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December 2016

December Holidays You Might Not Know About

Multicultural celebrations held in December from around the world

The year is finally over (and what a year it has been). But just because December is the final month on the calendar, it shouldn’t be any less filled with holidays. Of course, celebrations like Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa are well known throughout the world. Today we’ll look at some of the other popular holidays that you might not yet know about.

Ōmisoka (Japan)

On the final day of the year, the Japanese celebrate the holiday of Ōmisoka, essentially their New Year's Eve. Families gather for a bowl of soup, as the long noodles represent toshi-koshi, the idea of crossing between years. Osechi, a traditional New Year food in Japan, is made. These bento boxes (segmented boxes for serving that are now seen throughout the world) are filled with a cornucopia of items, including datamai (a sweet rolled omelette with filling), kazunoko (herring roe), konbu (seaweed), and more.

Saint Lucy’s Day (Scandinavia/Italy/Croatia/Hungary/Malta)

One of the biggest celebrations of the year in Scandinavia is Saint Lucy’s Day, otherwise known as the Feast of Saint Lucy, held on December 13. Lucia means "light," which is ironic because of Scandinavia's long and dark winters. The story is that an angel appeared before the young Lucy, convincing her to convert to Christianity. She refused the marriage of a man to protect her virginity and was sentenced to death. They burned her and struck her with a spear, yet she continued to speak. It wasn't until she was given the Christian sacrament that she finally passed. In honor of her martyrdom, big dinner parties are held, songs are sung, and processions are held with participants donning white robes and cone hats. The Lussekatt (Saint Lucy Bun) is prepared with saffron.

Saint Lucy's Day is also celebrated in Italy, with an emphasis on a different part of the story, as she is believed to have been from Sicily. Her presence is also felt today in Croatia, Hungary, and Malta.

Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe (Mexico)

The Virgin of Guadalupe refers to the Virgin Mary, particularly in association with the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, the world's most visited Catholic pilgrimage site. The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe (Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe) begins a week before the festival's climax on December 12. Pilgrims from around the world make their way to Mexico City where a great festival is held. Popular food items include sopa de espinaca con codito (spinach soup with macaroni), tacos, mole poblano (chicken with a rich chili sauce), cafe con leche (coffee with milk), tequila, and flan (custard). But the major holiday isn’t limited only to Mexico City; fiestas can be found throughout the country of which the Lady of Guadalupe is the patron.

Day of Reconciliation (South Africa)

On December 16, South Africa celebrates the Day of Reconciliation, a holiday established in 1994 to promote a sense of national unity in a country previously plagued by the racial disharmony of apartheid. The placement of the date ties with the Afrikaner memorial day known as the Day of the Vow, a remembrance of a great battle in 1838. December 16 is also an important day because it marks the formation of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the fighting force of the African National Congress (ANC) launched to combat the apartheid administration in 1961. Today, the Day of Reconciliation is a public holiday with special events held like symbolic races.

Boxing Day (British Commonwealth nations)

Held on the day after Christmas (December 26), Boxing Day is an additional day of gift giving between workers and their employers. Traditionally, a "Christmas box" is presented in thanks for workers’ good service throughout the year. Money is also donated to the needy, a kind gesture regardless of country or holiday.

Zweiter Feiertag (Germany)

Other countries celebrate the day after Christmas as well (because who wouldn’t want another day of celebration?). In Germany, the celebration is referred to as Zweiter Feiertag, or “second celebration”. Goose is a popular featured dish during the holiday season, as are plentiful portions of leftovers.

What December holidays does your country celebrate? Let us know on our Facebook Page, and be sure to “like” TELC English for more articles on culture from around the world!

Picture (c) Fotolia, eyetronic