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The menorah has been part of Jewish religious holidays for centuries.

Holiday potpourri: December holidays run the gamut

From World Aids Day to Kwanzaa, both religious and secular

By David Abbott
Sonoma Seniors Today Editor

While we all know about the big, high-profile December holidays, there are a plethora of additional celebrations throughout the month, some mainstream or regional, some religious or secular, and some that are just plain wacky.

The world over, the month is chock full of major and minor holidays celebrating the births of religious icons as well as random, offbeat events marking important anniversaries, everyday items or activities and even underappreciated foodstuffs.

From the serous to the mundane, December has a holiday for everyone.
The menorah has been part of Jewish religious holidays for centuries.

The menorah has been part of Jewish religious holidays for centuries.

For the more traditionally minded, depending upon ones religious bent, Chanukah or Hanukkah takes place this year from Dec. 12-20, followed by the big one in Anglo-American culture, Christmas on its usual Dec. 25, where family members, for the most part, sit around, eat and watch professional sports while the kids and grandkids tear open presents, leaving a big mess in the living room.

That’s not to mention the now three-months long lead in to Christmas, where “big box” stores like Costco and Wal-Mart set out decorations and offer Christmas specific items before Halloween has even passed.

Although not as mainstream as the two heavyweights, Kwanzaa (Dec. 26-Jan. 1) has made inroads during an extended period of multicultural interest. Both Hanukkah and Christmas have ancient roots that date back to prehistoric times, but Kwanzaa, an African-American and pan-African celebration of family and culture, dates back to 1966.

According to, the holiday was established by Dr. Maulana Karenga, professor and chairman of Black Studies at California State University, Long Beach. Dr. Karenga created Kwanzaa after the Watts riots in Los Angeles, as a way to bring African-Americans together as a community. The weeklong holiday combines aspects of several different harvest celebrations, and includes songs and dances, African drums, storytelling, poetry reading, candle lighting and a large traditional meal.

While the three larger cultural holidays happen toward the end of December, the month kicks off with an Islamic celebration, the Prophet’s Birthday—Malwed or Milad un Nabi in some iterations—celebrated in multiple countries around the world, from the Philippines to India and Asia. The date is reserved for discussion, prayers and reading the Quran, serving food to friends and family, and giving to the poor.

Grav Mass Day is a celebration of Sir Isaac Newton’s birthday. The Dec. 25 holiday is seen as an alternative to Christmas and a time to celebrate science and reason.

Grav Mass Day is a celebration of Sir Isaac Newton’s birthday. 

But the secular holiday season goes into full swing early as well. For instance, Portugal celebrates its independence from Spain in a 17th century war that ended with the Treaty of Lisbon in 1668. Likewise Kazakhastan, Romania, Ghana and many other countries have celebrations of nationalism or independence. Dec. 1 is also World AIDS Day.

In the United Kingdom, one can celebrate Small Business Saturday, which began in 2013 on the heels of the success of Small Business Saturday in the U.S. The day is meant as a means to support locally owned businesses by spending holiday cash in the community.

In order to get dressed up for the holiday season, there are clothing-related days such as Wear Brown Shoes Day, Put on Your Own Shoes Day, Ugly Sweater Day, and of course Christmas Jumper Day.

Those with a nontraditional bent can enjoy the holiday season with National Mutt Day; celebrate No Interruptions Day by enjoying Christmas Card Day, Thank You Note Day and Weird Letter Writing Day uninterrupted, and learn more about food that nobody eats with Noodle Ring Day. And for dessert, top it off with what could become everyone’s favorite, Chocolate Covered Anything Day on Dec. 16.

The microwave oven even has its day.

The microwave oven even has its day.

Other food-related holidays include Eat a Red Apple Day, Fritters Day, National Roast Suckling Pig Day, Bicarbonate of Soda Day or National Bacon Day.

On Dec. 5, Repeal Day, one can lift a toast—legally—to the 21st Amendment that ended Prohibition.

More serious holidays include Advent, Boxing Day, which began in the United Kingdom when wealthy citizens would give special boxes of food to their servants, and the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

Finally, for those who want to end the year on a positive note, there is always Make Up Your Mind Day, a day set aside to quit wavering, take a side, follow through with a decision and stick to it.

Based on lists from and with information from

Festivus: A holiday for the rest of usfestivus

By David Abbott
Sonoma Seniors Today Editor

The advent of the television age has altered the way we look at many aspects of American life, creating cultural markers, syntax and other phenomena that we use in everyday life, often without thought to their origins.

The same can be said for December holidays.

To that end, many people celebrate Festivus, a television-inspired holiday that takes place a few days before traditional Christmas.

Although Festivus does not have deep cultural roots dating back to the dawn of civilization, many can relate to its foundational tenets as a response to the commercialization of a Christmas “season” that has grown to encompass a larger portion of the yearly calendar and seems to be gaudier with the passing of time.

The roots of Festivus can be traced back to Dec. 18, 1997, the date NBC aired “The Strike,” an episode of the critically acclaimed sitcom “Seinfeld,” which gained a nearly cult-like following in the latter part of the 20th century.

Although the episode centered on the antics of bizarro character Cosmo Kramer and his brief stint working at a bagel shop, the plotline followed the rather painful holiday traditions of character George Costanza.

In opposition to all the attendant glitz of the holidays, the Costanza character’s father, Frank Costanza (played by comedy legend Jerry Stiller) created his own secular holiday and called it “Festivus for the rest of us.”

The Festivus celebration included the Holiday Pole, an unadorned aluminum pole that acted as the antithesis of the Christmas tree that was the centerpiece to the family dinner, which traditionally consisted of meatloaf and spaghetti.

A traditional Festivus Pole.

A traditional Festivus Pole.

The painful part came after dinner with the Airing of Grievances, wherein all family members took turns stating what they did not like about each other and how they have been disappointed throughout the previous year.

Feats of Strength pitted family members and guests against one another in a wrestling match. The holiday did not end until the head of the household is pinned.

The final tradition was the exclamation of miracles. Literally anything could be proclaimed a miracle, followed by the exclamation, “It’s a Festivus Miracle!”

“Seinfeld” scriptwriter Dan O’Keefe provided the impetus for Festivus, as his father Daniel O’Keefe, a writer and editor for Reader’s Digest for 30 years, created the holiday in 1966 to commemorate his first date with his wife Deborah.

The O’Keefe family Festivus differed with the television version in that it took place at a random time sometime from December to May—the first was in February 1966—dinner featured ham or turkey, and instead of the holiday pole, the senior O’Keefe placed a clock in a bag to be hung immediately after dinner.

Daniel O’Keefe never explained the reason of this to his family.

Dec. 23 was chosen at random as the date of the celebration, as that was the Thursday following the date the episode aired.

In the ensuing decades, Festivus has taken on a life of its own as an alternative or supplement to the stressful aspects of the holiday season. It has appeared randomly throughout American culture from books on the subject (“Festivus: The Holiday for the Rest of Us,” by Allen Salkin), to political props such as when, in 2005, Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle was declared “Governor Festivus,” displaying a Festivus Pole in the family room of the Executive Residence in Madison.

In 2012, a Festivus Pole was officially erected next to religious displays in the Wisconsin State Capitol, along with a banner provided by the Freedom From Religion Foundation advocating for the separation of government and religion.

And the following year, a Festivus Pole built with beer cans was erected next to a nativity scene at the Florida State Capitol Building, as a protest supporting separation of church and state.

For those interested in celebrating Festivus, go to

A sampling of international holidays, both mainstream and unusual


The following is by no means a complete list of December holidays, but it contains a wide range of examples from all over the world.


Christmas, Boxing Day, St. Stephen’s Day, Yule, December Solstice, Kwanzaa (until Jan 1), Chanukah/Hanukkah, Advent, Eve of and the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Bodhi Day, Dhanu Sankranti, Holy Innocents, The Feast of St. Ambrose, Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Hallmarks and human rights:

International Day for the Abolition of Slavery, International Day of Persons with Disabilities, International Volunteer Day for Economic and Social Development, Father’s Day Thailand, Day of Goodwill, International Human Rights Day, Jane Addams Day (Mother of Social Work), International Civil Aviation Day, Wright Brothers Day, International Migrants Day, International Human Solidarity Day and Abolition of Slavery Reunion.


Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, National Guard Birthday in the U.S., Constitution Day in multiple countries.


Pretend to Be a Time Traveler Day, Official Lost and Found Day, Day of the Ninja, National Mutt Day, Microwave Oven Day, Free Shipping Day, Dewey Decimal System Day, Grav Mass Day, A’phabet Day or No “L” Day, Card Playing Day, Underdog Day, Monkey Day. Make a Gift Day, St Nicholas’ Eve and Day, World Soil Day, National Youth Day in Albania, International Anti-Corruption Day, International Mountain Day, Arabic Language Day, Turkish Language Day in Macedonia.

Clothing related:

Wear Brown Shoes Day, Ugly Sweater Day, Put on Your Own Shoes Day, Christmas Jumper Day.

Food related:

Fritters Day, National Roast Suckling Pig Day, National Brownie Day, National Cupcake Day, National Cookie Day, Date Nut Bread Day, Eggnog Day, Chocolate Covered Anything Day, Noodle Ring Day, Pepper Pot Day, Gingerbread House Day, Bicarbonate of Soda Day, National Bacon Day.

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