The month of December, the last month of the year can be considered “the world of holidays.” Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Boxing Day, and Omisoka are holiday traditions celebrated during the month of December. Christmas is celebrated in North America, Australia, England, Iceland, and more. In North America, Christmas is a religious holiday in the Christian faith as the historical celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ; or Christmas is a cultural holiday celebrated with Christmas trees, visits from Santa Clause, and dreams of snow. In Australia, Christmas falls during the summer months, where popular traditions involve going to the beach or camping. In England, Christmas traditions are similar to those in the United States, rather they leave mince pies and brandy for Father Christmas instead of milk and cookies for Santa Clause. In Iceland, their capital city turns into a winter wonderland and Yule Lads (like thirteen Santas) leave small gifts in shoes every night for thirteen nights before Christmas.
Click here for pictures of how Christmas is celebrated around the world.
Hanukkah, or Chanukah, is an eight-day Jewish celebration that commemorates the re-dedication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem following the Maccabean Revolt. Those who took part in the re-dedication witnessed that even though there was only enough untainted oil to keep the menorah’s candles burning for a single day, the flames continued to burn for eight nights. Also known as the Festival of Lights, Hanukkah celebrations revolve around lighting the menorah. On each of the holiday’s eight nights, another candle is added to the menorah after sundown. The ninth candle, called the shamash (“helper”), is used to light the others. Typically, blessings are recited and traditional Hanukkah foods such as potato pancakes (latkes) and jam-filled donuts (sufganiyot) are fried in oil. Other Hanukkah customs include playing with dreidels and exchanging gifts.
Learn more about Hanukkah by clicking here.
The name Kwanzaa comes from the phrase “matunda ya kwanza” which means “first fruits” in Swahili. Each family celebrates Kwanzaa in its own way, but celebrations often include songs and dances, African drums, storytelling, poetry reading, and a large traditional meal. On each of the seven nights, families gather, and a child lights one of the candles on the Kinara; then one of the seven principles, values of African culture, is discussed. An African feast, called a Karamu, is held on December 31.
Click here to learn more about Kwanzaa.
Boxing Day takes place on December 26, is a tradition that still happens in some places; it was the day when the alms box, collection boxes for the poor often kept in churches, were opened and their content distributed. It was also the day off servants were given to celebrate Christmas with their families. Boxing Day has now become a public holiday in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, and other countries. In England, soccer matches and horse races often take place on Boxing Day. The Irish refer to the holiday as St. Stephen’s Day, and they have their own tradition called hunting the wren, in which boys fasten a fake wren to a pole and parade it through town. The Bahamas celebrate Boxing Day with a street parade and festival called Junkanoo.
To learn more about Boxing Day click here.
Ōmisoka, New Year’s Eve, is considered the second-most important day in Japanese culture, as it is the final day of the old year and the eve of New Year’s Day, the most important day of the year. Families gather on Ōmisoka for one last time in the old year to have a bowl of toshikoshi-soba or toshikoshi-udon, a tradition based on eating the long noodles to cross over from one year to the next. At midnight, many visit shrines or temples for Hatsumōde. Shinto shrines prepare amazake to pass out to crowds and most Buddhist temples have large cast bells that are struck once for each of the 108 earthly desires believed to cause human suffering.
Learn more about Ōmisoka here.