6 Upcoming December Holidays You May (Or May Not!) Know About

Gretchen Scotland, Writer

December may be most commonly known for holidays such as Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa, but have you ever heard of Ōmisoka? How about Edinburgh’s Hogmanay? These ones may be a bit more unfamiliar…but let’s learn about all of them!

Hanukkah (December 10th-18th, 2020)

This holiday, which means “dedication” in Hebrew, celebrates the victory of the Maccabees over their oppressors in 164 B.C.E. as they won back their Temple. Wanting to relight the Temple but only having enough oil for one night, the Maccabees lit it anyway and were amazed when the oil miraculously lasted for eight nights.

A traditional menorah used to celebrate Hanukkah. (Nina Mikryukova)

In present-day celebrations, families light one candle from the menorah (a nine-branched lamp) each night, to recognize the eight days plus one. Jewish families may also eat fried foods during this time, such as latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (round jelly doughnuts).

Winter Solstice (December 21st, 2020)

At 5:02 AM on this day, the Northern Hemisphere will experience this remarkable event in which we have our shortest day and longest night of the year as the Sun reaches the Tropic of Capricorn. Various cultures have celebrated this day in the past such as the Romans with the Saturnalia festival (link) and the Scandinavians with the Feast of Juul (link).

A depiction of the winter solstice that will occur on December 21st, marking the official start of winter! (Peter Hermes Furian Fotolia)

Today, many people, no matter their religion, recognize the holiday in a variety of ways, such as by making an evergreen yule wreath, burning a yule log, celebrating in candlelight, and more. For other ways you can celebrate, click here!

Christmas (December 25th, 2020)

On this December 25th, the birth of Jesus Christ is commemorated by Christians all around the world on this specific day, as well as the month preceding it. Some things people may do to get ready are: get a Christmas tree and decorate it with ornaments, send out Christmas or holiday cards, and listen to Christmas music.

A family looking for the perfect Christmas tree to bring home and decorate for the holidays. (Paula Bronstein)

On the actual day, attending Christmas Mass is a common practice and often times family dinners take place as well. At some point throughout the day, presents are typically exchanged among family and friends. People who are not religious may celebrate this holiday too!

Kwanzaa (December 26th, 2020-January 1st, 2021)

This newer holiday was created in 1966 by Dr. Karenga to celebrate African-American heritage. “Kwanzaa” comes from the phrase matunda ya kwanza, meaning first fruits or harvest in Swahili. Each day, one of seven principles is discussed and a candle is lit on the kinara (seven-branched candleholder).

A kinara with seven candles to celebrate the seven core principles of Kwanzaa. (Sue Barr)

The principles of Kwanzaa include unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith. On the last day, people often tell stories, sing and dance, read poetry, participate in African drumming, and have a big feast.

Edinburgh’s Hogmanay (December 30th, 2020-January 1st, 2021)

This Scottish celebration held in Edinburgh, Scotland is a huge 3-day New Year’s event. Some may even compare it to the great Times Square experience in NYC. Having its roots way back in the Vikings’ celebration of the winter solstice, the tradition has been around for a long time, however, only in the past 25 years has Scotland put on their massive Street Party.

Different live bands get set up all along the streets and dancers, as well as other street performers, entertain the vast crowd. At midnight leading into the new year, fireworks go off in a wide range of colors and patterns. Although by January 1st, the new year has arrived, the celebrations don’t stop. On the 1st, the traditional Loony Dook occurs, which is a fundraising dash into the Firth of Forth at South Queensferry’s cold waters! Below you can see a video of some of the specific happenings from the 2019-2020 celebration.

Ōmisoka (December 31st, 2020)

In Japan, this event is their way of celebrating the new year. Various traditions are carried out by families, one of which being the cleaning of one’s house to get ready to bring in the new. At about 11 PM, loved ones gather to eat toshikoshi-soba or toshikoshi-udon (meals consisting of long noodles) which would represent “crossing over from one year to the next”.

Toshikoshi-soba, a meal those celebrating Ōmisoka may eat on this day. (Melissa (of Cilantro and Citronella))

Then, at midnight, people go to visit a shrine or temple for hatsumode (the first Shinto shrine visit of the new year). Here, they also drink amazake (a sweet fermented rice drink). A recent tradition has been watching a television show from 7:30 PM-11:30 PM where singers perform and compete.