December is about more than just celebrating Christmas. Christianity might be the world’s most popular religion, but our diverse planet has several religions for which December is a month of great importance. For that reason, December can not only serve as a celebration of the birth of Christ (and getting a ton of presents), it can also serve as a means of educating yourself and expanding your worldview. Earth is filled with a ton of incredibly profound and colorful traditions, that are each valuable contributions to the whole multi-cultural tapestry of humanity.
1. Shab-e Yalda Is a Means For Iranians to Gather and Rejoice in Each Other’s Company
Known as Shab-e Yalda, the Iranian festival celebrates the longest night of the year (aka, the winter solstice), which puts it typically in the December 20-21 range. Originally, the longest night of the year was seen as an ominous time, so the occasion was marked with communion in order to stave off concerns of lurking evil. These days, Iranians take the opportunity to gather with friends and family and enjoy one another’s company while reading poetry.
2. Hanukkah Has Been Celebrated By Jewish People for More Than 2,000 Years
This roving holiday marks the re-dedication of Jerusalem’s Holy Temple in the second century BCE, and is not exclusively held in December, as it can potentially fall anywhere in late November until the end of the year. Across the world, Jewish people mark the eight-day holiday by lighting an additional candle on a menorah each night, and passing out small gifts among themselves. Unlike Christmas, Hanukkah is actually not considered the most important holiday on the Jewish calendar. That honor would fall to Passover.
3. Los Posadas Is a Nine-Day Tradition Celebrated in Parts of Mexico, Guatemala, and the Southwest US
In the United States, Los Posados is an increasingly popular addition to the Christmas season. The nine-day celebration is typically popular among Catholics. Los Posados sees a procession move from home to home throughout a neighborhood, while the people sing and pray. At the end of the walk, people stop at a home or church for feasting, caroling, and piñata destruction.
4. Kwanzaa Was Begun As a Means of Strengthening African Americans’ Ties to their African Heritage
Begun by Maulana Karenga in 1966, Kwanzaa is a seven-day holiday that begins on December 26 and runs through to the New Year. Each day, participants observe and reflect on the seven core principles of the holiday — Umoja (Unity), Kujichagulia (Self-Determination), Ujima (Working Together), Ujamaa (Supporting Each Other), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity), and Imani (Faith). They use colorful decorations, traditional African clothing, readings from the African Pledge, and the lighting of a traditional kinara.
5. Eid-al-Adha Is Islam’s Recognition of One of Biblical History’s Most Important Sacrifices
Though the date of Eid-al-Adha can vary greatly depending on how the Islamic lunar calendar plays out, the holiday is nonetheless an important part of Islamic tradition. Otherwise known as the Feast of the Sacrifice, Eid-al-Adha commemorates the moment when Abraham showed his willingness to sacrifice his eldest son, in order to follow God’s will to the letter. Muslims around the world mark the holiday by dressing in traditional Muslim clothing, and gathering at their local mosque for prayer and sacrifice.
6. Like Hanukkah, the Indian Tradition of Diwali Is Also Called the ‘Festival of Lights’
Celebrated as an official holiday in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar, as well as several other Hindu countries, Diwali is celebrated each year according to the Hindu lunar calendar. Diwali usually falls in late October until mid-November, and more than 800 million people mark the occasion worldwide. Held in honor of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity, Hindus usually celebrate Diwali with sweet treats, new clothes, and fun parties. Like Christmas, it’s also typically a big shopping holiday.
7. The Japanese Equivalent of Thanksgiving Is Niinamesei, a Holiday that Celebrates the Year’s Hard Work
On November 23, Shintoists celebrate Niinamesei, a holiday that was traditionally in celebration of a bountiful harvest. Originally, members of the Royal Family would perform rituals in order to publicly express their thanks. As Japanese society moved to a less agrarian foundation, Niinamesei began to shift towards a celebration of those people whose hard work goes to the service of the community as a whole.
8. In Hong Kong, Ta Chiu Is a Time to Ask Your Ancestors to Intervene on Your Behalf in the Coming Year
Celebrated primarily in Hong Kong, Ta Chiu is a celebration of all those currently living. It is an affirmation of life, and is celebrated at the end of the year. Participants pray to the ghosts of their ancestors and ask for favors in the coming year. At religious gatherings, priests read the names of every person who’s come to an event, then attaches a list of the names to a paper horse. Finally, the whole thing is set ablaze in recognition that the names of the living souls will ascend to heaven to be remembered by the gods.
9. Christmas Itself Is Celebrated With Unique Flare Across the World
In Ireland, the Christmas festivities last from December 24 through January 6, and they tend to take on a more religious slant. Residents of the Philippines put up lights and begin their lively celebration in September. In Finland, the Christmas Peace compels locals to behave in a slightly more upright manner on Christmas, as befitting the importance of the holiday. On Christmas Eve in France, the people have a Reveillon, which sees friends and family dress in their finest, and party throughout the evening in order to greet Christmas Day at the stroke of midnight.