time for parades, mass, and gift-giving. One of the more famous traditions is children leaving out pillows or shoes which will be filled with presents (if they’ve been nice)!
However, while St. Nicholas was known as a patron saint across Europe for centuries, it wasn’t until 1773 that the festive spirit washed up on American shores. Soon after, Dutch families gathered to celebrate St. Nicholas Day, who went by the Dutch name ‘Sinter Klass’, a shortened form of ‘Sint Nikolaas’. Over time, this naturally evolved into the Santa Claus that we know and love today.
This is one holiday you probably haven’t heard of. However, it’s impact on modern day celebrations of Christmas can’t be understated. Saturnalia was an annual celebration of Saturn, the Roman god of agriculture, and was the most popular holiday on the Ancient Roman calendar. In fact, it’s still celebrated to this day!
Although it started as a single day celebration, it eventually expanded to a weeklong event from 17 December to 24 December.
The Romans celebrated by singing, playing music, feasting, and exchanging gifts. Additionally, Romans would shed their togas in favour of red and green clothes. Moreover, they decorated their homes with wreaths and evergreen branches – all mainstay symbols of modern-day Christmas!
7. St Lucia’s Day
St Lucia’s Day is a Scandinavian festival of lights celebrated annually on December 13 in honour of St. Lucia (St. Lucy). To celebrate, towns in Sweden, Norway, and Finland organise a procession led by a St Lucia designee who is elected by the town. The designee will then lead the procession, followed by girls wearing lighted wreaths and white robes while singing songs.
After the festival lights up the town, families gather while one of their daughters (usually the eldest) serves coffee, baked goods, saffron bread, and ginger cookies to other family members – symbolising St. Lucia’s giving nature all the way back in 304 CE.
Ultimately, no matter where or what you celebrate, December is the perfect time of year to spend with the ones who mean the most. So, take the time to share, celebrate, and let family and friends know how much they mean to you – Happy holidays!
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