Christmas and other holidays in December

December is a month full of religious and secular holidays celebrated around the world for a multitude of reasons. The most notable December holiday in the Christian world is Christmas, which is made up of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Christmas is celebrated in order to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ and the customs that are performed during the holiday usually involve giving gifts, singing Christmas carols and displaying decorations such as Christmas trees, lights and mistletoe.

Apart from Christmas there are other significant religious holidays that are celebrated in December, such as Hanukkah in Judaism and Bodhi Day in Buddhism.

Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, is a holiday that is determined by the Hebrew calendar and it is usually celebrated between late November and early January. Historically, Hanukkah represents the closeness of God to the Jewish people and avoidance of Hellenisation (assimilation of the Greeks). The main custom of Hanukkah is the lighting of a special candelabrum with nine branches, which is called Hanukkah menorah. The holiday lasts for nine days, and each night an additional candle on Hanukkah menorah is lit by the special central candle called the Shamash.

Bodhi Day is a Buddhist holiday dedicated to commemorating the day that the historical Buddha experienced enlightenment. In the Gregorian calendar, Bodhi Day is celebrated on 8 December and traditions associated with the holiday include the study of Dharma, additional meditation, chanting of Buddhist texts and the showing of kindness to others.

The most popular secular December holiday is the celebration of New Year’s Eve, which takes place on the 31 December, and is meant to celebrate the last day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. The celebration of the holiday usually continues past midnight into the New Year’s Day, and the festivities involve gatherings of friends and family to eat, drink, dance and watch fireworks signalling the beginning of the New Year.

For those interested in celebrating Christmas according to the Christian tradition, there is an opportunity to visit the Norwich Cathedral to experience the Christmas procession with carols on the 23 December, and an opportunity to attend the Midnight Mass on the evening of the 24 December. Entrance is free with no ticket requirement for both of these events.

In the spirit of December magic and wonder, those who wish to meet Santa Claus personally can venture into the Santa Claus Village, located in the Arctic Circle next to Rovaniemi in Lapland, Finland. Lists of activities include a number of snow safaris, visiting reindeer and husky farms, and seeing the man himself in the Santa Claus Office!

Commercialisation of Christmas is part of a more general trend of the marketisation of holidays around the world as tourism and businesses use it to attract people – both domestically and internationally. On the one hand, such commercialisation turns holidays into a way to make a profit and devalues the original meaning of these celebrations. On the other hand, this trend creates more jobs and brings more money to regions which benefit from this holiday inspired tourism.

Another interesting topic for discussion is the question of whether or not to spend Christmas at home or travelling. Personally, I believe that Christmas should be spent with the people closest to you, and that usually involves family and good friends. Spending the holiday at home is definitely cheaper and logistically easier than gathering everyone for travel. In the end, it is up to each individual family and group of friends to decide whether they would rather celebrate Christmas at home or venture on a journey to celebrate the holiday in a new environment.

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Rassul Merali

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December 2021
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