With Christmas trees, cards, gift wrap, and just about every other piece of Christmas paraphernalia out there, it’s easy to think that Christmas is the only holiday celebrated in December. Easy, but wrong! Here are some of the other December festivities taking place around the world; do any inspire you to travel?
We’ll start with the December holiday that is the next well-known to Christmas worldwide. Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, is a Jewish festival that commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem during the Maccabean Revolt. It is observed for eight days and nights starting on the 25th day of Kislev as per the Hebrew Calendar.
Contrary to common opinion Hanukkah is not the Jewish version of Christmas. That would be Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot, observed at different times of the year! But for those who do celebrate Hanukkah, this is a time for spending time with family, lighting the candles of the menorah, and eating your body weight in fried goods like latke.
Kwanzaa is observed in America as well as parts of the African diaspora worldwide between the 26th of December and the first of January. The festival is to honour African heritage and give thanks to ancestors, culminating in feasting and gift-giving. Though at the core of Kwanzaa there are seven principles to consider. These are: Umoja (Unity), Kujichagulia (Self-Determination), Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity), and Imani (Faith).
Yule is a Pagan celebration, and depending on who you ask is either two separate celebrations or one long one! Winter Solstice, also known as Yalda, is between the 20th and 23rd of December each year, depending on the Gregorian calendar. This is the shortest day and longest night of the year, and is celebrated with feasts, rituals, and decorations to brighten the home. Yule itself is when the dark half of the year relinquishes the light, in other words to follow the Winter Solstice. Past celebrations for Yule included bonfires and the burning of a ceremonial Yule Log. If you think that all of these things sound pretty familiar it’s true; many of our Christmas celebrations have been ‘borrowed’ and adapted from the Pagan Yule.
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One of the newer festivals since it’s only been celebrated since 1985, Pancha Ganapati is a Hindu holiday that takes place between the 21st and 25th of December. The festival honours Ganesha, one of the most-worshipped Hindu deities. Each day of this family holiday is associated with a colour, and each colour represents a ‘different’ love and harmony to focus on. The colours are golden yellow, royal blue, ruby red, emerald green, and brilliant orange, to focus on the family, neighbours, business associates, the arts, and the trailokya (three worlds) respectively.
A Buddhist tradition that is also known as Rōhatsu in Japanese Zen, and Laba in China, Bodhi Day is sometimes thought of as an alternative to Christmas in the countries it is celebrated, such as China, Japan, Vietnam, and Korea. Bodhi Day tends to be grouped in with December festivals despite not technically being celebrated until January. This is because the Day is celebrated on the eighth day of the twelfth month — but of the Lunar calendar, not the Gregorial one!
In reality, Bodhi Day can fall anywhere between Winter Solstice and the start of the Chinese New Year. Bodhi Day commemorates when the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, experienced enlightenment. There are so many different interpretations of Bodhi Day that you could find yourself in intense meditation if you celebrate it in Japan, or listening to readings as you have tea and cake if you are in Korea!
Okay, so not everyone is a fan of Terry Pratchett, meaning not everyone will know about this particular celebration. Hogswatch is Pratchett’s imagining of Christmas in his own Discworld series and is celebrated much as Christmas is; overindulging in feasts and merriment until you’re ready to pop (or fall asleep).
Hogswatch deserves an honorary mention on this list of December celebrations because despite being fictional, people do celebrate Hogswatch. In the past there were Hogwatch Weekends held in Wincanton which is twinned with the fictional Ankh-Morpork. Though since we don’t have a 36th of December in our Calendar, Hogswatch observers celebrate whenever and however they please.
Whatever you are doing this December we hope that it is full of cheer!