KNU wishes our neighbors of all faiths a very special Season’s Greeting, and many blessings to you and your families in the coming new year. Aside from the commercial aspect of Christmas, the anticipated arrival of Santa, shopping, decorations, parties and added stress, December holds important holidays and observances for many religions. Irrespective of one’s beliefs or affiliations, this is a season of pause and reflection, of reverence and traditions, a time to connect with family and friends, embrace diversity, learn something about our fellow man, and extend random acts of kindness. Below is a list of main world religious holidays & observances in alphabetical order, accompanied by a brief description.
Dec 8 – Bodhi Day
Bodhi Day is the Buddhist holiday that commemorates the day that the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, experienced enlightenment, also known as bodhi in Sanskrit and Pali. According to tradition, Siddhartha had recently forsaken years of extreme ascetic practices and resolved to sit under a peepal tree and simply meditate until he found the root of suffering, and how to liberate oneself from it.
Dec 6 – St. Nicholas’ Day (Eastern Orthodox)
St. Nicholas’ Day is an observance of European origin that is celebrated in some American communities starting in the early 1800s. The legendary figure of St. Nicholas is derived from Nicholas of Myra who officiated as a bishop in 4th century Greece. During his lifetime he developed a reputation for gift-giving by putting coins into other people’s shoes, which accounts for many of today’s Christmas traditions. Children in families who celebrate St Nicholas’ Day receive treats – candy, cookies, small toys, or fruit – in stockings, socks, shoes or bags on this day. Some churches hold special services dedicated to the feast of St Nicholas.
Dec 8 – Feast of Immaculate Conception (Catholic)
Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary is celebrated in the Roman Catholic and related Christian churches. The Immaculate Conception of Mary is a belief that the Virgin Mary was free from original sin and filled with sanctifying grace from the moment of her conception in her mother’s womb. People prepare themselves for this day by novenas (an act of devotion where a prayer is said for nine days) and nocturnal vigils. Special prayers and hymns are offered to the Virgin Mary.
Dec 12 – Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe (Catholic)
In 1531 a “Lady from Heaven” appeared to Juan Diego, a poor Indian from Tepeyac on a hill northwest of Mexico City. She identified herself as the Mother of the True God and instructed him to have the bishop build a church on the site, leaving an image of herself imprinted miraculously on his tilma, a poor quality cactus-cloth. The tilma should have deteriorated within 20 years but shows no sign of decay after over 470 years. It to this day defies all scientific explanations of its origin. The Feast of Our lady of Guadalupe is a Catholic observance honoring Jesus’ mother Mary, patron saint of Mexico.
Dec 24 – Christmas Eve (Western Churches)
Christmas Eve, also known as the Vigil of Christmas, is perceived as the culmination of the Advent season. With origins in 1350-1400 AD in Middle English, this evening or day is observed in anticipation of Christmas Day which celebrates Jesus Christ’s birth. Many Christmas traditions today have their roots in pre-Christian winter festivals. These include the importance of candles and decorations made from evergreen bushes and trees, symbolizing everlasting light and life.
Dec 25 – Christmas Day (Western Churches)
The most popular holy days on the Christian calendar, Christmas honors the birth of Jesus, and is observed by most Christian churches. The name “Christmas” did not appear until the eleventh century, and comes from the Old English Cristes Maesse, which means “the Mass of Christ.” The earliest records mention a feast held in the Church at Alexandria, Egypt, around AD 200, to honor the Nativity. The celebration of Christmas did not become a church-wide celebration until the late third and early fourth centuries. Several dates have been associated with the Feast of the Nativity. Western churches observe the feast on the 25th of December, while most churches in the East observe it on January 6th (Epiphany).
Dec 25-Jan 1, 2017 – Hanukkah
Hanukkah commemorates the rededication of the Temple of Jerusalem in 165 BC by the Maccabees, after its defilement by Antiochus of Syria. The holiday lasts 8 days from the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev. Since the Jewish calendar is lunar based, every year the first day of Hanukkah falls on a different day – usually sometime between late November and late December. It is marked by the successive kindling of eight lights.
Dec 25 -Jan 1, 2017
Kwanzaa is a week-long holiday honoring African culture and traditions. The holiday was proposed by Maulana Karenga to give those of African descent a holiday to celebrate their own cultural heritage and the key values of family and community, and was first observed in December of 1966. Although seen as an alternative to Christmas and thus possibly anti-Christian in the early years, many people now observe aspects of both festivals.
Dec 12- Mawlid an Nabi
Mawlid an Nabi celebrates the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday (570 AD). The Prophet Muhammad is a central figure in the life and faith of Muslims, and is regarded as the last prophet sent by Allah to teach monotheism. It falls on the 12th or 17th day of the Islamic month of Rabi’ al-awwal. Some Muslims in the United States mark this occasion by fasting or holding communal meals, special prayers, reading the Qur’an, donating food and other goods for charity, and outdoor celebration.
Dec 22 – Winter Solstice (Yule)
The winter solstice marks the longest night and shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. The word “solstice,” which means “sun stands still,” is a bit of a misnomer. In fact, it occurs because Earth tilts on its axis continually, and during the winter solstice, the sun is farthest from the planet’s celestial equator. The exact time of the solstice — when the North Pole will get no sunlight at all — is 4:48 UTC, or 11:48 p.m. EST. For centuries, Yule or Yuletide has been celebrated in various ways by different cultures (historically observed by Germanic peoples), and later undergoing Christianized reformulation now better-known as Christmastide. Modern pagans still celebrate Yule as the holiday associated with the solstice.