If your mom is anything like my mom, she hardly needed an excuse to plan a party—but when she could find a legitimate excuse, she definitely would. Our Christmas celebrations were heavily supplemented by parties for other holidays, for other religions which we did not practice, but which she still wanted to celebrate to learn about different religions and cultures. This made for a pretty fun winter, with lots of unusual parties—holiday parties unlike any of the ones our friends or extended family were throwing. If you’re looking to throw a holiday party that’s not just another Christmas party, here are some other winter holidays that could use a little attention.
While pretty much everyone knows about Hanukkah, those who don’t observe it usually don’t know very much about it. Contrary to popular belief, Hanukkah isn’t just Christmas for Jewish people. Sure, it falls around the same time of year and most children do get gifts during the eight days of Hanukkah, but it has an entirely different origin and purpose—and unlike Christmas, which is one of the biggest holidays in Christianity, it not one of the most important holidays on the Jewish calendar. It celebrates the miracle of the oil in the temple burning for eight nights straight, even though it shouldn’t have lasted longer than one, and is an eight-night festival of lights.
2. The Winter Solstice
The Winter Solstice is the longest night of the year in the Northern Hemisphere and the longest day in the Southern Hemisphere. It is the traditional beginning of winter and occurs on the 21st of December, and it marks the point in our Earth’s rotation where the Northern hemisphere is as titled away from the sun as it can be.
While we sometimes hear the word “Yule” associated with Christmas things—like Yuletide or the Yule log, it is actually a separate holiday, celebrated by pagans. It occurs on the solstice and celebrates the sun as a personification of a god. During the months leading up to Yule, the god is seen as “leaving” as the days shorten and shorten. During the months after the winter solstice, until the summer solstice (again, just in the Northern Hemisphere), the god is returning to his people. Bonfires are set to light the world in case the sun god does not come back, but, as we know, he always does.
Because Islamic holidays are not set to the Gregorian calendar, when Ramadan actually falls will vary widely, depending on the year. Often, Ramadan will fall during the winter. This is a celebration of the Qur’an and its revelation to Mohammed, the prophet. This year, the holiday fell in the summer, eventually it will migrate back towards the wintertime.
Another holiday that many people have heard of, but may not know the origins of or the purpose for. This holiday is not even a hundred years old yet, having been created only in 1966 by California State University’s chairmen of Black Studies. It is intended to be a holiday to bring Africa-American communities together and honor their African roots. A Kwanzaa celebration will usually involve storytelling, singing, music, and meals from the African culture. There is also the lighting of the seven candles, which represents the seven values of African culture, including unity, faith, creativity, sense of purpose, collective work and responsibility, self-determination, and cooperative economics. The holiday starts the day after Christmas and ends on New Year’s Day.
6. Three Kings Day
This holiday is a good excuse to keep the Christmas tree up, even after New Year’s. You’d hate not to have your tree up for your Three Kings Day Party! This holiday is celebrated on January 6th and commemorates that arrival of the three wise men (three kings) in Bethlehem, to present baby Jesus with gifts. Traditional activities include finishing off the Christmas leftovers, singing carols, and exchanging the last of the gifts.
Have you ever heard someone say, “Festivus for the rest of us?” This holiday stems from an old episode of the Seinfeld. While the rules of Festivus are not exactly hard and fast, it is celebrated two days before Christmas and the only decoration is an aluminum pole. There’s also something about “airing grievances” and “feats of strength.” Don’t worry, die-hard Seinfeld fans will know what you’re talking about when you invite them to your Festivus festivities.
8. St. Nicholas Day
Traditionally celebrated on the 6th of December, this holiday recognizes the real life St. Nicholas and his good work in the country of Greece. The saint leaves goodies in the socks or shoes of good children (sound familiar), and it is traditional to leave a treat out for the saint.
9. St. Lucia Day
A Swedish holiday that comes around every December 13th, St. Lucia day commemorates Lucia, a young woman who was burned at the stake and then stabbed by the man she refused to marry. While it might not have the prettiest of origins, St. Lucia day traditions including dressing up as St. Lucia, making breakfast for your parents or other loved ones, and presenting it to them while they are still in bed while singing. You may recognize St. Lucia as the young, blonde woman wearing white dress with a red sash and a crown of candles.
10. Ghambar Maidyarem
Celebrated from the last day of December through the first day of January, this is a Zoroastrian holiday that celebrates the world’s animals and their creation. Traditional clothing and foods are eaten and time is spent with family.