When we think of ‘December holidays’ or the ‘holiday season’, what comes to mind for most people is adorning their Christmas trees with trimmings, running around to find the perfect gift for their picky mothers, and eggnog. Although Christmas is the biggest holiday we consider during the festive period, there are plenty of lesser-known winter holidays that fall between December and mid-January.
As an international gifting company, we believe that it’s important to know about different observances and holidays that take place around the world. And, when it comes to sending gifts across the globe, we think you should too! As we escort Christmas off of the stage for a moment, read below as we turn the spotlight on lesser-known winter holidays that your friends and family may be celebrating over the next month.
Lesser-Known Winter Holidays
St. Nicholas Day – December 6th
Our most loved and popular Christmas traditions have origins in lesser-known holidays around the world. St. Nicholas Day, celebrated in most of Europe, is a primary example of this.
St. Nicholas of Myra was known for giving all of his money away to those in need, caring for children, and being compassionate towards everyone. He’s believed to be the origin of our beloved Santa Claus. Commonly known as the Feast of St. Nicholas, this holiday is celebrated with the gathering of friends and family for a grand feast. Children also believe that St. Nicholas comes during the night to leave candy or small gifts in their shoes.
There are variations of traditions and celebrations across the world. But the main theme of St. Nicholas Day is giving back to those in need and spending time with loved ones.
St Lucia Day – December 13th
Observed in Sweden, Norway, and a few other Scandanavian countries, St Lucia Day symbolizes the return of light in the midst of dark, cold, and long Nordic winters. But, originally, it marked the life and death of an early Christian Martyr, St Lucy.
According to legend, St Lucy would carry food and water to Christians who had been forced to hide out in the dark catacombs of Rome. Lucy, needing her hands free to carry supplies, engineered an ancient version of a headlamp, wearing a wreath of candles on top of her head to light the way. Today, young girls traditionally wear wreaths on their heads covered in candles.
The most significant traditional dishes eaten on this day include a type of saffron bread called lussekatter, shaped like a curled-up cat. Gingersnaps are another holiday favorite paired with hot glogg (mulled wine) and coffee.
The Winter Solstice – December 21st/22nd
As the astronomical first day of winter, the winter solstice has always been a significant day since ancient times. Ancient Celts, Romans, Chinese, Greeks, Persians and many more all took part in grand celebrations for both solstices.
As winter days are progressively shorter, culminating in the winter solstice, the celebration ultimately marks the shortest day of the year. It happens when the earth is tilted furthest away from the sun, so it occurs at the same exact time for everyone in the northern hemisphere. For this reason, the celebration is either on the 21st or 22nd of December.
In more superstitious times, communities would celebrate this holiday by lighting bonfires and candles to bring the sun back. Today, however, people celebrate this holiday to observe the festive season with a non-denominational and non-consumer approach. The Chinese still celebrate with the Dongzhi Festival, eating dumplings and honoring the yin and yang that solstices represent. In the western world, the solstice is a huge deal for Wicca and Wiccan.
Three Kings Day – January 6th
Also known as the ‘Epiphany’, this holiday is celebrated as the day the three wise men first saw baby Jesus and brought him gifts. This carries much significance in many countries throughout Latin America as they believe that it is the three wise men who place small gifts in children’s shoes or besides their shoes if the gift is too big.
Like any great celebration, food also plays a big role in Three Kings Day. Traditional dishes often include include rice and black beans, as well as slow-cooked meat, plantains, nopales, yucca, soups, and more. Families also take part in the tradition of eating al fresco – which means setting up and enjoying the feast outside.
One last custom, and what is usually considered the highlight of this holiday, is the Rosca de Reyes – also known as the King’s Cake. This wreath-shaped cake topped with nuts and candied fruit represents the jewels of Magi’s crown. A tiny baby doll of Jesus is usually hidden inside the cake, and whoever receives it means they must host a holiday in February known as ‘Candlemas’.
Kwanzaa – December 26th to January 1st
Kwanzaa, means “first fruits,” and is based on ancient African harvest festivals and celebrates family life and unity. During this spiritual holiday, African Americans dress in traditional clothes, adorn their homes with fruits and vegetables, and light a kinara – a special candle holder.
Many spend this period with friends and family, as a series of black, red, and green candles are lit throughout the week-long festivities. The candles each represent some of the values of African American life.These values include self-determination, purpose, creativity, collective responsibility, and faith. This practice is similar to the lighting of the menorah, a Jewish candle lighting ritual done at Hanukkah.
Gift-giving and eating delicious food is also a significant part of Kwanzaa.
Celebrate More Lesser-Known Winter Holidays With Gift Baskets Overseas
We tend to think of December as a time for Christmas carols and red and green decorations everywhere you turn. But, be that as it may, the global calendar also reveals that there are many winter holidays around the world. December is clearly a popular time for different kinds of celebrations. While some are filled with tradition, others focus on frolic and fun! But, they all pose opportunities for gift-giving!
No matter where they are in the world, we hope this article inspires you to send them a gift for the winter holiday that means the most to them!
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Alex is a hopeless romantic who was supposed to be born in Italy (her dream destination), but proud to be South African nonetheless. She lives by her heart, and, consequentially, leaves a little bit of herself in everything she writes. She wholeheartedly believes that mermaids (and fairies) exist and is deadly afraid of the age ’30’.