5 Religious Celebrations in December

5 Religious Celebratons in December

Happy Holidays! This is quite a familiar phrase during the month of December, though generally we tend to focus on two holidays specifically when referring to the holidays: Hanukkah and Christmas. There are roughly 4,200 religions across the globe, and each have special days and times of significance, some falling within the month of December. Granted, since 32% of the world’s population are Christians, Christmas usually does stand at the forefront when you think of holidays at the end of the year. Many of us don’t even know how or why it started, let alone the other holidays that take place in December. In this post, we’ll go over five Religious Celebrations in the month of December and a brief history of the significance as well as some traditional ways of celebrating. 

December 8th: Bodhi Day 

What is it?

Bodhi Day is the day Buddhists celebrate the enlightenment of Buddha. There are many sects of Buddhism around the world- Zen Buddhist, PureLand Buddhist, Mahayana Buddhist, Chan Buddhist, Tibetian Buddhist and Theravadian Buddhist -but they all celebrate Bodhi Day. The beliefs of what actually took place during Buddha’s “great awakening” differ with each sect, but most seem to agree that after trying to achieve what he was searching for using a variety of methods, religions and practices, Buddha Shakyamuni decided he would meditate until he found what he had been looking for. He sat for 49 days, going into a deep meditative state for the last 8 and fasting for 7. Finally he reached spiritual enlightenment, marking December 8th as a very important day in the Buddhist religion. 

How do they celebrate?

Each Buddhist sect commemorates this special day in a variety of ways, but all celebrations serve as a reminder of Buddha’s achievement of Nirvana and what that means for Buddhism. The practice of stringing up multi-colored lights or lighting candles symbolize the enlightenment of Buddha. Some choose to do some additional meditating, some chant Buddhist texts, and others simply perform kind acts for one another. One of the traditions is to celebrate with a meal of cake, tea and readings. 

Dec 12: Our Lady of Guadalupe Day

What is it?

Mexican Catholics celebrate Jesus’s mother Mary, the patron saint of Mexico. According to the Mexican Catholic Faith, in 1531, the Virgin Mary appeared twice to a man named Juan Diego. According to stories, on December 9th, Mary instructed Juan to go to the Bishop and have him build a church on Tepeyac Hill. Not convinced of Juan’s encounter, the Bishop wanted proof, a miracle, that Mary had appeared to him. On December 12th, Juan returned to the hill to find that roses had grown in the spot a cactus once stood. Taking the roses as the proof he needed, he showed them to the Bishop along with an image of Mary on his cloak. This was all the convincing the Bishop needed. He built the church in honor of the miraculous events. 

How do they celebrate?

In preparation for Our Lady of Guadalupe Day, many families set up alters in their homes, consisting of a beautiful portrait of Mary surrounded by candles and flowers. Food, drink, music and dancing are a large part of the celebrations of this day. Many families will save up their money throughout the year to celebrate this special occasion. Traditional feasts consisting of spinach soup, chicken in spiced sauce, rice, stuffed tortillas, black beans, and flan are enjoyed throughout the community. 

 Dec 21- Yule

What it is?

Yule is the celebration of the return of the sun by Pagans. During the days leading up to the first day of Winter, or the Winter Solstice, the days grow shorter as the sun rises. The sun rises a fraction earlier and sets a fraction later each day, providing more light as the days pass. The Norse people took it as a time for feasting, celebrations and if the Icelandic folklore is to be believed, even sacrifices. Many cultures got in on the “sun-worshiping” action after noticing that during the time of darkness, their crops began to die. After many seasons of birth, death and rebirth, they realized once the period of cold and dark was over, the period of warmth and light began.

How do they celebrate?

While Yule is a separate celebration from Christmas, many of the same modern day traditions and celebrations are followed. Many Pagan families gather and partake in a large feast, the traditional dessert of Yule Log, putting up a tree and exchanging gifts. Discussions about the rotation of the earth and all the changes that occur during this season are common. 

Dec 25- Christmas Day

What is it?

Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ to the Virgin Mary. While the exact date of Jesus’s birth is historically unknown, by the mid 4th century, Christians had selected December 25th to mark the occasion. Some believe this date was chosen to correspond to nine months after Jesus’ conception date, while others believe it was chosen to fall during the festivals that occurred near the Winter Solstice. The latter was suggested because of the biblical verse referring to Jesus as the “Sun of Righteousness”.

Many traveled far and wide to visit the newborn whom they believe to be the Son of God, and brought him gifts to celebrate his birth. As the years passed, Christmas became less about the birth of Jesus and more about the gifts and festivities focused on Santa Claus, a jolly old man who delivers presents to good boys and girls Christmas Eve.

How do they celebrate?

Just as in the Pagan celebration of Yule, Christians and non-Christians alike generally put up a tree. Decorated with strings of lights, ornaments and a topper of either a star as a symbol of the Star of Bethlehem which led the way to Jesus’ manger, or an angel which symbolizes the angel Gabriel who appeared to the Virgin Mary in Nazareth, the tree is the central piece of the Christmas display. Nativities are a traditional decoration in Christian households, as well as living Nativity setups sponsored by churches and religious groups.

Over the years, Christmas has been adapted to a time retailers consider a key sales point during the year. With gift-giving being the main focus of modern day Christmas celebrations, a huge emphasis has been placed on the character of Santa Claus, bribing children to behave throughout the year for fear of receiving coal if they were naughty. 

Date Varies- Hanukkah

What is it?

Hanukkah is also known as the Festival of Lights. It is the celebration of when the Maccabean Jews, a small group of fighters liberated and regained control of Jerusalem from the Seleucid Empire, the Syrian Greeks who occupied it. Under the reign of the Syrian Greeks, they imposed their Hellenistic culture which many Jews originally found appealing. By 167 BC, the Syrian Greek leader, Antiochus, began to intensify his campaign and the Temple in Jerusalem, banning Jewish practices. The Maccabees waged a three-year campaign that resulted in Antiochus being overthrown and the rededication of the Temple of Jerusalem. Once it was reclaimed they wanted to light the Temple’s Menorah but discovered there was only enough oil to last one day. Miraculously, the oil fueled the flame for eight days. 

How do they celebrate?

Hanukkah is an eight day celebration during which many Jewish families have festive meals, play games and give gifts to children. Each night during Hanukkah, a flame is lit on the Menorah, symbolizing the miracle of one-day supply of oil lasting eight days. Traditional dishes of foods fried in oil, brisket or chicken, potato pancakes, cakes and donuts. Children play with a dreidel, a four sided top with letters of the Hebrew alphabet meaning “a great miracle happened there”. Small gifts will be given to the children over the eight day celebration. In addition to daily prayers, Jews will recite a prayers called Al ha-Nissim, translating to on or about the miracles, particularly at mealtime. 

Now, when you utter the phrase “Happy Holidays”, you have a better understanding of the various holidays you are including, and are more aware of the world and cultures around you, and the people in it. No matter what religion you are or aren’t and what you celebrate, show respect and tolerance for those who are different from you. If you would love to learn more about the holidays above as well as other holidays throughout the year, we encourage you to explore the topic further. 

Stay tuned to our HOLIDAY section for great gift ideas, recipes, crafts, and more ways to help you celebrate the season! 

Photo credits: Buddah by Al King (CC), Our Lady of Guadalupe by Jesus Gorriti (CC),  Yule by Normadic Lass (CC), Nativity by Jeff Weese (CC), Menorah by Robert Couse-Baker (CC)

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Corinne is a part time hairstylist and a full time wife and mom from Pennsylvania. When she's not at work or chasing after her wild-child, she's busy tackling her latest craft or sewing project. She loves inspiring people to tap into their right-brain creativity. You can check out her girls' clothing at CeceLynn Design.

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    Kristy Timm


    Love this article, Corinne!


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