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December Holidays in the United States

Written by ESLI
Published on 2017-12-04
Happy Holidays!  That is a greeting you will often hear during the month of December in the US and Canada. There is a really good reason for this: lots of big holidays fall during the month of December!  Christmas is the most well known of our holidays, and that is why you will hear “Merry Christmas!” just as much as “Happy Holidays.”

Christmas began as a commemoration of Jesus’s birth for Christians.  If you are in the US or Canada in December, you will notice it has grown into a holiday for everyone, Christian or otherwise. It is a time to celebrate family, to give and receive gifts, and to generally create good-feeling in the community.  We decorate pine trees, and of course, Santa Claus comes down the chimney to leave presents for all the good children!  There are so many different stories about Santa Claus and the tradition of giving gifts that I urge you to check out the History Channel and their information about Santa Claus, also known as St. Nicholas, St. Nick, Baba Natale, Pere Noele, Shengdan Laoren, Papai Noel, Kanakaloka, Papa Noel, Julenisse and lots more names all over the world.

Hanukkah is another big December holiday, celebrated around the world by people of Jewish faith. Hanukkah, also spelled Chanukah, lasts for 8 days, and each night a candle is lit to commemorate the dedication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem following the Maccabean Revolt. A miracle is said to have occurred during the dedication: even though there was not enough oil for their lamps to burn more than just one night, they burned for all eight nights.  Today, Jews celebrate by lighting candles, eating traditional food like latkes (potato pancakes, yum!) and sufganiyot (jelly-filled donuts).  They also exchange gifts and play with dreidels. For more about dreidels and Hanukkah, click here for a History Channel article.


A holiday unique to the United States (though it is spreading!) is Kwanzaa.  It was created in 1966 by a professor of Black Studies at UC State in Long Beach CA, Dr. Maulana Karenga. He wanted to unite the African-American community after the devastating Watts riot in Los Angeles, and he based Kwanzaa on African traditional “first fruit” (or harvest) celebrations. On each of seven nights, a child lights a candle and the family discusses one of the values of African culture and its importance to African-Americans. On December 31, an special feast, called Karamu, is held to celebrate the end of Kwanzaa. For more information on Kwanzaa, head to the History Channel for a video and article about this unique American holiday.


December is also a time when we prepare for the end of the old year and the beginning of the new on January 1st.  New Year’s Eve is a time for parties!  And while New Year’s Eve celebrations are a lot of fun, we do need to remember to be safe. 

December features the Winter Solstice or Midwinter, which is the longest night of the year, and a day held sacred by many people and beliefs around the world. Scientists believe that Stonehenge in England was built to mark the exact moment of sunrise, when the sun is believed to be still for just a moment. The ancient Romans celebrated Brumalia on the solstice, and it is also the date of the neo-pagan celebration Yule (Yule was also a basis for our Christmas celebration).  It is one of the oldest observances in the world, and marks the traditional first day of winter on our calendar.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/b/b8/StonehengeSunrise1980s.jpg/1280px-StonehengeSunrise1980s.jpg Sunrise at Stonehenge, December 21.
And last of all, some years, the Muslim holiday Ramadan happens during December. This is the Muslim month of fasting during the daylight hours; they don’t eat or drink anything, and try to avoid thinking bad thoughts and behavior. After the sun sets, they eat a meal called Ishtar, and at the end of Ramadan, they have a huge three-day festival called Eid-al-Fitr, which is one of the most important holidays in Islam.  Find more about Ramadan here.

As you can see, our December holidays are as many and diverse as the people of Canada and the United States are!  So wherever you are, have a wonderful, safe, and happy holiday season!

All information and images taken from Wikipedia, the History Channel, or the website WorldStrides and its article “December Holidays Around the World.” 

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