December is synonymous with the holiday season worldwide. Two major religious holidays and one cultural holiday are celebrated during the month of December – Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa. Hanukkah, a Jewish holiday, begins at sundown on December 4 and continues for eight days. Advent, the preparation period for Christmas, begins December 2. Kwanzaa, a cultural celebration for African Americans and Africans worldwide, occurs immediately after Christmas from December 26 – January 1.
Saint Nicholas Day, December 6, is a holiday recognized and celebrated in many European countries. This holiday honors the original Saint Nicholas who lived during the 4th century and served as a bishop in Myra, Turkey. Nicholas was very young when his parents died. With the wealth he inherited, Nicholas performed many charitable acts for the poor. He is known as the saint of children. Our modern Santa Claus evolved from the many legends that abound about Saint Nicholas.
The most common told story about St. Nicholas involves three daughters who were too poor to provide a dowry and were, therefore, unable to be married. The story goes that one night the eldest daughter washed out her stockings and hung them by the fire to dry. Saint Nicholas, hearing of their plight, slipped into the home undetected and left a considerable amount of gold in her stocking. This gave her family enough money to eat and enough left over to provide for her dowry. More gold was left the next night so, curious to see who was leaving the money, the father stayed up to see what would happen. He discovered it was Saint Nicholas. Saint Nicholas asked the man not to tell anyone what he had done. The man, however, could not keep the secret to himself and word got out about Saint Nicholas’s good deed. This story reflects today’s story of Santa Claus who comes secretly in the middle of the night to leave gifts in children’s stockings.
Besides the winter holidays, there are additional historical events related to Christmas worth noting in December. For example, the first Christmas Seals were issued December 9, 1907 by the American Lung Association. The Christmas Seal Campaign is designed to support the American Lung Association’s mission to prevent lung disease and promote lung health. Founded in 1904, the American Lung Association is the oldest voluntary health organization with national and regional offices. Originally founded to fight tuberculosis, the focus today is fighting lung disease of any kind with a special emphasis on asthma, tobacco control, and environmental health.
The first time a Christmas tree was lit by electricity occurred when Edward Johnson, an affiliate of Thomas Edison, used eighty small electric light bulbs to light a Christmas tree in New York City. The date was December 22, 1882. Johnson also created the first string of electric lights to be mass-produced in 1890. By 1900, department stores were using the strings of lights to create their Christmas displays.
The famous tale, "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens, was published on December 19, 1843. This enduringly popular story was instantly successful and sold six thousand copies the first week. The story’s main characters, Scrooge and the Cratchits, continue to be a part of popular Christmas culture yet today.
Of course, the last holiday of the year, New Year’s Eve, occurs on December 31 and heralds a chance to welcome a new year with new opportunities.
So, no matter what holiday you celebrate in December, enjoy the time you spend with family and friends, reviving old traditions and trying new ones.
Additional Resources for December: