October through January are by far my favorite four months of the year. They have the best holidays and some of the best weather (at least here in Phoenix) – so what’s not to love?! Each month has its own special quality, but I think December is by far the busiest in terms of the number of traditions one may choose to celebrate.
I was born and raised in the Protestant church. We always had a Christmas tree, lights, presents, and church services as part of our holiday traditions (more on those to come!). As embarrassing as this is to admit, I didn’t even realize there was anything but Christmas until I was much older. Since this revelation, I’ve had many opportunities to learn and even participate in some of these other celebrations, which has gone a long way in broadening my beliefs and my goodwill towards the season. In fact, my holiday season is now some strange and wonderful mixture of a few of these different celebrations – and it is wonderful! So today I thought I’d do a brief run through of just a few of the more “popular” options that are celebrated in December.
*As a disclaimer, this list is not comprehensive. Likewise the background and traditions discussed are meant only as brief overviews. I encourage everyone to do their own research into any of these that may peak your interest.
Christmas is a Christian holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ and is observed on December 25th. Christmas, or at least some of the traditions associated with Christmas, is also celebrated in countries around the world with largely non-Christian populations. Typically people decorate homes and trees with lights, wreaths, candles, holly, mistletoe, and ornaments, all having various symbolic meanings. Santa is also a major Christmas tradition, coming down from the North Pole leaving gifts for all the good girls and boys. Santa has many different names and habits depending on where you are in the world, but his origins date back to Europe and are also indirectly Christian in background. I hope you were good this year (smile)!
Celebrated by Jewish people around the world, Hanukkah is an eight day celebration honoring the Maccabees victory over King Antiochus, who forbid Jews to practice their religion. Hanukkah, which means “dedication” in Hebrew follows the Hebrew calendar and normally falls in November or December. Often called the Festival of Lights, the holiday is celebrated with the lighting of the menorah, traditional foods, games, and gifts.
Kwanzaa is a relatively new holiday created in 1966 by a professor in California as a way to bring the African-American community closer together. The name Kwanzaa is derived from the phrase “matunda ya kwanzaa,” which means “first fruits” in Swahili. Kwanzaa begins on December 26th and lasts for seven days during which there is dancing, storytelling, feasting, gift giving and the lighting of a series of black, red, and green candles. These candles symbolize the seven basic values of African American family life – unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith.
The Winter Solstice occurs in the Northern Hemisphere around December 21st and is the shortest day of the year. Observance of the Winter Solstice dates back to Neolithic times. Since the event is seen as the reversal of the sun’s ebbing presence in the sky, concepts of birth/rebirth and new beginnings are closely associated with the Winter Solstice. Today people all over the world still participate in festivals and celebrations in honor of this event, not all of which are necessarily on the day of the Winter Solstice. For instance, Hogmanay in Scotland began as a solstice celebration but was shifted as a New Year’s tradition by the Church.
These are just a few of many, many traditions that are celebrated during this time of the year. What’s your favorite – is it the one you grew up with or something different?
No matter what you celebrate, Happy Holidays everyone!!