December is a month of holidays. For several years, I’ve labored to create blog posts about the holidays that fall during this month. When I realized I was focusing exclusively on December holidays but no others, I started my “Holidays Project” last summer.

At this point I’ve done feature posts on nearly every major religious holiday that usually falls in December, as well as several more minor ones and at least two that are secular in nature. Why so many holidays in one month?

Winter Solstice is December 21.

Blame it on the Solstice. 

The astronomical event of the Winter Solstice creates the shortest daylight of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. It falls on December 21, nearly every year. Combine that fact with the nature of humans, and a holiday of some sort is near-inevitable

We humans have a psychological and spiritual need seek out hope and a cosmic picture of the Universe that makes sense. And we probably need it most of all when food is short and we’re in danger of freezing to death. That’s why December is a month of holidays.

I explored Solstice traditions in some depth, in a blog post from 2016 that still gets many hits every yearGet drunk, eat dumplings or fruit, and party down. It’s traditional! 

Festivals of light

Not surprisingly for holidays that originated during a month of long nights, a lot of December holidays feature candles or fires. 

A Solstice festival of light/fire is YuletideIn a 2013 post, I focused on the Yuletide legend of Krampus, but the tradition of burning the Yule Log (originally a whole tree, or most of one) is probably more well-known to those of us whose ancestors hail from the British Isles, where the related custom of Wassailing also originated. Of course, many people prefer their “Yule Logs” to be made of cake, rather than wood!

Winter Solstice bonfires are a feature of a celebration in Maine, in this photo from Bangor.
Winter Solstice bonfires are a feature of a celebration in Maine. (Bangor Daily News/Eric Michael Tollefson)

Last year, the first Sunday of Advent and the first day of Hanukkah both fell on the same day, December 2. This year Advent started on December 1, but Hanukkah doesn’t begin till sunset on December 22.

Compared with Yom Kippur and several of the others, Hanukkah is a relatively minor holiday that has gained a greater following because of its proximity to the Christian holiday of Christmas, celebrated on December 25 each year.

Christmas originated as a religious holiday, and it still is one of the most important holidays of the Christian year, preceded by the Advent season and smaller holy or feast days such as St. Nicholas Day, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, and St. Stephen’s Day.  If you think about it Christmas is a month of holidays, just by itself.

Secular observations

Especially in recent years, many individuals, cultures and traditions have embraced some of the more glamorous elements of Christmas, including Santa Claus, Christmas trees, holiday lights on buildings, and Christmas presentswithout much interest in the Christian religious aspects.

There will likely always be people who decry a “war on Christmas” (meaning a minimization of the religious aspects), it seems unlikely that these exuberant and sometimes garish secular holiday traditions will go away anytime soon. They’re too darn much fun.

The colorful lights outline each building and go on for blocks and blocks each year on Kansas City's Country Club Plaza.
The granddaddy of municipal Christmas light displays is the annual display in Kansas City’s Country Club Plaza (unattributed photographer/KC Kids Fun)

One, somewhat peculiar spin-off of Christmas is Festivus, inspired by a TV show and celebrated with greater or lesser levels of devotion by aficionados.

considerably more spiritual, but not religious, celebration is Kwanzaa. I explored the days of Kwanzaa in some detail, back in 2017. Although the first day had to share billing with Boxing Day, the secondthirdfourthfifth, and sixth days got their own posts. The seventh day of Kwanzaa is also New Year’s Day.

However you celebrate this month of holidays, I hope you find love, joy, and peace among the hectic pace and the welter of traditions!

IMAGES: I created the “Winter Solstice” composite with help from Ksenia Samorukova (Ukususha) and Rawpixel at 123RF. Many thanks to the Bangor Daily News and Eric Michael Tollefson, for the photo of the bonfires in Maine, and to KC Kids Fun (and their unsung photographer) for the photo of the Kansas City Country Club Plaza holiday lights.