When we think of December holidays, it’s Christmas that’s the first to come to mind because, well, it’s Christmas. As the most important holiday of one of the world’s biggest major religions and a recognized holiday by most of the Western world, Christmas’ influence extends so widely and deeply that you can’t escape Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas Is You. That said, it’s not the only December holiday out there as there are tons of lesser-known December holidays from other regions of the globe, minorities, and subsects of the faiths that celebrate Christmas.
If you’re looking for more reasons to celebrate throughout the month or are just curious about what cultures that don’t celebrate Christmas do during December, here’s a list of Christmas holidays for you to check out.
The African-American Kwanzaa (December 26 – January 1)
Kwanzaa is a celebration of African-American heritage that starts on January 26 and ends on January 1, just in time for the New Year. It’s a very young holiday that’s only recently started to gain traction as more and more people begin to celebrate it.
According to InterExchange, Kwanzaa was created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga to foster a sense of community among African-Americans in the wake of the Watts Riots. It bears a surface resemblance to Hannukah and Lent in the form of lighting kinara candles. Each candle is meant to represent a principle of Kwanzaa. These are unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith.
A common misconception about recently created traditions is that they are shallow ‘fads’, but Kwanzaa pulls from deep symbolic patterns that can be found in most cultures yet are uniquely its own. Needless to say, it’s worth celebrating and sharing.
The Jewish Hannukah/Chanukah (December 18 – December 26)
Hanukkah or Chanukah is a December holiday that has a special place in my heart because of challah bread. Of course, food is not all there is to Hanukkah, but it’s the memories of who that food is shared with that make it special which I think we can all agree on. More or less.
Hanukkah translates to “dedication”. As explained by Chabad, this is “because it celebrates the rededication of the Holy Temple” in 2 BCE. After a lengthy occupation by the Seleucids, who were Syrian Greeks, Judah the Maccabee was able to take back the temple with a small group of fighters with whom he re-lit the temple’s menorah, the seven-branched candelabrum you often see in stock photos of Hannukah.
The Catholic Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe (December 12)
In many Christian sects, December is centered around the son, Jesus Christ. However, Catholics also celebrate the Virgin Mary in all her many forms. While I’m no Catholic theological scholar, I did spend most of my school years in Catholic schools so to explain, in simple terms, Our Lady of Guadalupe is the Virgin Mary. If you see Catholics celebrating a “lady of”, it is almost always the Virgin Mary under one of her many titles.
The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe is celebrated on December 12th by Catholics in Mexico which is fitting since she’s the Patron of the Americas. But why the emphasis on her by Catholic Mexicans? Because it’s said that on December 9, 1531, the Virgin appeared to a Mexican farmer on Tepeyac Hill. Most notably, as if understanding his culture, the Virgin appeared to him looking like a native.
And the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (December 8)
Okay, so we’ve got the son and the mother covered. How about the immaculate conception?
The Feast of the Immaculate Conception, as it says on the tin, celebrates the miraculous pregnancy of Mary who conceives Jesus even though she’s a virgin. It‘s acknowledged by Catholics as a whole but finds particular celebration in the Philippines, where it’s a non-working holiday, as well as Spain and Italy, where it’s a national holiday. Meanwhile, Panama recognizes it as their mother’s day.
A lot of other majority Catholic countries, especially the Vatican, celebrate the Feast of Immaculate Conception to some extent but not all of them have an actual feast for it. Look, the thing you need to know about saints and feasts is that they can be very, very regional.
The Swedish Saint Lucia’s Day (December 13)
Speaking of regional saints and feasts, there’s Saint Lucia’s Day which is celebrated in Sweden. Celebrations take the form of an annual candlelit procession in honor of Saint Lucia who was said to have been killed for her beliefs. During her lifetime, St. Lucia supported Christians hiding out in Rome’s catacombs with supplies which weren’t easy since it was dark and she needed her hands for carrying said supplies. Her solution? Invent an early headlamp by putting a wreath of candles on her head. Today, processions in her honor feature white-clad youths wearing candle wreaths.
The Native American Soyal (December 21)
Soyal is a Native-American winter solstice celebration observed by the Hopi, Zuni, and Pueblo tribes to mark the end and beginning of the year so it’s more like New Year’s Eve than Christmas. During celebrations, participants perform Kachina dances that call on powerful Kachina spirits to protect the tribespeople and bless the rest of their coming year. Kachina dancers may also dress up as animals to call on specific Kachina spirits. Prayers and offerings are also given during Soyal celebrations.
The Pagan Yule/Winter Solstice (December 21 – January 1)
The winter solstice and its relationship with the physical world’s turning of the seasons and the symbolic world’s themes of death and rebirth make it significant in most faiths and cultures. The “modern pagan” Yule mixes them all together in continuation of the solstice traditions that came before it. Because of this, it has a ton of overlap with a lot of current Christmas traditions which are also influenced by pre-Christian traditions.
Yule can be celebrated with the burning of a Yule log to mark the turning of the year, a wreath to symbolize life and prosperity, and a Yule feast.
Why Are There So Many December Holidays Besides Christmas?
Not that holidays are bad, of course, or that Christmas should be the only thing celebrated during the holidays. But where there is commonality, there is likely to be a common root. Maybe it’s a holdover from when we were mostly living in agrarian societies or from the mysteries of the lengthening of nights. Who knows? Let us know why you think there are so many December holidays in the comments.