Skip to main content

December holidays span cultures around the world

man stands in front of sphynx

WVU's Aaron Gale, an expert in world religions, is available to talk about the many holidays celebrated around the world during December.

Download full-size

Many people associate the month of December with certain religious holidays, most notably Chanukah and Christmas. While Ramadan sometimes occurs in December, this year the Muslim holy month of fasting, prayer and reflection was observed in April and May. Aaron Gale, West Virginia University religious studies coordinator, said the last month of the year represents a time to celebrate humankind’s diversity in general since the month contains many more holidays from many more cultures.


“Many Buddhists observe Bodhi (meaning enlightened) Day each year on Dec. 8, celebrating the day Prince Siddartha gained enlightenment and became known as “the Buddha.” The holiday also celebrates the Buddha’s triumph over Mara, an evil spirit who tried to tempt the prince away from his intense focus and concentration. Among other traditions, lights are strung around temples, foods such as milk and rice are eaten, and Buddhists reflect on the great achievements of the Buddha.”

“Pancha Ganapati from Dec. 21-25, a Hindu celebration of the god Ganesha, and Ōmisoka, a Japanese a sort-of New Year’s Eve holiday that takes place Dec. 31. On this holiday, houses are cleaned out and ceremonial foods are eaten just before midnight, at which point a Buddhist temple or Shinto Shrine is often visited so that one may pray for good luck in the New Year.

“Kwanzaa (from a phrase meaning “first fruits”), a holiday that encompasses primarily cultural elements, is an African-American/Pan African observance that takes place each year from Dec. 26 through Jan. 1. Created in 1966 in the US by Maulana Kaurenga, Kwanzaa celebrates family and culture, and emphasizes important core principles such as unity, self-determination, and faith.”

“Chanukah (sometimes spelled “Hanukkah”), meaning “dedication” in Hebrew, is not the “Jewish Christmas” as some think, but celebrates a Jewish military victory over foreign invaders who had, among other things, desecrated the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Upon liberating the Holy Temple, the Jewish leaders could find only enough pure oil to light the menorah, or candelabra, for one day, but miraculously the sparse ration lasted for eight days. Hence, Chanukah today is celebrated for eight nights.”

“Christmas remembers the birth of Jesus, the son of God and Messiah for many Christians throughout the world. It is worth noting that there are many different and unique traditions associated with the Christmas season itself. For example, in Hungary there is a tradition that on Dec. 6 St. Nicholas, or Mikulás, as he is known in Hungarian, visits children and places presents in their shoes (which they carefully lay out the night before). Good children may receive fruits and toys, while bad children might find sticks in their shoes, likely the work of the krampusz, a devil-like figure who accompanies Mikulás on his rounds.”

“Solstice Day, Dec. 21, is a holiday for many Wiccans and Pagans celebrating transition and the change of time cycles.” — Aaron Gale, WVU Religious Studies Coordinator

West Virginia University experts can provide commentary, insights and opinions on various news topics. Search for an expert by name, title, area of expertise, or college/school/department in the Experts Database at WVU Today



CONTACT: Aaron Gale
Religious Studies Coordinator
WVU Eberly College of Arts and Sciences

Call 1-855-WVU-NEWS for the latest West Virginia University news and information from WVUToday.

Follow @WVUToday on Twitter.