For many of us around the globe, the mention of the closing month of the year immediately draws images of red and green, towering Christmas trees laden with baubles, twinkling lights as far as your eyes can see, and the sound of cheer and jingling bells.
Global consumption of mainstream western media has greatly limited our worldview. For those wishing to learn, December is truly a month of celebration. Peppered throughout the year-ending month are diverse holidays that bring color and joy to dreary winter landscapes.
How Many Holidays Are Celebrated in December Around The World?
There are more than thirty international holidays in December that are celebrated across the globe. The holidays vary by geographical region, the number of observers, and the religious, cultural, or secular nature of the holiday.
What Holidays Are Celebrated in December?
We’ve listed 15 major December holidays to get you into the holiday spirit this holiday season.
|Holiday||Date of Celebration||Reason for Celebration|
|Hanukkah||Between late November and December||To mark the rededication of the Second Temple of Judaism.|
|Christmas||December 25||To mark the birth of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.|
|Yule||December 21- January 1||To honor and give thanks to the Norse god Odin.|
|Kwanzaa||December 26- January 1||To honor black heritage within African American communities.|
|Omisoka||December 31||To ring in the Japanese New Year.|
|Santa Lucia||December 13||To remember the Christian martyr Saint Lucia.|
|Las Posadas||December 16- December 24||To commemorate Virgin Mary and Joseph’s journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem.|
|Krampusnacht||December 5||To scare naughty children into behaving by a Germanic folktale creature Krampus.|
|Boxing Day||December 26||To give thanks to mail carriers, helpers, and service providers and give alms to the poor.|
|Festivus||December 23||To oppose the excessive consumerism brought about by Christmas culture.|
|Bodhi Day||December 8||To mark the enlightenment of Gautama Buddha.|
|World AIDS Day||December 1||To honor the people who died from AIDS and raise awareness about the disease.|
|Human Rights Day||December 10||To mark the passing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and raise voices about global human rights issues.|
|Winter Solstice||December 21 or 22||To mark the longest night of the year and celebrate the rebirth of the sun.|
|New Year’s Eve||December 31||To welcome the new year and say goodbye to the current one.|
Christmas is celebrated on December 25 by Christians across the world, to mark the miraculous birth of their spiritual leader Jesus of Nazareth, born to the Virgin Mary. Christians believe Jesus Christ to be their savior, as his crucifixion was the punishment for their sins.
However, Christmas has slowly but surely turned into a cultural celebration, celebrated by Christians and non-Christians alike. Christmas culture focuses on spending quality time with your loved ones, giving gifts ( tips and tricks for making gift hampers), sharing meals, and spreading the joy of togetherness. Leaving treats like mince pies, cookies, and milk for Santa Claus and receiving gifts in return is a formative part of many people’s childhoods.
Christmas is celebrated on all continents of the world, with different communities having their own special traditions. Putting up Christmas lights around the house, decorating a Christmas tree with bells, ornaments, and candy canes, putting up stockings on the fireplace, hanging garlands and wreaths on doors and opening presents early on Christmas morning are common traditions in most regions.
Hanukkah or Chanukkah is a major religious holiday observed by the Jewish community in the winter season. It is an eight-day celebration, commencing on the 25th of Kislev, the ninth month of the Hebrew calendar.
Hanukkah is known by several names including the Feast Of Maccabees, the Festival of Lights, and the Feast of Dedication. The festival celebrates the perseverance and survival of Jews in their darkest time with the victory of Judea from the Seleucids. To celebrate the victory, the Jews rebuilt their Second temple and witnessed a miracle: a lamp with only enough oil to last a day burnt for eight days.
During Hanukkah, Jewish households light a candle of the Menorah each day after sunset, to signify each night of the miracle. Hanukkah customs include singing hymns like Ma’oz Tzur, reciting the Psalms, saying the Hallel prayer, and eating traditional oil-dried foods like latkes and sufganiyot.
Hanukkah is celebrated in Israel and within Jewish communities scattered across the world.
Yule is a twelve-day celebration that is common in Germanic countries and Germanic communities worldwide.
Celebrated from December 21 to January 1, Yule has roots in Paganism. It involves building an altar and burning a log of wood to thank the Norse gods and goddesses, especially the Norse god Odin.
The celebration is thought to be linked to Saturnalia, the Roman celebration of the winter solstice. People in Germany and Scandinavia mark the celebration with gift exchanging, decorating the house with foliage, and making a Yuletide feast. The festival focuses on the value of nature and the natural seasonal change.
Kwanzaa is a holiday celebrated by the African American diaspora residing in the United State of America. Dr. Maulana Karenga, the head of the African Studies department at California State University created Kwanzaa in 1966 to remind the African-American community of their roots.
Spanning a period of seven days from December 26 to January 1, the holiday celebrated the rich black culture and heritage. The celebrations include African songs and dances, poetry and storytelling, and a daily traditional African meal where African values are discussed.
After the meal, a child of the family lights one of the seven candles of the Kinara and then one of the following seven principles of Kwanzaa are discussed: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith. A big traditional African feast called Karamu is eaten on the 31st night of December.
Although originating in the US, the festival has also become popular in African communities in other countries.
Omisoka, the Japanese New Year’s EVE, is celebrated on December 31 to welcome the new year Oshogatsu.
Japanese New Year traditions revolve around the concept of fortune. Anything thought to lead to a bad new year is wrapped up by Omisoka. Oshogatsu celebrations usually involve a three-day celebration in which the kitchen is let to rest, so all food preparations are done on the Omisoka. Families clean their houses from top to bottom and take thorough baths before donning clean clothes to ring in the new year in a state of purity.
After wrapping up the preparations for the Oshagatsu, a bowl of traditional ToshiKoshi-soba or Toshi Koshi-udon long noodles are eaten, as they are thought to grant long healthy life to the eater.
People may arrive at Buddhist temples to attend ‘Hatsumode’, the first prayer of the New Year. Others may stay home and listen to the Joya no Kane, the ringing of the bells 108 times in the nearest Shinto shrines to cleanse the year from the 108 worldly sins.
6. Santa Lucia
Santa Lucia or Saint Lucy’s Day is celebrated in Christian communities in Italy, Sweden, Norway, Finland, and other Scandinavian countries. On 13 December, one of the first and youngest Christian martyrs, Santa Lucia is remembered.
Saint Lucy of Syracuse supposedly aided the Christians hiding in the Roman catacombs. It is said she appeared with a wreath of candles in her hair, arms filled with food. The candles are a symbol of hope in the darkest of times. The celebration is also known as the Swedish Festival of Lights.
In this festival, a young girl of the community designated to act as Santa Lucia, in a long white dress with a wreath of electric candles lighting her hair, leads a procession of similarly dressed girls and boys in cone-shaped hats.
Each family also dresses up a girl child as Santa Lucia and has her serve traditional ginger biscuits and LusseKatter (saffron bread) with coffee to family members and visitors. Concerts are also held with singers dressed in white, with their hair adorned in candlelit wreaths, singing traditional songs.
The festival marks the beginning of the Christmas season and also sets Saint Lucy as a role model for courage and compassion for young children.
7. Las Posadas
Among the holidays during December, the Las Posadas is a unique Christmas festival celebrated mainly in neighborhoods of Mexico and Guatemala from December 16 to December 24.
The festival spanning nine nights is a reenactment of the Virgin Mary and Joseph’s journey from their residence in Nazareth, looking for a safe place to give birth to Jesus.
In accordance with the biblical tradition, children are dressed as angels in robes of gold and white, carrying images of Mary and Joseph traveling on a donkey. The children go door to door around the neighborhood, asking for lodgings in form of traditional song duets replied to by the residents of the house. The lodgings are denied due to the inns or the ‘Las Posadas’ being full until the procession reaches the church.
In the church, a short religious service pondering different qualities like humility, joy, charity, and strength. Then the children break open a pinata full of candy. Usually, the pinata is a star, representing the start that led the Three Wise Men to Jesus.
The Krampus is supposed to be the antithesis of Santa Claus, a symbolic representation of punishment and comeuppance. Krampusnacht falls on the 5th of December, just before Saint Nicholas Day on December 6. Children leave out shoes on window sills to receive presents from Santa if they have been good and birch rods for Krampus if they have been naughty.
Krampusnacht festivals began in Austria and eventually spread to Bavaria, Germany, Croatia, and Hungary. However, due to references in pop culture, the festival has also been popularized across the US.
Adults dress up as the Krampus with wooden masks and sheep or goat fur with a belt of cowbells, to mimic the shackles around the feet of the creature in the folktales, and scare any children that may cross their path.
9. Boxing Day
Boxing Day is celebrated on 26 December, the day after Christmas Day. The holiday originated in Victorian times in the United Kingdom with rich folks giving the day off to their servants, with boxes of Christmas food and gifts, as a reward for good service.
Churches also collected alms boxes to hand out to the poor so they could celebrate the holiday a day later as well.
At the present day, Boxing Day celebrations have branched out to parts of Europe and Commonwealth countries like Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa.
Boxing Day traditions vary, with some still considering it to be a day of giving thanks. Employers hand out salary bonuses while people leave out monetary and material gifts for postmen and delivery persons.
Boxing Day is a bank holiday in countries observing it. Moreover, it has also become synonymous with sports marathons as many sports showcase events including football and horseriding occur on Boxing Day. People also spend the day relaxing and eating Christmas dinner leftovers.
Festivus is a fictional holiday celebrated on the 23rd of December. Originating from the 90s show Seinfeld, Festivus is a day anti-consumerists chose to oppose the commercialization of Christmas.
In the show’s episode called ‘The Strike’, the foundations of this holiday were laid out. People gathered around a bare aluminum pole, had a simple dinner in which they aired their grievances, and then participated in ‘feats of strength’ which were competitions like wrestling and tug-of-war.
The trend caught on in real life too with people celebrating their anti-consumerist viewpoint with varying levels of seriousness and activism.
11. Bodhi Day
Bodhi Day is a Buddhist religious holiday that is celebrated on the 8th of December. The holiday is specially marked in countries where Buddhism is a major religion like Japan, China, and Korea.
Bodhi Day marks the day the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama Shakyamuni achieved enlightenment or Nirvana after meditating for 49 days under the bodhi tree. Buddha’s enlightenment was his way to achieve freedom from all worldly suffering by detaching himself from worldly desires. This is the basic idea of Buddhism, to achieve complete peace and blissfulness by letting go of suffering.
Bodhi Day is one of the most peaceful world holidays in December. Buddhists celebrate it by meditating on the life and teachings of Buddha, visiting shrines, decorating a bodhi tree, and serving themed cookies shaped like a bodhi tree.
12. World AIDs Day
Since its establishment by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1988, World AIDS Day has been celebrated on December 1 every year in all regions of the world. The day is celebrated in solidarity with people living with AIDS.
AIDS stands for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. It is a condition occurring due to the HIV virus. On World AIDS Day, memorials are held in honor of the people lost to the AIDS pandemic. Donations to AIDS charities are encouraged. Rallies, seminars, and conferences are held in order to raise awareness about the disease and its sufferers.
Wearing a red ribbon has become a universal symbol of AIDS solidarity.
13. Human Rights Day
On 10th December 1948, the United Nations General Assembly passed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in response to the atrocities and great loss of human life witnessed during the Second World War.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights outlines the rights that every human being has no matter their religion, class, race, or ethnicity. It is historic as the first Internationally signed document of its kind. The passing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is celebrated across the globe every year on the day of its passing.
Human Rights Day is commemorated by awareness campaigns, educational activities in schools, seminars, and rallies. The day is also used to hold protests and demonstrations to bring attention to various human rights violations happening across the globe.
14. Winter Solstice
The winter solstice for the Northern Hemisphere occurs on December 21 or 22 when the North Pole is tilted the furthest possible distance from the sun.
The winter solstice is the shortest day and the longest night of the year. Many cultures celebrate this day with festivals and ceremonies according to different beliefs, believing it to be the rebirth of the sun.
Festivals celebrated on the winter solstice include the Roman Saturnalia festivities, Shab-e-Yalda (Night of Birth) in Iran, and the Santo Tomas Festival in Guatemala. These festivals include singing, dancing, feasts, and lighting bonfires all night long.
15. New Year’s Eve
New Year’s Eve is without a doubt among the biggest holidays in December around the world. It is celebrated on the night of December 31 as people all across the globe await the new year’s arrival.
Different cultures observe different traditions regarding this auspicious day. Many cultures focus on the cleansing of the self and the home, so as not to drag the issues of the past year into the new one. Some people visit their religious places on New Year’s Eve to pray and meditate.
The new year offers a clean slate and a fresh start. Many people spend New Year’s Eve reflecting on the achievements and failures of their past year, the lessons they’ve learned from it and the moments they will cherish.
People hold large gatherings and parties with music, dancing, food, and alcohol consumption. Countries all around the world hold concerts and events in anticipation of the new year. Huge displays of lighting on landmark buildings are arranged. People all over the world count down to the New Year as a single unit and watch the spectacular fireworks displays.
The month of December hosts a variety of traditional and global holidays in different regions of the world. All the festivities allow people to partake in the joy of people across cultures and end the year on a joyous note.