The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

A look at holiday traditions around the world.

St. Nicholas Day, Dec. 6: Children place their shoes by the door or stockings by the hearth filled with bits of straw and carrots for Saint Nicholas’ white horse (Netherlands) or donkey (France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Sweden). These items are replaced in the night by small toys and candy.

Hanukkah, Dec. 10-18: For eight days, a special candle holder called a menorah is lit in remembrance of an ancient miracle in which one day’s worth of oil burned for eight days in the temple. During Hanukkah, many Jews also eat special potato pancakes called latkes, sing songs and spin a top called a dreidel to win chocolate coins, nuts or raisins.

Feast of Guadalupe, Dec. 12: The Feast (Fiesta) of Our Lady of Guadalupe honors the reported appearance of the mother of Jesus in Mexico City during the 16th century, who became the patron saint of Mexico. Many families celebrate by receiving blessings at church followed by a feast of traditional Mexican fare. Brightly colored flowers decorate feast tables.

St. Lucia Day, Dec. 13: Celebrations honoring St. Lucia, the patron saint of Sweden, combine Christian and pre-Christian traditions. Ginger snaps and saffron-flavored buns (lussekatter) are popular Lucia Day treats.

Winter solstice, Dec., 21 in the Northern Hemisphere: Many December holidays celebrate the return of light during the darkest time of year, which occurs during the winter solstice, and Yule or Yuletide (“Yule time”) is no exception. In fact, the Christmas yule log gets its origin from this celebration of light.

Christmas, Dec. 25: People celebrate this Christian holiday (honoring the birth of Jesus) by going to church, giving gifts and sharing the day with their families It has evolved into a worldwide religious and secular celebration.

Kwanzaa, Dec. 26-Jan. 1: Celebrated in the United States and Canada, this holiday combines several traditional African harvest celebrations, and families celebrate in a variety of ways. Children may light one of seven candles in a kinara (candleholder) each night, followed by a discussion of one of the seven principles of Kwanzaa.


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