December is a month of symbols. Christmas stars and trees, festival food, coal and golden switches, saints’ days, ceremonial candles, long nights, remembrance, and gift giving. Let’s explore some of the holidays (past and present) celebrated each week during this wintery month.
Let’s start at the beginning: the first week of December. Note: I’m extending the week to include the first few days.
World Aids Day
(image courtesy of Jayel Aheram and flickr)
I’m sure most of you have heard of Aids. Many of you have had friends or family affected by Aids. It’s important to remember this disease is not yet conquered, to re-dedicate ourselves to its eradication, and to remember all those stricken by this devastating illness.
(public domain image)
Did you know that in Alpine countries, Saint Nicholas has a devilish companion named Krampus? Krampus carries chunks of coal and bundles of birch branches (called ruten). He visits each town rattling his chains and punishing bad children the night before the Feast of Saint Nicholas begins. Some households keep a bundle of branches in a vase all year long to remind the children to behave. Krampus is believed to have started long ago as a pagan ritual and had its lost appeal to more modern folk. In recent years there has been increased interest in Krampus in the form of cards, tattoos, and parades.
Saint Nicholas Day
(Image courtesy of Dassel and pixabay)
Nikolaos of Myra, (15 March 270 – 6 December 343) was a Christian saint and Greek Bishop of Myra. Because of the many miracles attributed to his intercession, he is also known as Nikolaos the Wonderworker. Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers, repentant thieves, children, brewers, pawnbrokers, and students in various cities and countries around Europe. His legendary habit of secret gift-giving gave rise to the traditional model of Santa Claus (“Saint Nick”) through the Dutch Sinterklaas.
Bodhi Day also known as Rohatsu
This Day of Enlightenment celebrates the day that the historical Buddha (Shakyamuni or Siddhartha Gautama) experienced enlightenment while meditating under the bodhi tree. This day usually involves a meal of tea and cake and is spent in meditation, studying Buddha texts, and chanting. According to my research Bodhi is celebrated on this date by Japanese Zen Buddhists. Tibetian Buddhists and Theravada Buddhists each celebrate this event on different dates.
Feast of the Immaculate Conception
(image courtesy of Alexander Baxevanis on flickr)
The day of Virgin Mary’s Immaculate Conception is celebrated as a public holiday in many Catholic countries. It is often celebrated with parades, the lighting of an Advent candle, songs, piety, and salvation as represented by Mary, the mother of Jesus.