Christmas isn’t the only holiday in December with traditions, history, and magic.
Believe it or not, it's not allllll about Santa and snowmen for everyone this season. While Christmas gets the majority of the attention in December, there are many other important holidays celebrated around the world that happen at the same time. Here are seven that we find fascinating!
Each year on December 8th, Buddhists around the world celebrate the day that Siddhartha Gautama (aka Buddha!) achieved enlightenment through meditation. The word Bodhi means awakening or enlightenment. This holiday is less about decorating and gift-giving and more about spending time reflecting, meditating, and simply being present.
Yule (The Winter Solstice)
This ancient holiday marks the return of the sun as it occurs on the shortest day of the year (This year it is December 21st). Originally celebrated in Central and Eastern Europe in honor of the mythological God Odin (King of the Gods), its popularity has grown over the years. And yes, the Yule log comes from this old pagan tradition!
This eight-day holiday, also known as the “Festival of Lights,” is a Jewish holiday celebrating the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem in the Second Century B.C. Each night a candle is lit on the menorah at sunset. Each candle symbolizes the number of days that the Temple lantern stayed lit. This sacred holiday includes singing songs, baking foods like latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (jelly-filled doughnuts), and exchanging small gifts.
From December 26th to January 1st, Kwanzaa celebrations are held in the United States to honor African heritage in African-American culture. First celebrated in 1966, it has grown in popularity over the decades and is inspired by traditional African harvest festival customs. It focuses on building family tradition, culture, and community. The holiday focuses on celebrating seven principles and lighting a candle each night in the Kinara (candleholder) in honor of each principle.
Celebrated mostly in the United Kingdom, Boxing Day is the day after Christmas and is traditionally the day to give gifts to the less fortunate. Today it is better known as a shopping day when stores offer major sales. The day also has religious connections and is celebrated as Saint Stephen's Day in Ireland and the Catalonia region of Spain. It is also well known for a day of feasting on delicious leftovers!
Held in Japan on December 31st, this celebration is similar to New Year's Eve across the globe with a few differences. Originally, instead of partying, this was a day to clean the house, pay off debts, and bathing so the final hours of the year are relaxing and not exhausting (love that idea!). Another tradition is enjoying a delicious bowl of Toshikoshi soba for NYE dinner. Why Soba? The noodles can be bitten through so they ‘break’ with the negative events of the year past.
From December 21 to 25 Hindus worship Lord Ganesha, the elephant-headed Lord of culture and new beginnings. Family members work to mend past mistakes and bring Ganesha’s blessings of joy and harmony into five realms of their life, a wider circle each day: family, friends, associates, culture, and religion. Back in 1985, Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, founder of Hinduism Today magazine, conceived of and introduced Pancha Ganapati. With five days of gift-giving at the time of year when Christmas is widely celebrated, it offers Hindu families, especially in the West, a meaningful way to participate in the holiday season without compromising their Hindu values.