This time of year, it’s all about lights. And that’s because, in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s quite dark!
Winter Solstice (≈ Dec. 21):
This holiday, which honors the longest night/shortest day of the year, has been celebrated for the longest period of time. It’s still celebrated by neo-Pagans, but it has also become a popular motif for parties, concerts, bonfires, and other community-wide events. Yule logs, Christmas trees, and mistletoe are all customs that come to us from long-ago solstice celebrations in different parts of the world. The Winter Solstice
by Ellen Jackson for elementary-aged kids gives a great run-down of those ancient traditions.
This ancient Roman holiday to honor the god, Saturn, is no longer celebrated. Historically, it began around Dec. 17 and continued for several days. Festivities included gift-giving, banquets, gambling, and general merry-making. Slave-owners also served their slaves as roles were reversed. Many scholars think the dates for Christmas and Epiphany were explicitly chosen to coincide with Saturnalia. Click here
In the Christian tradition, pretty much the entire month of December is related to the birth of Jesus. Advent goes from Dec. 1-24. The Feast of St. Nicholas is Dec 6. Las Posadas,
the 9-day Mexican celebration of Mary’s pregnancy, runs from Dec. 16-24. And Christmas for non-Orthodox Christians is on Dec. 25. (For Orthodox Christians, Christmas falls on Jan. 7 of the Gregorian calendar.) This article
describes how Protestant churches are now honoring Las Posadas.
Hanukkah (Dec. 22-30 this year):
Hanukkah is a minor holiday in the Hebrew calendar. In fact, the story behind the holiday comes from First and Second Maccabees – two books not even found in the Hebrew Bible or most Protestant Bibles. (They are found, however, in most Catholic and Orthodox Christian Bibles.) Jews have celebrated Hanukkah since before the 1st
century CE, but because it’s around the same time as Christmas, it has become increasingly commercialized. Foods made with oil are the custom at Hanukkah. This site
has a great kid-friendly recipe for potato latkes.