December is the most festive month of the year, which is fitting since it's the last month in the Gregorian calendar! All around the world, people are celebrating with their own unique traditions. It's the perfect opportunity to learn about real-life geography, culture, and history!
Here's a list of popular December traditions celebrated around the world. It's a wonderful, cheerful reminder that we're all a little bit different while at the same time we're all a little bit the same.
Dates celebrated: End of November - December (8 days long)
Why it's celebrated: Commemorates the re-dedication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem and the miracle of the cruse of oil
Where it's celebrated: Israel and Jewish communities around the world
Hanukkah is also known as Chanukah or the Festival of Lights. It's an 8-day Jewish celebration that begins on the 25th 'Kislev' of the Hebrew calendar, so the exact Gregorian calendar date of Hanukkah changes each year. On each night of Hanukkah, participants light a candle of a menorah - a candleholder with 9 candles. The ninth candle, known as the shammash, is lit each night as well. The lighting of the menorah is supposed to represent a miracle described in religious texts: when their temple was destroyed, the people were left with only enough oil to light a lamp for one day. But, the oil lasted for eight days. Other celebrations during Hanukkah include singing songs, eating special foods like latkes and jam-filled donuts called sufganiyot, playing dreidels, and opening one gift every night.
Dates Celebrated: December 21- January 1
Why it's celebrated: A celebration of the winter solstice and the return of the sun after the longest night of the year
Where it's celebrated: Germanic language-speaking countries and areas across Northern Europe
Yule is an ancient pagan celebration of the winter solstice, which is the longest night of the year. Also known as yuletide, Yule is celebrated for 12 days. Burning a huge log in a bonfire and spending the longest night of the year outdoors is one of the ways ancient people used to mark Yule. Today, many people skip the all-night-long party and instead build a Yule altar and make an evergreen Yule wreath. Many modern Christmas traditions come from ancient Yule celebrations.
Dates Celebrated: December 25
Why it's celebrated: To commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ
Where it's celebrated: Worldwide
Christmas is no doubt the most popular December holiday. It marks the birth of Jesus Christ of Nazareth in the Christian religion. These days, Christmas is celebrated all around the world. While the holiday retains its religious roots, Christmas has also become a cultural celebration celebrated by non-Christians as well. Fun fact: did you know that Jesus might not have been born on December 25th? No one really knows when he was born! Some Christians, such as those of the Eastern Christian Churches, celebrate Jesus' birth on January 7th!
Dates Celebrated: December 26-January 1
Why it's celebrated: To celebrate and preserve certain African-American culture
Where it's celebrated: Worldwide, but primarily in the United States
Kwanzaa is rooted in African-American history and celebrated mainly in the United States. It was created by a professor of African studies living in the United States and was first observed in 1966. The name 'Kwanzaa' comes from the Swahili phrase 'matunda ya kwanza' which means 'the first fruits.' Kwanzaa is often celebrated with traditional African songs, dance, storytelling, poetry reading, and discussing various principle values of African culture.
Saint Lucy's Day
Dates celebrated: December 13
Why it's celebrated: To pay tribute to Lucia of Syracuse, a Christian saint
Where it's celebrated: Primarily in Scandinavia and Italy
Saint Lucia was an Italian Saint and was seen as a figure of light in the darkest part of the year. To celebrate the feast, girls dress up in white gowns with red sashes and a wreath of burning candles on their heads while singing songs. In some areas, Saint Lucia might bring gifts or cookies for children.
Dates Celebrated: December 26
Why it's celebrated: For many, Boxing Day is a day to give gifts to the poor. For others, it is primarily a shopping holiday
Where it's celebrated: Worldwide
Boxing Day has been declared a public holiday in Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand, where they typically celebrate by organizing sporting events. Although different cultures celebrate Boxing Day differently, some people believe it was the official day when churches gifted alms boxes to the poor after Christmas. Others believe it is a day to recognize public servants and show appreciation for their service throughout the year.
Omisoka (New Year's Eve)
Dates Celebrated: December 31
Why it's celebrated: The final day of the year
Where it's celebrated: Japan
Omisoka is the second-most important holiday in Japan, right after New Year's Day. Families gather for one last time on the last day of the year and eat bowls of toshikoski-soba or toshikoshi-udon. Eating the long noodles is said to represent the crossing from one year into the next. At midnight, many observers visit shrines or temples, and Buddhist temples ring their bells 108 times, the number of earthly desires believed to cause human suffering.
Have any fun additions to the list? Which December holidays do you celebrate?