December holiday observances

Recognizing and honoring many of the cultural and religious holidays that occur this month

December is a time when many of us take part in holiday, religious, and cultural observances.

This month, I wanted to take time to highlight some of these observances to recognize and honor our teammates or youth who may be celebrating. Please know that there are many more observances that are not included here.

Hanukkah, Nov. 28-Dec. 6: Hanukkah, the Hebrew word for “dedication,” is a Jewish tradition that celebrates the recovery of Jerusalem and rededication of the Holy Temple after a Maccabean revolt. Hanukkah frequently is celebrated by lighting a menorah (a candle holder with nine candles), playing dreidel, and eating special foods.

Advent, Nov. 28-Dec. 24: Many Christians celebrate Advent to prepare for the birth of Jesus on Christmas Day, Dec. 25. It starts the fourth Sunday before Christmas and concludes on Christmas Eve. People often celebrate by reflecting on a specific theme each week, typically related to the ideas of hope, faith, joy, and peace.

Bodhi Day, Dec. 8: Bodhi Day commemorates the day that the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama (Shakyamuni), experienced enlightenment. It’s celebrated annually in many Buddhist countries, including China, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam. People often celebrate through meditation, chanting Buddhist texts, or doing kind acts for others.

Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Dec. 12: Celebrated mostly by people in Mexico and the U.S., this holiday honors Mary, the mother of Jesus in Christianity, and commemorates her appearance to Saint Juan Diego in 1531 in Tepeyec, Mexico. For the holiday, many people often travel to the church and shrine in Tepeyac to pray.

Las Posadas, Dec. 16-24: This holiday is celebrated mainly in Latin America and Spain, and by Hispanics in the U.S. “Posada” is the Spanish word for lodging. People often celebrate by re-enacting the Christian Nativity story where Jesus’s mother, Mary, and her husband, Joseph, travel from inn to inn looking for shelter before Jesus’s birth.

Winter Solstice, Dec. 21: Winter solstice is the date with the least amount of daylight, due to the Earth reaching its maximum tilt away from the sun. Numerous cultures have celebrated Winter Solstice in unique ways, going back centuries, often centering on honoring the sun, celebrating the end of harvest, and connecting with others for games or feasts.

Yule, Dec. 21-Jan. 1: Yule began as a pagan celebration for Germanic peoples with traditions including the Yule log, Yule goat (connected to the Norse god Thor, who drove a chariot drawn by two goats), and singing. Yule later underwent a Christian transformation and today it is often considered a general word to describe Christmas and multiple festivals during the winter holiday season.

Kisan Diwas, Dec. 23 (in India): This holiday is observed in many countries, including India, Ghana, Pakistan, South Korea, and Zambia, to honor the contributions of farmers. Kisan Divas is Hindi for “Farmers’ Day”, and it is celebrated on Dec. 23 in India through exhibitions, debates, workshops, and other informative programs.

Christmas, Dec. 25: This Christian holiday commemorates the birth of Jesus and is celebrated by billions of people worldwide. In the U.S., people frequently celebrate through church services, home decorations, exchanging cards or gifts, and feasts. Many also associate Christmas with Santa Claus, who is said to bring gifts to children.

Kwanzaa, Dec. 26-Jan. 1: Kwanzaa is an annual celebration of African-American culture based on African harvest festival traditions. The holiday focuses on seven principles: Umoja (unity), Kujichagulia (self-determination), Ujima (collective work and responsibility), Ujamaa (cooperative economics), Nia (purpose), Kuumba (creativity), and Imani (faith). Celebratory symbols include a kinara (candle holder with seven candles), corn, a unity cup, and gifts.

Perspectives from our Youth


Jociah, Oak Creek YCF:

“We used to celebrate Hanukkah when I was younger. We would give gifts and do the candle thing. We always had wine and bread around the house at the holidays. You burn a candle each day; it’s about being thankful. There’s a lot of get-togethers and singing in Hebrew.”

Luke, Oak Creek YCF:

“What I like about Hannukah and many other religious holiday traditions is that it’s about giving and receiving. If you’re someone who likes to give things, then it’s best for you. People know that you took the time to find something that they liked, and you actually did something to go out and obtain it.”

Winter Solstice and Yule

Chris, MacLaren YCF, and Isabelle, Oak Creek YCF:

Chris and Isabelle are both Wiccan, a modern Pagan religion that typically follows a god and a goddess. Isabelle describes Wicca as “an earth-based religion” that is “about the elements and the world around you.”

Chris shared these Yule rituals from his “Book of Shadows,” a compilation of rituals made by practitioners of Wicca:

  • Yule takes place during the winter solstice and represents the rebirth of the god of the sun.
  • One tradition is the yule log, which is decorated with ribbons and blessed before burning to inspire the god to bring back the sun. Pieces of the log are saved from one year to the next to guard against misfortune.

“Winter Solstice is about celebrating the darkest time of the year and the coming of the light,” Isabelle says.

Chris says of Yule: “I feel like we’re ushering in the new year. We sweep out old energies and sweep in new ones. It’s a fresh start for us.”


Damon, MacLaren YCF:

“I didn’t celebrate Kwanzaa until I came into jail. I’ve started gaining more knowledge and appreciation of my culture. There is a lot of history behind the holiday and I’ve been learning more about it.”

Turon, MacLaren YCF:

“My grandma celebrates it a little bit, but I wasn’t really too familiar with it until I came to MacLaren. I thought it would be a good way and another way to learn more about my culture. It’s a way to celebrate each other and coming together as family and as people.”


Dustin, MacLaren YCF:

The most meaningful part of Christmas for Dustin is celebrating the birth of Christ. “I’ve just recently been trying to get more involved in my faith. I like reading the Bible with my family, usually on Christmas.”

Gabby, Oak Creek YCF:

“(My family) always set out our Christmas tree like three months before Christmas. And the day after Christmas, we usually go camping.” The most meaningful part of Christmas for Gabby is: “being with my family.”

Amy, Oak Creek YCF:

“To me, Christmas is about spending time with your family, eating food, just having fun, and being there for people as well as yourself.”

Mayra, Oak Creek YCF:

“I like celebrating being together. I like being with my family. I don’t really see my family much, but I love the holidays when I do get to see them.”

I would like to extend a huge thank-you to these youth who took the time to share with everyone about their religions or the holidays they honor during this time of year.

If you see any of our youth or staff celebrating this time of year — such as our Office of Inclusion and Intercultural Relations (OIIR), which is hosting Kwanzaa events at multiple facilities — we hope you view it as a chance to connect and learn more about other cultures and traditions.

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