Celebrating December Holidays Around the World

December Holidays Around the World

December Holidays by Trev Grant, on Flickr

Happy… I mean Merry… I mean Mosel Tough…I mean where am I? Happy Holidays is an all encompassing term that covers many special days from many different cultures. So depending on where you are during this holiday saturated time, you may be given a different kind of greeting and it would be nice to not only know what they mean but how to respond and participate in the festivities around you.

St. Nicholas Day

This holiday isn’t largely celebrated in the United States but is big in many European countries. Held on the anniversary of St. Nicholas’ death on Dec. 6th 343 AD, it pays tribute to a man who spent most of his life helping those in need. There are many stories about his secret good deeds but one seems particularly well known. A very poor man had three daughters, because of this they did not have dowries and faced futures likely including prostitution.

To save them from this dark fate, St. Nicholas threw a bag of gold for each daughter through their windows. The treasures are said to have landed in stockings or shoes left by the fire to dry. Today, children place a shoe outside their door in the hopes that some treasure will be left inside. In some countries it’s believed that St. Nicholas arrives in November and spends several weeks traveling throughout the countryside on a horse or donkey finding out if children have been good.


This Christian holiday, has many similarities to St. Nicholas Day as far as celebration but has very different roots. It is held on December 25th and celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, whom Christians believe was the son of God. The biblical story tells that he was immaculately conceived to Mary and Joseph and born in a stable because all the inns were full. He went on to perform many miracles, spread the word of God and ultimately be crucified for the sins of humanity. The holiday is celebrated by over 2 billion people worldwide by gift exchange, special masses, music and decorations. One of the most popular is the Christmas tree, originally a pagan tradition decorated by edibles such as nuts and fruit.

Boxing Day

What the heck is this day? It is on so many calendars on December 26th and is popular in Great Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Yet, I had my suspicions it wasn’t a special day a year when all Canadians get out big red gloves and beat up each other. Turns out, the seemingly mysterious holiday ( I once asked a Canadian what it was and she couldn’t tell me) is a bit obscure in its origins but carries the same basic principle.

Some sources say it is because servants traditionally worked Christmas Day but had the following day off and their employers gave them a gift following their service. Another says that church alms boxes, where people donated money and items for the less fortunate, were opened and distributed the day after Christmas. The tradition expanded to include service people such as mail carriers and tradesmen. Many people have the day off where it is celebrated and post-Christmas sales begin marking it as a major shopping day.



A special day times eight, this Jewish holiday, also known as the Festival of Lights, is celebrated Dec. 8th-16th. It observes the rededication of the Second Temple in 165 BC. The ruler at the time had outlawed Judaism and confiscated their temple. Circumcision was banned and animal sacrifices were performed at the altar. The Jewish people organized a revolt and upon success the temple was rededicated but required cleansing.

To complete this, the iconic candle holder known as the Menorah, needed to burn uninterrupted throughout consecutive nights but there was only enough oil to last one. Miraculously, the Menorah burned for eight days, the exact amount of time needed to replenish their oil! Today, special rituals are held for each day and branch of the Menorah. The ninth and middle candle is higher than the rest and is there in case you actually need the light of a candle since it is forbidden to light the others for practical purposes.


This young holiday is less religious and more ideological and strives to reconnect individuals with their African culture. Created in 1966 by Mualana Kareng, a professor of African studies, activist and author, it’s celebrated from Dec. 26th-Jan. 1st. The Swahili word mean first fruits of the harvest. Each day is dedicated to a principal he believed represented the best within communities. They are unity, self determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith. Kareng originally created it as an alternative for the black community, as a unique way for them to celebrate themselves versus imitating dominate society, but now it is widely incorporated and celebrated in addition to other holidays.

Festivus- Holiday for the Rest of Us

Don’t forget the best of all, the one that was created basically for fun and made popular by the television sitcom Seinfeld. It was created as a way to celebrate the holidays without dedicating to just one and avoiding any pressures that come with them. The holiday seems comparable to April Fool’s Day mixed with a 30th birthday party mixed with an ugly Christmas sweater party. Make it whatever you want, celebrate your pet peeves, how much Mondays suck, cats in sinks, whatever suites your fancy…just celebrate happily and creatively.

It was originally conceived by the writer Dan O’Keefe and passed on to Seinfeld through his son who was a screenwriter for the show. The event was a family tradition for years and included signature events such as the “Airing of Grievances” and “Feats of Strength” in place of gift exchanges and decorations.

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