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December: A Time for Celebration

December 2012  

HanukkahFestivals and events in December are especially welcome to offer a lighter side to the cold dark days of mid-winter.

Christmas of course brings wonderful opportunities for celebration and great events. It is a highlight of the Christian calendar marking the birth of Jesus Christ and is marked with a host of religious services and musical events.

But along with the religious aspects, Christmas in the UK is also treated as a time of general celebration and marked by pantomimes, parties and all sorts of glorious activities that help to brighten up a dull mid winter season.

Along with Christmas there are also many other special events to help lift the spirits in December.

Saturday December 8th is Bodhi Day, a day when Buddhists celebrate Guatama’s gaining of enlightenment under the Bodhi tree in India. Along with meditation and other ways to mark this special day, some Buddhists celebrate with a traditional meal of tea, cake, and readings.

Better known in the UK is the Jewish Festival of Lights, or Hanukkah. This year it starts at sunset on Saturday December 8th and ends at nightfall on Monday December 17th. As winter approaches and the nights grow longer, the lights of Hanukkah are meant to remind people that even in darkness there is light. It actually commemorates the 164 BCE rededication of a temple following its debasement by the Syrian Greek king Antiochus. On the first day of the festival, one light is lit and then one additional candle is lit each day until the eighth and final light. There is also plenty of special food served during this time, including latkes, made with potatoes, eggs and salt; sufganiyot, a special jelly doughnut fried in oil, and bimuelos, tasty deep-fried pastry balls.

Nearer Christmas is the Winter Solstice, this year it falls on Friday December 21st. This is the time when here in the Northern hemisphere the sun appears at noon at its lowest altitude above the horizon.

The Winter Solstice is a traditional Pagan celebration also known as Yule and is actually one of the oldest winter celebrations in the world. It started because in the past our ancestors were hunters and spent most of their time outdoors. Therefore the seasons played a very important part in their lives and in mid-winter the Norsemen living in northern Europe marked the lowest point of the winter sun with bonfires, drink and storytelling.

Later in the UK Druids, or Celtic priests, would cut mistletoe as part of the celebrations because it grew in winter, marking a symbol of life in the cold lifeless months.

Just after Christmas, on December 26th, is St Stephen’s Day. St Stephen was an early Christian convert who became the first Christian martyr.

Time to celebrateThe month ends with New Year’s Eve, the big celebration to say goodbye to the old year and to welcome in the new year. In London, thousands gather along the Embankment on the River Thames to watch the fireworks around the London Eye and the New Year officially starts when nearby Big Ben strikes twelve. Scotland has an awesome reputation for celebrating New Year’s Eve with vigour under their special name for the event, Hogmanay. A famous street party in Princes Street, Edinburgh, is a traditional part of their celebration. A similar party is held in central Cardiff in Wales.

Whatever your faith, beliefs or style, everyone can find a reason to celebrate during December!

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