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Throughout the month of December, there are a variety of different holidays that are celebrated by different cultures around the world.
Christmas was historically celebrated by the Christian faith to celebrate of the birth of Jesus Christ on December 25th. Today, some still celebrate this holiday for religious reasons and others celebrate this holiday solely because it is a common cultural holiday that is celebrated in the United States. Christmas looks different in different cultures. Christmas in the United States is celebrated on December 25th using Christmas trees and visits from Santa Claus.
In Australia, Christmas is celebrated during the summer months. Instead of Christmas trees, they celebrate with a Christmas Bush. This is a native Australian tree that has green leaves with red flowers.
In England, Christmas looks more like the way Christmas is celebrated in the United States. One difference is that instead of Santa Claus, children are waiting to receive gifts from Father Christmas. Another difference is that instead of leaving cookies and milk out on Christmas Eve, they leave mince pies and brandy.
In Iceland, instead of one Santa Claus, there are 13 of them. Instead of Santa, he is known as Yule Lads. One Yule Lads arrives every night leading up to 13 days before Christmas. Yule Lads leaves small gifts in the children’s shoes and leaves them at their windowsills.
Hanukkah, or also known as the Festival of Lights, is an eight-day Jewish celebration that commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. Those who took part in the rededication believed they had witnessed a miracle. The menorah’s candles were burning and only had enough oil for one day, however, it continued to burn for eight days. Hanukkah starts on the 25th of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar. During the eight days of Hanukkah after sundown a new candle is lit and added to the menorah. The ninth candle is called the shamash, or the helper, and is used to light all of the other candles.
Some other traditions of Hanukkah consist of eating holiday foods, playing games and exchanging gifts. Some unique foods that are served include jam filled donuts, also known as sufganiyot, and potato pancakes, also known as latkes. Playing with spinning tops called dreidels is a fun activity that takes place during the celebration of Hanukkah.
Kwanzaa was created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga. After the Watts Riots, Dr. Maulana Karenga wanted to bring African Americans together as a community. This is when he started to research African “first fruit” celebrations. Karenga combined several different harvest celebrations together which is what created the celebration that is known today as Kwanzaa.
The celebration of Kwanzaa starts on December 26th and lasts until January 1st. Kwanzaa comes from the phrase “matunda ya kwanza” which means “first fruits” in Swahili. Although every family has their own traditions, common celebrations consist of singing and dancing, storytelling, poetry reading, African drumming and having one large meal with the entire family. The large meal is called Kamaru and is held on the evening of the December 31st.
On the start of Kwanzaa, one child from the family lights one of the candles on the Kinara. Each night when a candle is lit, they talk about one of the seven principals. The seven principles are called Nguzo Saba. Each principal is a value of African culture.
Boxing Day is celebrated the day after Christmas, December 26th. This holiday originated in the United Kingdom and is celebrated there and other countries such as Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. This holiday is linked to a British tradition where employers would give their employees a box to take home that would contain gifts, money, and sometimes left-over food. These boxes of gifts were appreciation to the employees, much like a Christmas bonus. In addition to gifts from employers, clergy members many times gave these boxes of gifts to the poor. This was where common acts of charity began.
Many countries celebrate Boxing Day in their own unique way. For example, in England, Boxing Day is celebrated by having horse races and soccer matches. The Bahamas celebrate Boxing Day by having parades and festivals in the street.
Omisoka takes place on New Year’s Eve, December 31st. It considered the second most important day in Japanese traditions with New Year’s Day being the most important. Ominoka is the final day of the old year and the eve of the new year.
Traditions on this day include families cleaning their home and having a bowl of long noodles called toshikoshi-soba to enter the new year. Cooking is very important on the last day of the year because it is considered unlucky to cook in the kitchen within the first three days of the New Year and most restaurants and businesses are closed. Right before midnight, many individuals go to visit temples or shrines for Hatsumode. Temples typically ring a large bell at midnight to signify the 108 earthly wants that created human suffering. The ringing of the bell is called Joya-no-kane. Individuals are also given a sweet drink called Amazake as they are enjoying time at the temple.
There are many unique holidays that are found in the month of December that are celebrated by different cultures. It is important to respect other holidays and traditions during not only the month of December, but year-round. One thing you could do to show your support to other cultural holidays would be to do research and find out more about celebrations and traditions celebrated by other cultures. There are many holidays that are not as publicized here in the United States but are equally as important to have background knowledge on. We must recognize the importance of holidays, not only ones that we celebrate, but that are celebrated by other cultures as well.
Author: Samantha Potocnik
Samantha is an intern at EVOLVE and a student at the University of Wisconsin River Falls.