December marks a pretty festive time of the year (especially if you have friends who get started on the holidays the second the turkey gets put away). With how commercialized Christmas is in the West (especially in America), there are definitely times “Christmas” and “holiday” just get mushed together in this synonymous December vibe. So what else is going on in December? Let’s look at a handful of not-Christmas December holidays from around the world.
No you don’t get to strap on some gloves and throw hands with random people you find in the street. Boxing Day is celebrated the day after Christmas (December 26), having started in the UK. The day used to carry the spirit of giving to the poor, but it’s now essentially a “second Christmas” day for holiday shopping. Like Black Friday 2: Electric Boogaloo (though Black Friday has taken over more in some countries). At the end of the day, is there really anything more symbolic of the human race?
Boxing Day is primarily observed in the UK, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. It also lands on the same day as St. Stephen’s Day, so sometimes sporting events like horse races and rugby line up with Boxing Day. No boxing matches with poorly wrapped cardboard boxes for gloves, though.
An 8 day celebration beginning on the 25th day of the 9th month of the ecclesiastical year on the Hebrew calendar, Hanukkah starts anywhere from late November to even late December when you convert to the Gregorian calendar.
Perhaps one of the most common Hanukkah symbols is the menorah (or hanukkiah), the candelabrum with 9 branches. 8 of the branches symbolize each day of Hanukkah, where one is lit each night. The center candle is used to light these 8. Hanukkah carries comparatively fewer obligations in religious terms and doesn’t even appear in the Old Testament and gained most of its popularity in North America. Many credit this to a kind of “Christmas effect”.
Further Reading: A Short History and Overview of Hanukkah
Starting on December 26th and ending on January 1st the following year, Kwanzaa is based on traditions taken from numerous African cultures. Following the Watts riots in 1965 Maulana Karenga created the holiday in 1966 for Black Americans to celebrate African history and culture history as an alternative to Christmas. Kwanzaa’s name is derived from a Swahili phrase translate to “first fruits”
Under the banner of “things that celebrate the winter solstice,” Dōngzhì literally translates to “winter solstice.” It is observed by Chinese, Taiwanese, Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese cultures during the winter solstice, which lands somewhere between December 21st and December 23rd. The longer daylight hours following the solstice are meant to symbolise more positive energies flowing into one’s life.
While this used to be a day where nobody worked, its observance in China has been somewhat lessened, with Dōngzhì being a normal working day now. Dōngzhì is the last festival of the year, preceding the Lunar New Year; its symbolism that everyone turns one year older as a universal turning point for all people.
On the Gregorian calendar Yaldā is celebrated around December 21 (give or take about a day). On the Iranian solar calendar, Yaldā falls on the night of the last day of the ninth month (and the first day of the tenth). As the longest (and generally darkest night) of the year, Yaldā’s traditions often include getting together with family and staying up as long as possible, the following sunrise symbolic of goodwill.
Soyal is held on December 21st by the Zuni and Hopi peoples. Ceremonially, it marks the reawakening of the sun–as the winter solstice is the longest night. For the Hopi people, the actual winter ceremonies are not open to the public, and many rituals are practiced in sacred, underground chambers called kivas. Prayers are sent so the sun may return and bless crops for the next season. A Palulukonuh (Plumed serpent) is offered a meal, so that it may not swallow the sun.
More random holiday shenanigans here.