9 Most Popular December Global Holidays and Their Symbolism

December is unquestionably the most festive month of the year. The month is marked by all manner of events and festivals around the world, including religious, cultural, and even corporate events.

This article explores the top eight most iconic December global holidays and their symbolism.

1. Hannukah

Hannukah holiday

Date Marked: November 28 – December 6

Category: Religious

Why It’s Marked: Commemorating the re-dedication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem

Where It’s Marked: Israel and various Jewish communities around the world

Also known as Chanukah or the Festival of Lights, Hannukah is an 8-day Jewish festival that traditionally begins on the 25th day of the month of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar. There are usually variations on the exact day that Hannukah begins each year according to the Gregorian calendar. This year, the festival falls between November 28 and December 6.

Hannukah is a period to celebrate the re-dedication of the Second Temple of Jerusalem after the Maccabean Revolt. The celebrations include lighting of candles every night throughout the eight days. Hannukah is also marked by the singing of special songs, such as Ma’oz Tzur, as well as reciting of the Hallel prayer. Other popular Hannukah customs include eating oil-dried foods such as potato pancakes (also known as latkes) and jam-filled donuts (also known as sufganiyot). Celebrants also play with dreidels and exchange gifts.

2. World AIDS Day

World aids day awareness month

Date Marked: December 1

Category: Health

Why It’s Marked: To raise awareness on the scourge of HIV/AIDS

Where It’s Marked: Worldwide

The idea of World AIDS Day was first conceived by James W. Bunn and Thomas Netter in August 1987. At the time, Bunn and Netter were working as public information officers for the World Health Organization’s Global Programme on AIDS. The following year, the first World AIDS Day was marked on December 1, which has remained the holiday’s official date.

World AIDS Day is dedicated to raising awareness to the spread of HIV/AIDS as well as commemorating those who are infected or affected by the disease. There are numerous ways to commemorate the day, including visiting destitute children orphaned by the disease, sponsoring safe-sex campaigns, and lobbying governments to ramp up efforts to curb the spread of HIV.

3. Santa Lucia

A girl in Swedish costume celebrating Santa Lucia day

Date Marked: December 13

Category: Religious

Why It’s Marked: To pay tribute to Lucia of Syracuse.

Where It’s Marked: Scandinavia and in Italy

Santa Lucia was an Italian Saint that died as a martyr. She is seen as a figure of light in the darkest part of the year. Santa Lucia is remembered and celebrated each December 13th in Sweden as a symbol of light and hope. This important day is marked by atmospheric concerts and processions, featuring singers clad in white and wearing headdresses featuring actual flickering candles. 

4. Yule

Yule Holiday

Date Marked: December 21 – January 1

Category: Pagan

Why It’s Marked: To pay tribute to the Norse god Odin

Where It’s Marked: Germany and various German communities around the world

Yule, also called Yuletide, is a festival marked by Germanic people around the world. The festival has pagan roots and can be traced back to the Norse god Odin as well as the Anglo-Saxon festival of Modraniht. Yuletide technically falls within the Winter Solstice, making it one of the oldest and most popular winter celebrations in the world.

Ancient people marked Yule by lighting a huge log in a bonfire and spending the long night outdoors. Although the custom of log burning is still practiced today, most people also mark this occasion by building a Yule altar, making an evergreen Yule wreath, or giving back to Mother Nature. Candlelit dinners and Yule tree decorations are also common, as are exchanging of nature-based gifts.

5. Festivus

Festivus

Date Marked: December 23

Category: Parody

Why It’s Marked: To advocate against Christmas consumerism

Where It’s Marked: Worldwide, particularly in the United States

Festivus is a December global holiday that entered popular culture in 1997, courtesy of an episode on the Seinfeld show titled “The Strike.” The objective of this parody holiday is to speak out against Christmas consumerism. As opposed to purchasing expensive Christmas tree, Festivus is marked by standing around a plain aluminum pole. Other popular Festivus customs include “feats of strength” and “airing of grievances.”

Some pundits have lashed out at Festivus enthusiasts terming them as anti-conventional people with unreasonable views about Christmas and its true meaning. However, the holiday has continued to grow in popularity, especially among frugal spenders and minimalism advocates.

6. Christmas

Date Marked: December 25

Category: Religious

Why It’s Marked: To commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ

Where It’s Marked: Worldwide

Christmas is unarguably the most popular December holiday. The day marks the birth of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom Christians believe to be the last true prophet sent by God to save humanity from sin. What sets Christmas apart from most religious festivals is that the day is generally celebrated even by non-Christians.

However, it’s worth noting that the actual date of Jesus’ birth is unknown. Christmas was picked simply due to its correspondence with winter solstice in the Roman calendar. Also, Christmas is celebrated in various countries as a cultural as opposed to a religious event. There are numerous ways to mark the occasion, including leaving gifts for Santa Claus or Father Christmas. Many people also attend Church services on Christmas day, with some opting to go on an all-out vacation.

7. Boxing Day

Date Marked: December 26

Category: General

Why It’s Marked: Symbolism varies

Where It’s Marked: Worldwide

Opinion has always been divided on how Boxing Day came into being and how best to celebrate it. Some people believe that this was the official day when churches gifted alms boxes to the poor after Christmas. Others consider Boxing Day as the day to gift errand boys, postmen, and various kinds of servants, in appreciation for their service throughout the year.

Regardless of its symbolism, Boxing Day remains one of the most iconic December holidays. The date has since been declared a public holiday in numerous countries around the world, including Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand. In these countries, Boxing Day is typically marked by organizing sporting events.

8. Kwanzaa

Happy Kwanzaa, African-American cultural celebration in the US

Date Marked: December 26 – January 1

Category: Cultural

Why It’s Marked: To preserve certain African values

Where It’s Marked: Worldwide, particularly in the United States

Kwanzaa is a December holiday rooted in African history and celebrated mainly in the United States. The day was created by Dr. Maulana Karenga and first observed in 1966 following the Watts riots in Los Angeles, California. The word ‘kwanzaa’ is a loose translation of the Swahili word ‘kwanza,’ which means ‘first.’ In this case, the name comes from the Swahili phrase “matunda ya kwanza,” which means “the first fruits.”

Kwanzaa is often celebrated with traditional African songs and dances. There’s also storytelling, poetry reading, and discussing various principle values of the African culture. These events usually culminate in a large traditional meal at the end of each day and a mega feast called ‘Karamu’ on December 31.

9. New Year’s Eve

Friends celebrating new years eve

Date Marked: December 31

Category: General

Why It’s Marked: To mark the end of the year

Where It’s Marked: Worldwide

The last December holiday on this list also happens to fall on the very last day of the month. The purpose of New Year’s Eve is to mark the end of the old year as well as usher in the incoming year.

There are numerous ways to observe this day. Most religious people visit their places of worship to thank God for the blessings of another year. Other people observe New Year’s Eve in pubs, restaurants, and other social gatherings. The celebrations usually peak at midnight, where shouts of joy, songs, and fireworks rent the air.

The Bottom Line

Evidently, there’s a wide collection of December global holidays to help you wind up the year in style.

Remember, December isn’t just a month to treat yourself to the finer things in life. It’s also the perfect season to appreciate those who’ve truly made the ending year worth living by showering them with befitting gifts.

Therefore, it’s prudent to prepare yourself adequately for this season by saving enough money for it.

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