As homage to our international student community, here are some of the holidays traditionally celebrated in December throughout the world.
Omisoka: A traditional Japanese holiday celebrated at the end of the year. On this day, shrines are cleaned throughout Japan on this day as a symbol of getting rid of impurities which is a building block of Shinto (Japanese Indigenous Religion). Other activities that take place on this day are:
- Toshi no Yu (Year’s Bath): Taking a bath on New Year’s Eve night to rid all the year’s uncleanliness and get ready to welcome the new year.
- Soba (Buckwheat Noodles): This is the meal eaten on New Year’s Eve to ward off misfortune and the all of the year’s bad luck.
- Joya no Kane (Bells on New Year’s Eve): This is struck 108 times to get rid of desires and passions which make us suffer. Fun fact: In Buddhism, 108 represents desires and passions
Hannukah (Chanukah): This is the celebration of the rededication of the Holy Temple. For 8 nights, those who celebrate light a special candleholder that is called the menorah. During this celebration, family and friends light the menorah nightly, say special prayers and eat fried food. It is also customary to play with a dreidel for a pot of coins, nuts, or other items.
Christmas: This is the most popular holiday in December. A Christian holiday that celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. The day usually includes gift giving, going to church and spending time with family and friends for dinner.
Kwanzaa: This is an African American and Pan-African holiday that originated in 1966. It is observed from December 26 to January 1st. The term “Kwanzaa” comes from the Swahili phrase “matunda ya kwanza” which means “first fruits”. There are 7 principles (Nguzo Saba) that are honored during the celebration and each one is recognized every day of Kwanzaa. For 7 nights, families gather and let a child light one of the candles on the Kinara (candleholder). Along with the lighting of the Kinara, there is Karamu (large traditional meal), playing of the African drums, songs and dances, storytelling, and poetry reading.
Twelve Grapes: Also known as “Twelve grapes of luck” or Las doce uvas de la suerte, is celebrated on New Year’s Eve in Spain and Hispanic and Latin American cultures. Originated in Spain in the 1800s, the tradition includes eating a grape with each strike of the midnight bell on December 31st. This is to bring a year of prosperity and luck.
St. Stephen’s Day: Otherwise known as the “Feast for the Saint Stephen” is also called Boxing Day, Wren Day, or Constitution Day. Celebrated in the United Kingdom, some Commonwealth and European countries, it is a day filled with variety of activities based on the country. These activities mostly involve giving back gifts to those in needs, visiting friends or carrying relics of St. Stephen’s right hand throughout Budapest Street.
Vasilopita (St. Basil’s cake): In Greek culture, it is common to cut the Vasilopita on New Year’s Day in order to bless the house and bring good luck for the upcoming year. Within the cake, a coin is usually baked in and whoever receives the coin is believed to have a blessed year ahead.