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Topics related to Christmas

Annual secular and religious
celebrations near Christmas time

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Religious celebrations near Christmas time:

The month of December is a time of many religious celebrations. In alphabetic order, by religion, they include:

  • Some Atheists in the U.S. have begun to celebrate the Winter Solstice. This is the day of the year when the nighttime is longest, and the daytime shortest. It is on 2011-DEC-22 @ 05:30 (UT).

    In 2012, it is at 2012-DEC-21 @ 11:11 UT. This will be special because the Mayan calendar starts a brand new cycle on that day. Some authors are making a lot of money feeding on people's fears some form of massive destruction will happen on that day, perhaps terminating all life on Earth. Other authors predict some form of spiritual development by all humans. We fully expect that it will be an uneventful day. More details.

    Lately, it has been falling on DEC-21 or 22. However it can be as early as DEC-20 and as late as DEC-23. American Atheists and many local Atheist groups have organized a variety of observances at this time.

  • Buddhists celebrate Bodhi Day (a.k.a. Rohatsu) on DEC-8, or on the Sunday immediately preceding. It recalls the day in 596 BCE, when the Buddha sat beneath a Bodhi tree -- a type of fig tree -- and is believed to have achieved enlightenment, thus escapeing the repeating cycle of reincarnation: involving birth, life, death and rebirth. A descendent of the original tree is the most important of four holy sites of Buddhism.

  • Christians in the West celebrate Christmas on DEC-25, as the day when the Yeshua of Nazareth (a.k.a. Jesus Christ) was born. He is regarded by most Christians as a deity and savior of humanity. The Eastern Orthodox churches currently celebrate Christmas on DEC-25 according to the Julian calendar, which is JAN-07 in the more commonly used Gregorian calendar. It is not actually the date of Jesus' birthday. That probably happened in the fall sometime between 7 and 4 BCE. Its origin can be traced to an ancient Roman Pagan celebration called Saturnalia. It was a commemoration of the dedication of a temple to the God Saturn. Saturnalia was originally celebrated as a one day celebration on DEC-17. It became so popular that it was expanded to seven days. This celebration was picked up by the followers of Mithraism where it became the Feast of Sol Invicta, (the Unconquered Sun). It started on DEC-25 of the year 274 CE.

  • Jews celebrate Hanukkah, (a.k.a. Chanukah; "Feast of Dedication" and "Festival of Lights"). This is an 8 day observance which recalls a miracle in the Jerusalem temple during a war fought by the Maccabees in the cause of religious freedom. Temple candles only had enough oil to burn for a single day. Yet they burned for eight days. Jews light candles on a menorah -- two on the first day, three on the second, to nine on the eighth day. Hanukkah falls between sunset on 2011-DEC-20 and sunset on DEC-28. The first of Hanukkah typically falls between NOV-30 and DEC-26.

  • Followers of Kemetic Orthodoxy celebrate the Day of the Return of the Wandering Goddess. This religion is a recreation of the faith of ancient Egypt, observed since about 4500 BCE. This day celebrates the return of the Goddess Hathor to her father Ra and the healing of their relationship. It is held on the Winter Solstice.

  • Muslims' holy days are fixed to the lunar calendar. On successive years, the days migrate about ten days earlier as viewed on the Gregorian calendar. Id al-Adha (a.k.a. the Feast of Sacrifice or Day of Sacrifice) occurs during the 12th lunar month of the Islamic year. This immediately follows the Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca). It recalls the day when Abraham intended to follow the instructions of God, and sacrifice his son Ishmael. During 2006, it was celebrated on both JAN-10 and DEC-31. It is an unusual ocurrence to have two Id al-Adha holy days during one year; it happens only about three times each century. Each year, the observances migrate ten or eleven days earlier according to the Gregorian calendar. These holy days have left December, but will return in about three decades.

  • Some Native Americans and Aboriginal groups elsewhere in the world also observe the Winter Solstice. They associate different beliefs and rituals with it. For example, the Hopi tribe celebrations are "...dedicated to giving aid and direction to the sun which is ready to 'return' and give strength to budding life." Their ceremony is called Soyal. It lasts for 20 days and includes "prayerstick making, purification, rituals and a concluding rabbit hunt, feast and blessing..." 1

  • Nova Romans (a.k.a. Romana) celebrate Saturnalia, a seven day feast starting on DEC-17. 1,2 Romana are Neopagans who worship the ancient Gods of Rome and who celebrate the ancient Roman holy days.

  • Wiccans and some other Neopagans celebrate Yule at the time of the Winter Solstice. Some may celebrate the Sabbat (one of eight days of celebration) on the evening before, at sunrise on the morning of the solstice, or at the actual time of the astronomical event.

  • Zoroastrians observe Zartusht-no-diso on DEC-26, "the day in the  sacred calendar when worshippers remember the death anniversary of Zarathustra. Special prayers are recited and a visit is paid to the Fire Temple as a mark of remembrance." 5

Also, in ancient times, Druids and followers of the Pagan and Polytheistic religions of Greece,  Rome, and other countries held celebrations at or shortly after the Winter Solstice. Some Neopagans have recreated these religions and are following them today.

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Cultural celebrations near Christmas time:

The month of December also includes a number of cultural celebrations. Some are:

  • National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women is held annually in Canada on DEC-06. On 1989-DEC-6, a deranged male gunman, a victim of child abuse and the uncontrollable rage that frequently follows abuse, entered the École Polytechique de Montréal. His application to admittance at the school had been rejected. He blamed feminists for ruining his life. He shot 27 people: 23 women and 4 men. 14 women died. All the men survived. 6

  • The "1000 Lamp Mandala Ceremony" is celebrated on DEC-10 in conjunction with Human Rights Day around the world to promote peace in Tibet and elsewhere.

  • Human Rights Day is observed on DEC-10, the anniversary of the signing of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) on 1948-DEC-10 at the Palais de Chaillot in Paris. The document outlines the minimum human rights standards that should be available in all countries of the world. They include "the right to life, liberty and nationality, to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, to work, to be educated, [and] to take part in government." In 2011, a movement is growing to add equal treatment for persons of all sexual orientations and gender identities to the human rights specified by the UDHR.

  • Shabe-Yalda (a.k.a. Yalda, Shab-e Yaldaa, Shab-e Chelleh) is celebrated on the eve of the Winter Solstice. It was originally a religious observance of the night before the birth of Mithra -- the man-god of Mithraism -- the main competing religion to Christianity during the 3rd and 4th century CE in the Roman Empire. It has evolved into a cultural celebration observed by followers of many religions in Iran. People gather at home around a korsee -- a low square table -- all night. They tell stories and read poetry. They eat watermelons, pomegranates and a special dried fruit/nut mix. Bonfires are lit outside. 4

  • Fesivus -- a celebration for the rest of us: This is a new celebration, created in 1966 and popularized on a Seinfeld comedy episode in 1997. It seem to be growing in popularity as a simple, secular, seasonal day of celebration as an alternative to Christmas and Hanukkah with a minimum of commercialization. It is held on DEC-23, approximately midway between the Winter Solstice and Christmas. More details

  • Krismas is a secular holiday that celebrates most of the elements of Christmas, with the exception of the story/myth of Jesus' birth. Krismas observes the myth of Kris Kringle (a.k.a. Santa Claus), Rudolph and the other reindeers, elves, etc. It includes the giving of gifts, the beauty of decorated trees and building, the smell of Krismas trees, etc. But it is closer to the Pagan origins of Christmas than modern-day Christmas itself. It was apparently created independently in 2004 by Jacob Walker and Will Shetterly, and by other individuals at other times. One of the neat features of this celebration is that Agnostics, Atheists, Deists, free thinkers, Progressive Christians, and the rest of the 68% of humanity who are not Christian can wish another person "Merry Krismas" freely without bending their beliefs out of shape. 7

  • Kwanza (a.k.a. Kwanzaa, Quansa) is a week-long celebration which starts on DEC-26. It is a recently developed cultural holiday celebrating African-American heritage that has been an annual tradition since 1966. "Kwanza" is derived from the Swahili phrase "matunda ya kwanza" which means "the first fruits of the harvest". Each day focuses on one of the seven principles of Kwanza: unity, self-determination, collective work, responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith. 2

  • Omisoka is a very popular end-of-year celebration in Japan. Families perform Ōsouji (the big cleanup) in order that the home will start the new year clean and tidy. According to Wikipedia: "A few minutes before midnight, every temple prepares Amazake (sweet sake), and crowds gather around a metal gong which is struck 108 times. This number is believed to be number of sins and ill thoughts that can take place in a human mind." 3 Striking the gong drives these sins away.

Consequences of a multiplicity of celebrations:

As North America becomes more religiously and culturally diverse, there is an increasing potential for conflict near Christmas time:

  • Some Christians object to what they feel is a diluting of their traditions due to the impact of minority religions and cultures.

  • Some non-Christians object to the overwhelming attention paid to Christmas at this time of year, and the competition this provides to their own celebrations.

  • Some non-religious folks object to themselves and their children being exposed to so many religious messages at this time of year on television, at shopping centers and in public schools.

More information.


References used:

  1. A. Hirschfelder & P. Molin, "The encyclopedia of Native American religions," Facts on File, (1992).
  2. Kwanzaa Information Center at: http://melanet.com/kwanzaa/
  3. "Omisoka," Wikipedia, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/
  4. "Shab-e Yalda," at: http://www.payk.net/
  5. Nora Leonard, "The narrow bridge," Mythic Maps, at: http://www.mythicmaps.net/
  6. "National day of remembrance and action on violence against women," at: http://www.swc-cfc.gc.ca/
  7. Will Shetterly "Merry Krismas to you!," at: http://krismas.org

Site navigation:

Home > Religious information > Christmas > here

Home > Christianity > Beliefs, practices, etc > Holy days > Christmas > here


Copyright © 2004 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2004-DEC-04
Latest update: 2011-DEC-19
Author: B.A. Robinson
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