December is a special time filled with holiday activities and memory-making. Most families have a working knowledge of Christmas and Hanukkah, but there are other special winter traditions and holidays that take place this month. Consider introducing some of these holidays to expand your family’s exploration of other cultural traditions and beliefs. Doing so encourages finding common ground that can lead to connection with and empathy for others.
Our Lady of Guadalupe – Dec. 12
Every year, Catholics celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, also known as Mary, the mother of Jesus. Mary is the patron saint of the Americas, but she holds a special place in the heart of the Mexican people. Her feast day recalls Mary’s appearances to St. Juan Diego, requesting that a church be built on the site where she appeared.
In Mexico, public celebrations are held, with traditional music, dances, parades and food. Many people display statues of Our Lady of Guadalupe in their homes and decorate them elaborately in the weeks leading up to the feast day.
– Sing or listen to “Las Mañanitas,” a song typically sung on this day
– Make papel picado (punched paper), a simple, traditional decoration that can be made out of tissue paper
– Enjoy traditional Mexican food such as tamales, beans and rice
St. Lucia Day – Dec. 13
St. Lucia Day is celebrated in Sweden, Norway and parts of Finland as a way to honor St. Lucia, one of the earliest Christian martyrs. Different communities have their own customs, but a procession is at the heart of each celebration. One child, chosen to represent St. Lucia, is followed by other children dressed in white. Girls wear lighted wreaths on their heads and all the children sing traditional songs. The festival marks the beginning of the Christmas season and is meant to bring hope and light to the darkest time of the year.
At home, the eldest daughter dresses up in a white robe and candle crown to serve coffee and lussekatter, a saffron bun, to her parents for breakfast.
– Read “Lucia Morning in Sweden” by Ewa Rydaker
– Make a candle head wreath out of paper or wire, greens and battery-operated candles
– Make homemade lussekatter or deliver sweet breads and cookies to those in need
Yule/Winter Solstice – Dec. 21
Yule is a celebration of the winter solstice and began as a pre-Christian celebration of the turning point when days gradually become longer and the darkness of winter recedes. Certain customs, such as the yule log, wassailing and tree decorating come from this celebration of nature. The Winter Solstice occurs on the shortest day and longest night of the year.
– Read “The Longest Night” by Marion Dane Bauer
– Create a yule log centerpiece from a log and other outdoor items, or make pinecone bird feeders
– Take a walk outside to appreciate the beauty of nature
Kwanzaa – Dec. 26-Jan. 1
Kwanzaa is a weeklong celebration of African-American culture and heritage. Each family commemorates Kwanzaa in its own way, but celebrations often include songs and dances, storytelling, poetry reading and a large traditional meal. Each day of the celebration is dedicated to a different principle: umoja, or unity; kujichagulia, or self-determination; ujima, or collective work and responsibility; ujamaa, or cooperative economics; nia, or purpose; kuumba, or creativity; and imani, or faith. A special candleholder called a kinara is used. Each night, a candle is lit and one of the seven principles is discussed.
On Dec. 31, a karamu, or large feast of traditional African dishes is held. On the last day, family and friends exchange gifts, often homemade.
– Play Kwanzaa music and encourage everyone to dance
– Make a kinara and light a candle on each night of the holiday
– Invite kids to make their own gifts to exchange on the last day
Omisoka – Dec. 31
Omisoka is the Japanese New Year’s celebration. On this day, families clean the whole house in order to start the new year with a clean slate, a process called osoji. Decorations are placed inside and outside the home to welcome the new year. A large meal is shared with friends and family, with a final meal of toshikoshi-soba, or noodles, served at the end of the day. This tradition comes from the belief that eating long noodles will grant a long life and help cross from one year to the next.
Omisoka is also considered a spiritual event for many Japanese. At midnight, temples ring a large metal bell or strike a gong 108 times to signify the desires that create human suffering. It is a symbolic way to drive these thoughts away to purify for the new year.
– Clean the house to prepare for the new year
– Ring a bell 108 times to symbolize entering the new year with a purified heart and mind
– Eat the traditional meal of soba noodles
Alison Bogle is an Austin-based freelance writer and mom of three.