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There are many holidays and festivities that take place all over the world during this time of year. Let’s take a quick look at some!

Christmas Gifts

(December 25)

  • Observed on December 25, this Christian holiday celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

  • Families decorate their homes with evergreen trees, tinsel, and other ornaments that represent winter and the spirit of the Holiday.

  • Current traditions such as carols and mistletoe originated from pagan winter festivals like Koleda or traditional Celtic celebrations.

  • Families exchange gifts to represent the gift of love and peace celebrated on this day. Participants traditionally hold a service in which they sing holiday-specific songs, recite poems and narration in commemoration of the celebration.

  • The Christmas holiday as we know it today had its origins in Victorian England under the rule of Queen Victoria, including decorating the tree and house for the holiday, creating Christmas cards, and gathering for a feast, featuring Christmas crackers filled with toys, treats, and paper crowns.

  • Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is credited with helping to popularize these new holiday traditions, with its themes of family, goodwill, charity, happiness and peace.

(Begins on the  25th day of Kislev)

  • Also known as the Festival of Lights, this Jewish holiday is observed for 8 nights and commemorates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem following the Maccabean revolt in the 2nd century.

  • Nightly rituals include lighting an additional candle on the Menorah to remember the holiday’s miracle of a one-day oil supply lasting 8 nights - though there are variations of this ritual, such as the timing of the lighting or even how many sets of candles are lit in each household.

  • Oil-fried or oil-baked foods such as latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts) are popular Hanukkah dishes and the game of dreidel is played following the nightly candle lighting.

  • Children are given gelt (money) and other gifts may be exchanged on each of the 8 nights.

Image by Dad Grass

(December 26 - January 1)

  • First celebrated in 1966 after it was created by Maulana Karenga, a major figure in the Black Power movement, this annual celebration honors the rituals and customs of the African-American community.

  • Based on various African harvest festivals, the name means “first fruits” in Swahili, and celebrates the seven principles of Kwanzaa, including Umoja (Unity), Kujichagulia (Self-Determination), Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity) and Imani (Faith).

  • The seven-day holiday includes lighting candles of the Kanara, community and family discussions around the core principles, and artistic performances that celebrate the traditions and community of African American culture.

  • The holiday culminates in a feast called Karamu, held on the 6th day. Homes are decorated with art and colorful kente cloth, while participants wear traditional kaftans.

(December 31)

  • Traditionally, this day was marked by activities meant to close out the old year and begin the new, such as house cleaning, driving out evil spirits, repaying debts, and bathing in the final hours of the day. 

  • Modern gatherings may include the four-hour viewing of Kōhaku Uta Gassen, which has its roots in the ancient culture of showing reverence towards the gods of the current year and the next.

  • Soba or udon noodles are often eaten, based on the tradition of associating long noodles with passing from one year to the next. 

  • Many visit a shrine or temple at midnight, where ritual bonfires may be lit to mark the changing of the year.

Small Street in Japan

(January 6)

  • Also known as Epiphany, this early-January Christian holiday, popular in Spain and Latin America, celebrates the story of the Three Wise Men visiting baby Jesus 12 days after his birth.

  • In honor of the Three Kings bringing gifts to Jesus, children are instructed to leave their shoes by their front doors so gifts can be left for them.

  • Salt and grass may also be left for the camels that the Three Wise Men ride on, similar to leaving treats for Santa and his reindeer on Christmas Eve.

  • Celebrations include parades and performances, and foods like rosca del rey, a Mexican sweet bread a mile long and shaped like a crown (possibly with a baby Jesus doll hidden inside), are sold and shared.

(Winter Solstice/ December 21)

  • Celebrated by the native peoples of the Zuni and Hopi tribes of the Southwestern United States, this Indigenous winter solstice ceremony is held on December 21, the shortest day of the year.

  • During the ceremony, participants bring back the sun from its long sleep and mark the beginning of a new cycle of the year.

  • Sacred rituals are held in underground chambers known as kivas to honor guardian spirits called kachinas, who may appear during this time (and are said to leave gifts for children when they do).

  • Special prayer sticks called pahos are made from feathers and needles and are exchanged amongst families and friends to bless homes and the community.

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