December holidays go from fun, to fascinating, to sacred. As the days turn colder and the coats come out, holidays and celebrations serve to keep the spirits up. Winter festivals exist for a reason!
One can enjoy glimpses into cultures through learning about celebrations in December, so let’s look at a list of the celebrations we have found. Answering ‘what’ is the celebration, ‘why’ and ‘how’ is it celebrated serves to broaden our knowledge of the human families. Coming to know each other is one of the rewards of a commitment to diversity.
Cultural holidays in December
Chanukah / Hanukkah – December 8-15
Kwaanza – December 26 through January 1
St. Nicholas Day – December 6
Las Posadas – December 16-24
Bodhi Day – December 8
Christmas – December 25
December Solstice – December 21
Three Kings Day – January 6
Santa Lucia Day – December 13
In this writing we will cover St. Nicholas Day, Bodhi Day, and Santa Lucia Day. In future blogs we will go into Chanukah / Hanukkah, Las Posadas, Kwaanza, Christmas, Solstice, and Three Kings Day. We will attempt to answer our what, why and how questions.
St. Nicholas Day
Saint Nicholas is the person who inspired the Santa Claus character, although the story of the Saint has only one similarity to the Santa story. Saint Nicholas Day, also called the Feast of Sinterklaas (Dutch pronunciation), is celebrated at the beginning of the Advent season (December 6 or December 19 on the Julian calendar). Saint Nicholas was a bishop who gave generously and anonymously to the needy and to children. He was officially recognized as a saint in the 800s, and in the 1200s, Catholics in France began celebrating Bishop Nicholas Day on December 6.
Still today, in many countries in Europe, the Feast of Sinterklass is celebrated starting on December 5th. On this evening children put out their shoes with food for the saint’s horse in exchange for small gifts. One of the advantages of this early gift-giving in Advent is that Christmas on the 25th can focus on the sacred, spiritual meaning.
As to who invented Santa Claus, we asked Google and we’ll go with that answer: “The current depiction of Santa Claus is based on images drawn by cartoonist Thomas Nast for Harper’s Weekly beginning in 1863. Nast’s Santa owed much to the description given in the poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (also known as “’Twas the Night Before Christmas”), first published in 1823.” More on St. Nicholas Day can be found [HERE].
Many of us are familiar with the story of Prince Siddhartha, who achieved enlightenment and was recognized as the Buddha. Bodhi refers to the Bodhi tree, a type of fig tree, which is where Siddhartha would sit in meditation. Bodhi Day is usually celebrated on December 8th, by Mahayana Buddhists, mainly residing in China, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam. There are also communities in the United States, Canada, and Europe who celebrate Bodhi Day.
Bodhi Day is not commemorated with gifts and meals, but instead is celebrated in a calm and commemorative manner. It is a day for meditation, prayer, and contemplation of the nature of enlightenment. Some may go to the temple, and in some Buddhist homes the families may light candles, string lights to symbolize the Buddha’s path to enlightenment or light a single candle for 30 days. The meal will be of rice and milk to symbolize the first meal that the Buddha ate after he reached enlightenment. The Gautama Buddha story is beautiful, and readers can enjoy more of the story [HERE].
Santa Lucia Day
St. Lucia Day is observed on December 13 in Sweden and Norway, named after its patron saint, celebrating her life and death. St. Lucia is also the patron saint of Malta. She was a young Christian martyr who died during the persecution of Christians by the Roman Empire. There is much more to the story.
Like St. Nicholas, she gave her wealth to the poor and needy. Readers may have seen an image of a woman walking, with a wreath of candles on her head, carrying something in her hands. That image is St. Lucia. She is known for taking food to the Christians hiding in the catacombs, and when she did, she wore a wreath of candles to light her way and carried as much food as possible.
According to the story, she was to marry a pagan man, and he felt she was giving away his dowry, so he reported her to the Roman authorities. She was put to death. Later she became a widely venerated saint. Today the National Festival of Lights and Renewal is held the evening before Saint Lucia day, December 13. Readers can find the full story [HERE].
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We hope you enjoyed these stories showing how the human families in our diverse world celebrate during the month of December. In the two saints we see the beauty and divinity of giving, generously, to those who are in need. And in Gautama Buddha we see the beauty and value of an enlightened mind. There is more to come!