While Christmas is the most popular event happening every December, this is not the only celebration people look forward to at the end of the year. If you look at the world calendar, you will find that there are so many holidays that people worldwide would celebrate come December. While some of these celebrations are solemn, others are full of fun and merrymaking.
If you are wondering what the other countries are celebrating every December, take a look at this list of December holidays worldwide.
Christmas needs no introduction. Although this event is mainly celebrated by followers of the Christian faith, people worldwide are familiar with Christmas. Even non-Christians have learned to embrace the Christmas tradition.
For Christians, Christmas marks the birth of Jesus Christ, whom they believe is sent by God to save the world from sin. But centuries before Jesus was born, early Europeans were already celebrating light and birth during the darkest days of winter. Some cultures rejoice during the winter solstice, where the worst of winter is already over, and it’s time to look forward to the long hours of sunlight. Winter is also a perfect time to celebrate in most areas around Europe. During this time, cattle have to be slaughtered since they will not be fed during winter. As such, they will have the most supply of fresh meat. In addition, the wine and beer will finally be fermented during this time and are ready for drinking.
Today, the Christmas holiday is still widely celebrated. Taking place every December 25, every country or culture that celebrates Christmas has its unique way of commemorating this special event. Some of these involve sharing delicious meals on Christmas eve and exchanging gifts. While most people celebrate Christmas decorating their homes with lights and setting up a Christmas tree, others would use this opportunity to travel and spend quality time with their loved ones.
In Japan, Christmas is still a relatively new concept. Japanese people have only recognized Christmas for the past couple of decades, and they see it as an event to spread love and cheer. Some would even consider this holiday as a romantic couples day instead of a religious festivity. What’s even enjoyable is that many Japanese families would celebrate Christmas by sharing KFC meals at dinner. And instead of cooking a big feast at home like most families around the world would, most of them would instead make a dinner reservation at a restaurant.
In Poland, locals celebrate Christmas by sharing a “Christmas wafer”. It’s a white square wafer that’s as thin as paper and made from flour and water. In the middle is an image of Nativity. Eaten before dinner, each guest at the table must break a piece of this wafer before passing it on to the next. Sometimes, pets even get to join in the fun!
In Central Europe, especially in Slovakia, people would share carp for Christmas dinner. But instead of buying frozen fish from the supermarket, tradition requires them to let the fish stay in a bathtub for days before it is slaughtered for cooking. Locals believe that the scales of the carp will bring them luck and good fortune for the coming year.
Greeks also have a different way of celebrating Christmas. Aside from setting up grand Christmas trees, they will also build boats next to the trees and decorate them with lights. The first Christmas tree in Greece was erected by King Otto in 1883 and was put up next to a decorated boat. It is their way of celebrating the local men’s victorious return from fishing excursions. Nowadays, big cities like Athens are still building ships during Christmas and would decorate them with lights.
If your idea of celebrating Christmas is to shop until you drop, then head to Germany, where sprawling Christmas markets pop up all over the country every December. When shopping, do what the locals do. Carry a mug of mulled wine in one hand and a bratwurst in the other as you go from one market to another!
In the Philippines, Christmas is a big thing. As a predominantly Christian nation, the country turns into a festive mood at the start of the “ber” months. As Early As September, locals can be seen lighting up Christmas trees and decorating their houses with big stars and colourful lights. On Christmas Eve, families will gather for a mass before sharing a big feast.
Hanukkah is a Jewish celebration celebrated for eight days, starting at the end of November until the first week of December. This religious festival includes the nightly lighting of the menorah, a candelabrum that has nine branches. The celebration also includes reciting special prayers and sharing a feast of fried dishes.
Hanukkah is also called Chanukah. In Hebrew, the word “Chanukah” means dedication. Hanukkah is named as such because it celebrates the rededication of the Holy Temple. This religious event starts on the eve of Kislev, and the celebration goes on for eight days. On the Georgian calendar, this usually runs from November 28 until December 6. The
The dates of Hanukkah would vary. That’s because the dates of Jewish holidays are determined by the ancient Hebrew calendar instead of the Gregorian calendar, which we are all familiar with. Meanwhile, the Hebrew calendar is based on the lunar cycle. So, although Hanukkah starts on the same day each year on the Hebrew calendar, it does not usually sync with the Gregorian calendar. Therefore, it has a “different” date each year. But generally, the date tends to fall somewhere between late November and early December.
Although Hannukah is a minor holiday with strictly religious roots, it has attained major cultural significance. At the heart of Hanukkah is the nightly lighting of the menorah, a candelabrum that holds nine candles. One of the candles is known as the shamash and is used to light the other eight candles. On the first night, one candle is lit, and then another candle on the second night, and so on. By the eighth night, all candles will already be lit.
Special prayers are recited before the menorah is lit every night, followed by the singing of traditional Jewish songs. The menorah is illuminated by different household members and placed by the window or doorway. It’s also lit in synagogues and some other public places.
The feast is one of the most awaited events in the celebration of Hanukkah. Since the Hanukkah miracle involved oil, it is customary to eat foods cooked in oil. One of the most popular dishes served during Hanukkah is the potato latke, an Eastern European classic. This consists of a pancake made of potatoes garnished with sour cream or applesauce. Another favourite is the jelly-filled doughnut known as sufganiyot.
Hanukkah is also celebrated with fun and games. Dreidel, a traditional Jewish game, is usually played. This game consists of a spinning top with four sides that have Hebrew letters printed on each side. Each letter signifies the rules of the game. According to history, during the reign of Antiochus IV, all Jewish practices have been outlawed especially studying and reading the Torah, a Jewish bible. So, when soldiers would visit Jewish communities, those studying the Torah would pretend they were playing dreidel to avoid arrest. Nowadays, dreidel is still a popular game among the Jewish communities and is often played during Hanukkah.
“Ma’oz tzur” is a famous song that is sung on the holiday of Hanukah.
Kwanzaa is an African cultural holiday that celebrates culture, tradition, and family. Unlike most of the December holidays around the world, Kwanzaa is not a religious celebration. It is a time where people of African heritage, regardless of religion, will celebrate their history and culture. The festival would last for seven days, starting from December 26 until January 1.
Kwanzaa started in the United States in 1966, while Canada began celebrating this holiday in 1993. The term “Kwanzaa” is a Swahili word that means first fruits. Just like the other holiday celebrations around the world, Kwanzaa is celebrated with merrymaking and feast. Throughout the week, families would gather and take part in some ceremonies. Others would decorate their houses with the colours of the Pan-African flag, which are green, red, and black. People will also don traditional African clothing. The women will wear colourful robes known as the kaftan while the men will wear a bright shirt known as dashiki.
The Kwanzaa celebration is centred around a candle holder known as the kinara. This candle holder will hold three green candles, three red ones, and a single black candle. Every day during the weeklong celebration, one candle is lit. By the end of the festival on January 1, all candles will already be lit.
Each of the candles in the kinara signifies a different value of the African culture, which include the following:
- Imani – faith
- Kujichagulia – self-determination
- Kuumba – creativity
- Nia – having a purpose
- Ujamaa – supporting businesses in the community
- Ujima – responsibility and community work
- Umoja – unity
During Kwanzaa, each of these values will be discussed among families while the candles are being lit.
There are seven essential things during the Kwanzaa celebration that represent the African values and the community. The first of these is the candle holder, the kinara. It is the thing that holds all seven candles and signifies the African heritage. As for the candles placed on the kinara, they represent light for each of the seven days.
The rest of the symbols are placed beside the kinara. These include the Mkeka, a decorative straw mat that’s placed underneath the kinara, and this represents the past. Fruits and vegetables are also set by the candle holder, and they signify abundance. Then there’s a cup where every family member will drink from, which represents sharing. Parents will also include corns, one ear for every child in the family. There are also gifts, which are usually handmade. These gifts will be given on the seventh day to encourage achievement, self-determination, and success.
Boxing Day is celebrated every December 26 in Great Britain and several Commonwealth countries, including New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, and Canada. In some other countries, they celebrate this day as St. Stephen’s Day, which was named after a Christian saint.
It’s not clear why the holiday is known as Boxing Day, as there are many different theories as to how it got its name. One explanation states that during the 19th Century, December 26 was a day where servants of the wealthy English people would get time off from work. During this day, the servants are given boxes with Christmas presents and foods inside to take home to their families. Another explanation is that the day after Christmas is when collection boxes for the poor are opened for the money to be given out.
Recently, many people believe that Boxing Day refers to the day where people will have to deal with all the empty boxes and wrappers left after opening all the Christmas gifts!
Boxing Day is celebrated differently in various countries. In Canada, people would consider Boxing Day a time for shopping since most stores will hold sales the day after Christmas. Meanwhile, the UK, New Zealand, and Australia will celebrate Boxing Day with sports matches. It is a day where people watch and play soccer, cricket, and rugby.
For the people of Ireland, Boxing Day is celebrated as St. Stephen’s Day. During this day, people would dress up in costumes that were made from straws. While donning the outfit, they parade on the street carrying a fake bird on a decorated pole. According to legend, the bird, a wren, is said to have betrayed the Irish soldiers during the olden times. Therefore, to avoid bad luck, businesses and homes will hand out treats and money to the people who are carrying the pole with the fake bird. Also known as Wren Day, these celebrations are still taking place in various parts of Ireland, as well as Newfoundland and Labrador.
In some Mediterranean countries, such as the Bahamas, Boxing Day will start Junkanoo, which is a weeklong festival that will last until New Year’s Day. It is believed that Junkanoo started during the 18th century when slaves to the wealthy people were given a break after Christmas Day.
These days, the islands of the Bahamas will hold parades during Boxing Day. Locals in elaborate costumes and fancy masks would participate in street parades and parties with lots of food and music.
Omisoka is known as the Japanese version of New Year’s Eve. It’s a significant event for the Japanese people celebrated at the start of the new year. Like the New Year celebration, Omisoka takes place on the last day of the year, which is December 31, in preparation for the coming year. It is celebrated in a clean slate where people purify their houses to remove the clutter of last year. This practice is known as Osoji, where everything is cleaned from top to bottom. After cleaning their houses, Japanese people will start hanging traditional New Year’s decorations known as the Shime-kazari. This decoration is made from a sacred Shinto straw rope and other materials, such as white paper strips and ferns.
The Omisoka is celebrated with a gathering of friends and family, and everyone will share a giant feast of traditional Japanese foods. People would often celebrate, although others would prefer to watch the nationwide countdown on TV. There will also be talent competitions during the countdown to midnight. But Omisoka is not only about parties and entertainment. This holiday is also considered a spiritual event in Japan. At midnight, Japanese locals would head to Shinto shrines, and large cast-iron bells from temples will start ringing. Aside from ringing the bells, temples will also give out traditional sweet drinks known as the Amazake.
The Japanese people follow many local traditions during the Omisoka celebration. On the night of December 31, they will clean their houses and feast on a large meal. At 11 PM, families would gather around to share the last meal of Toshikoshi-soba (Japanese noodles). This is a tradition that stems from the belief that long noodles can give them a much longer life and can help them to cross year after year.
One of the reasons why there’s usually plenty of food prepared on the last day of the year is because Japanese people consider it unlucky to cook food in your kitchen during the first three days of the New Year. In addition, most businesses are closed during these days. Since the Japanese people work a lot and do not often go on vacation that much, they would take their time off from December 29 until January 3. During this time, they would spend quality time with their families before going back to work after the holiday is over.
On December 31, Japan will hold a national competition known as the Red vs White Singing Contest, where contestants will be competing against each other up until the half-hour before midnight. This contest is somewhat similar to the American Idol.
New Year’s Eve
People around the world have been celebrating the start of the year for centuries. Nowadays, the New Year festivities start on the eve of December 31, known as New Year’s Eve, which is the last day in the Gregorian calendar. The celebration continues until the early hours of January 1. Although people have different ways of celebrating New Year’s Eve, it usually includes attending parties and sharing delicious meals over dinner.
The earliest recorded celebration of New Year dates back to 4,000 years ago during the time of ancient Babylon. Babylonians consider the first new moon after the vernal equinox as the start of the year. This is usually the day in late March where there’s an equal amount of darkness and sunlight. They mark this occasion with religious festivities known as Akitu, which involves different ritual activities every single day for 11 days. Aside from the new year, Atiku also celebrates the mythical victory of Marduk, a Babylonian god, over the evil goddess Tiamat. It is also during this time that the new king will be crowned, and the divine mandate of the current ruler will be symbolically renewed.
As time went by, civilizations worldwide have started to develop sophisticated calendars and considered the first day of the year as an agricultural or astronomical event. For instance, in Egypt, the year begins with the annual flooding of the River Nile, which also takes place during the rising of the star Sirius. Meanwhile, the first day of the Chinese New Year occurs during the second new moon, right after the winter solstice.
When the early Roman calendar was created, it consisted of ten months and 304 days where each new year starts at the vertical equinox. According to tradition, the calendar was created by Romulus, who founded Rome during the 18th century BC. Another king named Numa Pompilius has added two more months on the calendar, Januarius and Februarius. In 46 BC, Julius Caesar addressed the problem by consulting with prominent mathematicians and astronomers. That’s when the Julian calendar was introduced, similar to the modern Gregorian calendar that we now use today.
As part of the reform, Julius Caesar considered January 1 the first day of the year. This is also in honour to Janus, the Roman God of beginnings, whose two faces allow him to look into the past and forward into the future. To celebrate the start of the year, Romans offer sacrifices to Janus and exchange gifts. They also decorate their homes with laurel leaves and branches and participate in some raucous parties. During Medieval Europe, Christian leaders have temporarily replaced January 1 as the first of the year with days that carry more religious significance, such as December 25, the birth of Jesus Christ. In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII had re-established January 1 as New Year’s Day.
In most countries, the New Year celebration starts on December 31 and continues until the early hours of January. The event is celebrated with parties and a generous feast to bestow good luck for the coming year. In Spain, people will eat a dozen grapes before midnight, which symbolizes their hopes for the coming months. In some countries, the traditional New Year’s dishes often include legumes, which look like coins and signify future financial success.
Since pig represents prosperity and progress in various parts of the world, pork is often present on the New Year’s Eve table in Hungary, Cuba, Portugal, and Austria. Ring-shaped pastries and cakes, which signify that the year has come full circle, are often present in the New Year celebration of Mexico, Greece, and the Netherlands. In Norway and Sweden, rice pudding with almonds inside is served during New Years’ Eve dinner. Whoever finds the nut can receive 12 months of good fortune.
Other common customs on New Year include watching firework displays and singing songs to welcome the year. In many English-speaking countries, the famous song, “Auld Lang Syne”, is often sung. Most people also create their New Year’s Resolutions at the start of the year, which started during the ancient Babylonians.
Perhaps, the most popular New Year’s celebration is the dropping of a giant ball at the stroke of midnight in New York’s Times Square. This iconic event is watched by millions of people around the world. Several towns and cities in the United States have also created versions of the ball dropping in Times Square by organizing public drops of different items.
Festivus is a secular holiday celebrated every December 23 as an alternative to the pressures and commercialism that the Christmas season brings. Instead of spending hours decorating with Christmas trees and worrying about looking for the perfect gift to give, this zany holiday is celebrated with an unadorned pole made of aluminium, in contrast to the fancy holiday decors. Those celebrating the Festivus will also participate in the “Airing of Grievances”, which is an opportunity to inform others of how they have disappointed you in the previous year. It is then followed by a Festivus Dinner and culminated with the “Feats of Strength”, where the head of the household will be pinned.
Festivus was invented by television writer Daniel O’Keefe during the mid-1960s, but it gained more popularity in 1997 when featured in the Seinfeld episode, “The Strike”. The episode shows Frank Constanza (Jerry Stiller) had enough of the holiday season after having a nasty run-in with a holiday shopper at a store. Frank had a fight with the shopper over a doll, which pushed him over the edge of “holiday bliss”. This has led to the birth of a “Festivus for the Rest of Us”.
So, how is the Festivus celebrated? According to Frank Constanza, all you need to celebrate Festivus is an aluminium pole that’s free from any decorations. Unlike the Christmas tree, which requires you to go to the store, the aluminium pole may already be in your home, so you don’t have to go out and buy anything. The bar must be free from tinsel or other traditional holiday decors because, according to Frank, the tinsel is just too distracting.
Next, gather your loved ones to air your grievances. Festivus is the time to let the people in your life know how much they have disappointed you in the past year. This is when you will inform them of the troubles they gave you. After airing your grievances, it’s time for a feast. So, prepare the dinner table and tuck into a simple dinner meal, usually consisting of a lasagna. The next part is known as the Feats of Strength. During this time, the host, the head of the household, will challenge the dinner guest to pin him to the ground.
Although Festivus maybe a created as a joke, Frank’s commentary about the event as being an alternative to the pressures that the commercialization of Christmas has bought is an idea that everyone can relate to during the holidays.
Yule is an ancient festival that’s typically associated with the Germanic people. For a long time, this festival was considered a pagan celebration before it underwent a Christianized reformulation. It is for this reason that some of the customs of the Christmas celebrations are similar to the Yule traditions.
Yule is often celebrated in Germany and many German-speaking countries. It is celebrated around the middle of winter and will last for 12 days. It’s the people’s way of celebrating the longest night of the year, also known as the Winter Solstice and the New Year. As a result, many people celebrate Yule during December 21, while in some countries, the celebration coincides with Christmas Day.
But Yule is more than just celebrating light. Besides, Winter Solstice is also the period after which the day will only get longer. This is not unusual since many countries worldwide also celebrate during this period, such as Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, and more.
It’s not clear when the Yule tradition started. However, historians associate Yule with Germanic paganism. As per the Wiccan rituals, the Yule Festival celebrates the legendary battle between the Holly King and the young Oak King. The Holly King represents the darkness of the year that has already passed, while the Oak King refers to the light of the coming year.
Some of the Yule traditions include making an altar, reciting prayers, and welcoming the Sun. It also includes decorating a tree, burning a Yule log, performing a cleansing ritual, and many more.
One of the most significant elements of the Yule celebration is the Yule log. Also called the Christmas block, the Yule log is a log that’s carefully selected and then burned on the hearth or a fireplace. People would then gather around the burning fireplace, and share stories as the Yule log slowly burns.
Aside from the Yule log, there are several other elements present in the Yule celebration. Some of these elements have a link to the Christmas celebrations. For instance, one of the traditions that have been adopted at Christmas is the decoration of the Christmas tree. The Yule boar is also likened to the Christmas ham, while the Yule singing is similar to the Christmas carols.
Several families around the world still celebrate Yule today, especially in Europe. They celebrate by creating a Yule log with the kids. The record can be made from natural wood, making for an exciting table centrepiece or a gift. This is made out of three pieces of wood that have similar diameters and lengths. They are then bundled using wire, although ribbon is sometimes used. The other materials needed are some leaves, craft straw, and pine needles.
To create the Yule log, all three pieces of wood are bound together and secured using the wire or ribbon. Craft straws can also be used as an alternative to ribbons. This will give the Yule log a beautiful rustic look. When the record is already secured, stick the pine needles and some other leaves on its side to make it look festive. Sometimes, berries and other decorative pieces are also added to make the log look more festive.
Aside from making the Yule log, some families celebrate Yule by organizing outdoor celebrations. They would sit around a bonfire, and as the Yule log burns, they share funny stories. The fire creates a cosy and warm ambience and a perfect opportunity for families to bond over delicious treats such as hot drinks and s’mores.
Just like Christmas, Yule is also celebrated by exchanging greeting cards. But instead of buying cards, most people would create their DIY greeting cards. They are inexpensive yet thoughtful presents, especially if it comes with a beautiful personal message. Creating DIY greeting cards is also a fun activity that parents can do with their kids during Yule celebrations. It’s a great way to allow the kids to express themselves and hone their creative skills.
Yule may not be as popular as the other December holidays around the world, but it’s undoubtedly an exciting event that many people still celebrate today. Although Yule started as a pagan holiday, it’s a great tradition that encourages families to bond, which is the same concept in Christmas celebrations. For those who celebrate Yule, they consider this holiday as a time to spend more quality time with their friends and family.
Santa Lucia, also known as Lucia’s Day or, for short, St. Lucia, is a Festival of Lights celebrated every December 13 in some Nordic countries, such as Sweden, Norway, and some parts of Finland. This celebration is in honour of Saint Lucia or St. Lucy. Saint Lucia is a Christian martyr who was executed by the Romans during 304 CE due to her religious beliefs.
The Saint Lucia festival is also traced back to Lucia as being Adam’s first wife. It is believed that she consorted with the devil, and her kids were considered invisible infernal. The name Lucia is also associated with lux (light) and Lucifer (Satan), and that its exact origins remain unclear.
During the earlier centuries, the Norse would celebrate the winter solstice by setting up large bonfires meant to scare the evil spirits away and change the course of the Sun. When the Norse converted to Christianity around 1000 BC, they incorporated the legend of Saint Lucia into their celebrations. Thus, the modern festival of light combines the elements of both paganism and Christianity.
Santa Lucia is celebrated with an annual candlelit procession where girls and boys clad in white gowns sing songs together while holding candles. Nowadays, real candles have already been replaced with battery-powered ones for safety. The festival also marks the start of the Christmas season in Scandinavia and is meant to bring light and hope during the darkest season of the year.
In many Scandinavian countries, each town will elect its own Saint Lucia. Thus, the celebration will start with a procession led by the appointed St. Lucia and followed by the girls and boys clad in white gowns. There are also competitions for the role of Saint Lucia, aired on National TV. Some schools will also select their own Lucia. Local newspapers also ask their subscribers to vote among those competing for the role. These days, there’s no longer a national competition of “Lucia of Sweden”, and schools will decide who the next Lucia will be by organizing a draw.
Tradition has it that Saint Lucia wore a “light in her hair”. Thus, aside from holding candles, the girls who attend the procession will also wear lighted wreaths on their heads. On the other hand, the star boys, also dressed in white gowns, would carry stars on sticks and don paper cones on their heads. As the lights are dimmed, the children will begin singing traditional songs.
On the day of the festival, all schools in Scandinavia will close at noon so that families can start preparing for the holiday. Most families would observe Saint Lucia in their homes by having one of their kids dressed in white and serve hot drinks and baked goods to other family members, such as ginger biscuits and saffron-flavoured buns shaped like curled cats and have raisins as the eyes. These treats are sometimes served with Swedish mulled wine.
Most Swedes are familiar with the traditional Lucia song. They know it by heart and can sing it in an instant. On the morning of the Santa Lucia celebration, the local radio stations would play the songs in a more expert rendering, such as professional singers and school choirs.
We hope that we have provided more information on the December global festivities that people practice worldwide.