December celebrations around the world
Whether you celebrate or not, once December rolls around, the thought of Christmas is on everyone’s mind. “My family gathers together to share special foods, especially homemade tortellini, panettone and pandoro and gifts on Christmas Eve,” says Sara Platto, who is from Brescia in northern Italy. “There is lots of talking and singing and plenty of relatives gathered together to make it a big celebration. I am pregnant, and will be going home to Italy for Christmas and to have my baby, so this year it will be a double celebration.”
Though Christmas is rooted in Christianity, it has become a common holiday celebrated by non-Christians. Some local Chinese, for instance, enjoy giving gifts and spending time with family. “We used not to have the tradition to celebrate Christmas, but in recent years we started receiving greetings and gifts from friends and relatives, which is really nice,” says Cai Liang, a Chinese-Czech translator in Beijing. “Now we give out presents to our friends and family members during this time of the year as well. It brings happiness to the family and makes us feel closer to each other.”
For many people, December is filled with the anticipation of Christmas, but this first month of the winter season brings with it a plethora of other holidays celebrated around the world. Boxing Day, for instance, which takes place the day after Christmas, is marked as an official holiday in the UK. This holiday is thought to have many origins, either from medieval times, when boxes would be placed in the backs of churches to collect money for the poor, or from the fact that servants had to work on Christmas day and would be given the next day off to take home leftover food, packed up in boxes. “While traditionally Boxing Day was celebrated by exchanging Christmas boxes, today it is a national holiday where we get together with friends and family and share a big meal of a joint of meat, several rich desserts, and some indulgent puddings,” says Sarah Smith-Edmonds, who hails from the UK and lives in Beijing with her husband, son and daughter.
Another example of a traditional holiday celebrated in December is Saint Lucia’s Day, which takes place on December 13 and pays tribute to the young Christian martyr. Ingrad Parsson, who is a grandmother from Sweden, describes Saint Lucia’s Day as the day when girls and boys dress all in white and sing for other people in honor of the Saint. “The girls have sparkly things in their hair, just as Saint Lucia has lights in hers, and the boys wear star hats. The girls hold white candles, and with the children dressed completely in white, they look like angels in the night,” she explains. After the singing, “We eat special cakes and cookies such as Lussekatter and Pepparkakor”.
An Islamic holiday that will be celebrated this year in December is Eid al Adha, the “Feast of the Sacrifice,” which is held as part of the Hajj, or journey to Mecca. During this celebration, Muslim people who can afford it sacrifice a sheep or other animal and distribute the meat to relatives or to the poor. Mr. Ahmed Abu Zaid moved to Beijing from Egypt with his family three years ago. “In Egypt, we celebrate this very important holiday for three days. Usually we would slaughter a sheep or cow in the morning of the first day, either in a market place or in front of our homes, as a ritual to offer sacrifice to the Lord. Then we would divide the meat into three parts: one for the poor, one for relatives and friends, and the rest for ourselves. Then we would cook the meat with delicious soup and enjoy the meal together. But the most important thing is that we would visit our friends and relatives to share the joy of this holiday.”
In addition to giving and sharing, being with family and celebrating one’s culture is also a common theme among many of December’s holidays. Kwanzaa, for instance, which means “first fruit” in Swahili and is celebrated in the last week of December among the African-American communities, marks a time when families gather to reaffirm bonds, honor the past and recommit to ideals for the future.
Another holiday which spans a period of time is Hanukkah, celebrated in the Jewish community for eight days. Usually falling in December, during this time each family will display a menorah consisting of nine candles, one for each night of Hanukkah, with a special “shamus” candle used to light the others. The candles are lit in order from left to right, starting with one on the first night of Hanukkah until the last night, when all the candles are lit. “My family celebrated with a menorah, spinning dreidels, storytelling, potato pancakes with applesauce and chocolate coins,” explains Julie Kohn, American and mother of two. “We would spin the dreidel, tell the story of the Maccabees, light the Hanukkah lamp and enjoy.”
These are just a few of the many celebrations around the world that take place during the holiday season. Whichever holidays you choose to celebrate, have a joyous and festive December!
Australia, New Zealand, Canada, UK and others
Saint Stephen’s Day
Italy and other European countries
Eid al Adha
December 26-January 1
Saint Lucia’s Day