25 December Holidays You Probably Don’t Know About

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By Rachel Renea, NewsCastic

Every year, millions of Americans start planning for December Christmas celebrations as soon as they’ve stuffed their gills with turkey. Despite the overabundance of Christmas movies, decorations, store features, bells, trees, and music, surprisingly the month of December has a lot more to offer than just Christmas. We’re not talking about the other holidays you probably already know about, either (Kwanzaa and Hanukkah).

Here we’ve compiled a list of worldwide holidays and celebrations, and although our list includes some celebrations in far-flung places, many of the festivities are international in scope or are events that are happening right here in North America.

Read on and find lots more reasons to celebrate this cold, snowy month!

1. Dongzhi Festival – China

This festival in China (also known as Winter Solstice) marks a time for families to come together to make and share traditional rice balls in soup. The dish is meant to symbolize reunion, and the ancient roots of the tradition tie back to the lengthening days subsequent to the celebration, which occurs on Dec. 22nd according to Asian time. The change in seasons marked by the event is considered to bring an increase of positive energy in the days ahead.

 

2. Day of the Virgin Guadalupe – Mexico

This celebration is a Catholic feast held on Dec. 12th to commemorate two encounters reported by Juan Diego in 1531 with the Virgin Mary, Mexico City’s patron saint. It is believed an authentic image of Mary resides in the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City, and many Mexicans and Catholics from other countries make pilgrimages to pay homage to it. The holiday represents a time to go to church and pray, and children are dressed in traditional attire and taken to to be blessed.

3. Rohatsu – Japan

Rohatsu is Japan’s version of Bodhi Day, the Buddhist holiday celebrating the day of Buddha’s enlightenment. The event is celebrated through meditation, chants, and performing acts of kindness. Although many Asian countries celebrate Bodhi Day, Japan’s Rohatsu falls
on Dec. 8th due to the adoption of the Gregorian calendar with
Westernization of the country.

4. Day of Reconciliation – South Africa

This holiday was established in the mid 1990s following the end of apartheid. It occurs every Dec. 16th, a date selected due to its significance for both Afrikaner and African cultures. The celebration includes parades and various festivities centered around an annual theme, and it is meant to symbolize and promote racial harmony and unity.

 

5. Feast of St. Ambrose – Italy

St. Ambrose is the patron saint of Milan, Italy. The historical figure, Aurelius Ambrosius, became the city’s bishop in 374 CE and was trained as a lawyer. He composed hymns, wrote about scriptures, and famously denied emperor Theodosius I entrance to the church over a massacre committed in Thessalonica. The saint’s celebration is held on Dec. 7th every year, and festivities include a famous street market near the piazza Sant’Ambrogio, as well as church services at the Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio.

 

 

6. World AIDS Day – Global

World AIDS Day was established in 1988 by the World Health Organization (WHO) as one of 8 WHO Global Health Days. The day is meant to raise awareness about HIV and AIDS and to remember those who have died from it. Many public events are held throughout the globe every Dec. 1st, and participants are encouraged to wear red ribbons as an international symbol of support for those living with HIV/AIDS.

 

7. Rizal Day – Philippines

Every Dec. 30th, Rizal Day is celebrated as a national holiday in the Philippines to commemorate Jose Rizal, who was executed in Manila on Dec. 30, 1896. Rizal was an activist against Spanish rule, and the day represents a day of mourning for both Rizal as well as all Philippines who were lost under Spanish colonial rule. Commemorations include speeches, flag-raising ceremonies, and a wreath laying at the Rizal Monument in Manila’s Rizal Park. Smaller municipalities around the country also carry out their own local ceremonies.

 

8. St. Sylvester’s Day – Austria, Germany, Switzerland

The feast of St. Sylvester is celebrated on Dec. 31st, which marks the date of his burial in Rome’s Catacomb of Priscilla and also coincides with the celebration of the new year. Saint Sylvester passed away in 335 and was Pope during the rule of Constantine. He is often credited with the rise of church rule over the government. His saint’s day feast includes late-night celebrations of drinking, dancing, and fortune-telling through the melting of lead in a spoon held over a candle and then thrown into cold water.

9. Soyal – Hopi and Zuni Tribes


is the new year’s celebration held by the Native American Hopi and Zuni tribes and occurs on the winter solstice (Dec. 21st). Festivities include a ritual to welcome back the sun at the end of winter, marking of the underground ceremonial chambers, and use of prayer sticks to extend blessings. The celebration is considered to be a time of renewal and purification.

10. Boxing Day – Canada, UK, Australia, Ireland

Boxing Day is celebrated the day after Christmas on Dec. 26th. It is a secular holiday, and its historical origins are derived from the day when lower-class workers and servants could expect to receive a Christmas Box from their employer or master. Today the holiday represents a shopping day with dramatically reduced sales prices similar to Black Friday in the United States. It is celebrated in several countries and constitutes a national holiday.

 

11. Second Christmas – Germany, Holland

As you might guess, Second Christmas is on Dec. 26th. It is a nationally recognized holiday in Germany and Holland, and most residents use the day as a second day of feasting with family, visiting relatives not seen on Christmas Day, or attending church. Although seemingly similar to Boxing Day and St. Stephen’s Day, both of which also fall on Dec. 26th, the historical roots of this holiday are derived from the original Christmas celebration, which extended over 12 days from Dec. 25th to the Epiphany on Jan. 6th (notably, the Russian celebration of Christmas ended up falling on Jan. 7th due to the original Christmas calendar!). Second Christmas is all that remains in modern times of the historically extended Christmas celebration.

 

12. St. Stephen’s Day – Christian Holiday

St. Stephen’s Day is a religious holiday that falls on Dec. 26th on the Western calendar and Dec. 27th on the Eastern calendar. It is celebrated as a national holiday in many European countries and commemorates St. Stephen, who is considered to be the first Christian martyr. The day is celebrated in a variety of ways, including feasting, drinking, fireworks, and horse parades.

 

13. Milad-un-Nabi – Islamic Holiday

Milad-un-Nabi (Mawlid) is a celebration of the Islamic prophet Muhammad’s birth. It was declared an official holiday by the Ottomans in 1588 and is celebrated around the world, except in Qatar and Saudi Arabia where it is forbidden. Although the date for the celebration is often debated amongst Muslims, the holiday is commemorated on Dec. 12th for Sunni Muslims and Dec. 17th for Shiite Muslims. Festivities vary widely and include prayer vigils, light displays, gun salutes, poetry readings, festival gatherings, and hymnal singing.

 

14. Human Rights Day – Global

Human Rights Day marks the annual celebration of the United Nations’ (UN’s) Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), a proclamation on Dec. 10, 1948 of 30 basic human rights to be universally protected. Rights included center around freedom, justice, education, health care, and other tenets of human life. Ceremonies include candlelight vigils for those whose rights have been violated, worldwide speeches, and other activities to raise awareness.

15. Feast of the Immaculate Conception – Christian Holiday

The Feast of the Immaculate Conception is a Catholic holiday held worldwide on Dec. 8th. The day was established as a holy day in 1708 by Pope Clement and commemorates the Christian belief in immaculate conception by the Virgin Mary. Celebrations include feasting with family, attending mass, parades, and fireworks. In terms of religious holidays, the day has been declared by the Catholic church as the patron feast day of Argentina, Brazil, Korea, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Philippines, Spain, the United States, and Uruguay.

 

 

16. Day of the Innocents – Mexico

The Day of the Holy Innocents is celebrated in Mexico on Dec. 28th and is a commemoration of the biblical story in which King Herod mandated all babies in Bethlehem be killed in an attempt to murder the baby Jesus. The day is celebrated through pulling pranks on other people similar to April Fools’ Day in the United States. Some Mexicans also provide offerings to departed children at cemeteries, a custom that mirrors the Day of the Dead tradition.

 

17. Day of Goodwill – South Africa

South Africa takes three days as national holidays at the end of December — the observed Christmas Day, a Day of Goodwill, and a day denoted simply as Public Holiday. These days run Dec. 25th through Dec. 27th and possibly comprise the longest official modern celebration of the original 12-day Christmas. Prior to 1980, the country’s Day of Goodwill was known as Boxing Day similar to that celebrated in other countries. However, to break ties with colonialism and with three days designated for holidays around the time of Christmas, Day of Goodwill is meant to be spent with family or at the beach and is considered a day of recovery.

 

18. Emperor’s Birthday – Japan

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Japan holds a national holiday for the birthday of the emperor with the date for the holiday changing with the change of emperors. Currently, Emperor Akihito is the reigning Japanese Emperor, and his birthday falls on Dec. 23rd. A public ceremony is held at the Imperial Palace, where crowds are allowed in to wish the Emperor long life by waving small Japanese flags. The day represents one of only two days out of the year when crowds are allowed inside the gates of the palace.

 

19. Anti-Corruption Day – Global

International Anti-Corruption Day is a United Nations (UN) day recognized on Dec. 9th. The day is designed to raise awareness surrounding the impact of economic and political corruption around the world, which triggers conditions leading to political instability, terrorism, higher mortality rates, exploitation, poor quality of life, and environmental destruction. Information highlighted includes estimates of corrupt payments worldwide at 1 trillion dollars and an estimated 68% of countries with serious corruption issues. The day was established in 2003 and generally revolves around an annual theme. The official celebration includes a ceremony spotlighting the UN’s efforts in preventing global corruption.

 

20. Synaxis of the Mother of God – Greece

In Orthodox tradition, a synaxis is a feast at the church to celebrate a given saint. In Greece, the Virgin Mary is celebrated on Dec. 26th due to her role in the birth of Christ, which is celebrated the preceding day. The day is also known as the Synaxis of the Theotokos in the American Orthdox tradition, and followers claim the holiday to be the most ancient Christian celebration of the virgin mother.

 

21. Anniversary of the Statute of Westminster – Canada

On Dec. 11th, Canadians observe their national independence day, which was achieved through the 1931 Statute of Westminster, an Act of the British Parliament granting Canada autonomy. Although it is not a national holiday, the Canadian and Royal Union flag are flown side-by-side throughout the country on this day.

 

22. St. Nicholas Day – Christian Holiday

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This Saint’s Day falls on Dec. 6th in the Western tradition and is celebrated throughout Europe with feasting and festivals. The day is celebrated on Dec. 19th by Eastern Christians. St. Nicholas is known as the bringer of gifts, and children around the world set out shoes and stockings or look under their pillows to see if they’ve received a gift from the saint. Children who have been naughty can expect to find coals or twigs. Of course, this saint’s tradition has been tied in with Christmas celebrations around the world, and the modern day Santa Claus is attributable to the legend of St. Nicholas.

 

23. Uposatha – Buddhist Holiday


This holiday is celebrated monthly in the Buddhist faith to mark the transitions of the moon, and December is no different. The days for celebration depend, of course, on the phases of the moon. Uposatha ceremonies have been held in the Buddhist tradition since 500 BCE in order to cleanse the mind. The day is marked through meditation and through practicing the teachings of Buddha. All phases of the moon (new, half, full) are celebrated, so anywhere between two and six of these days may occur in a given month.

24. Shivaratri – Hindu Holiday


This Hindu holiday is also a monthly celebration to mark the transitions of the moon similar to the Buddhist Uposatha. However, in the Hindu tradition, only the new moon is celebrated, with one large festival held at the end of winter called the Maha Shivaratri. Each monthly Shivaratri is held in honor of Shiva, the supreme god responsible for creation and transformation and who is part of the Hindu trinity along with Brahma and Vishnu. The focus of Shivaratri is overcoming darkness in the world, and it is celebrated through fasting, chanting prayers, yoga, and meditation.

25. International Day for Abolition of Slavery – Global

This day represents another global date designated by the United Nations (UN). It is recognized on Dec. 2nd and marks the 1949 UN Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others. The UN estimates that approximately 150 billion dollars in business is generated every year by human trafficking and that there are approximately 21 million people in the world who are enslaved, including 1 million children. The trade constitutes the world’s third largest criminal enterprise behind drug and arms trafficking. The day was established to target the end of human enslavement, and ceremonies focus on efforts at fighting against and promoting awareness of the trade.

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