December has arrived and you know what that means: it’s holiday time! Regardless of where you live around the world, you’ll most likely participate in one winter holiday or another. Here are five winter holidays you can expect to see in the weeks leading up to the New Year.
Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, is a winter holiday celebrated by the Jewish community.
This 8-day celebration commemorates a historic revolt in Jerusalem in the 2nd century BCE, which ultimately gave the Jewish people back their freedom to practice Judaism. Before their victory, Jewish temples had been seized and converted to worship the Greek gods. The legend states that the Jews returned to the temple and found only one jar of oil to light their sacred candles. Miraculously, the jar of oil lasted 8 days — enough time to find more oil and, therefore, continue to bless the temple.
Today, the holiday centers around family and friends. Jews celebrating Hanukkah light a candleholder called a menorah for eight nights. The menorah holds nine candles—one for each night plus a candle called the shamash used to light the other candles.
Other ways to celebrate include playing with the dreidel and eating oil-fried foods like latkes and sufganiyot.
Yule is celebrated on the winter solstice, making it one of the oldest winter celebrations in the world! Today, Yule practices are largely synonymous with the Christian holiday of Christmas, but the meaning behind Yule is quite different.
The word yule comes from the ancient word jól, used by Vikings to refer to the winter solstice festival. Winter solstice marks the longest night of the year, and therefore, the return of the sun. After the solstice, the days once again grow longer. It’s seen as a time of rebirth and renewal.
To celebrate, Norse men would bring home large yule logs to set on fire, which would burn for up to 12 days. During this time, people feasted and practiced gratitude.
Today, it’s common to decorate homes with evergreen wreathes and lit fireplaces. Take this shift in seasons as an opportunity to reflect and focus on new beginnings.
Traditionally, Christmas is celebrated by Christians on Dec. 25 to remember the birth of Jesus Christ. The story states that a woman named Mary was told she’d give birth to the son of God. She traveled to Bethlehem and gave birth in a barn. News traveled fast, and three wise men came with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Children may not receive myrrh in the 21st century, but they do receive presents….from Santa Claus! Traditions throughout the years have combined with other cultures and holiday celebrations to become what they are today. This has led to the Western lore that a man named Santa Claus lives at the North Pole and delivers presents to children every year on a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer.
Today, many people celebrate Christmas regardless of religion! Popular traditions include decorating the Christmas tree, baking cookies for Santa’s reindeer, and opening presents on the big day.
Kwanzaa is a winter holiday created to honor African heritage in African-American culture. Kwanzaa is observed for seven days, from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1, and finishes in gift giving and a big feast.
Kwanzaa comes from the Swahili phrase matunda ya kwanza which means “first fruit” or “harvest.” Celebrations often include songs and dances, storytelling, poetry readings, African drumming, and feasts.
Each of the celebrated days is dedicated to one of the seven principles of Kwanzaa: unity, self-determination, collective responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith.
New Year’s Eve
Last but not least, New Year’s Eve is one of the most widely celebrated holidays around the world! It marks the last day of the Gregorian calendar and entry into the new year.
Festivities typically begin on Dec. 31 and continue into the early hours of Jan. 1. Popular traditions include attending parties, making resolutions for the new year, and watching fireworks.
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