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In All the Christmas Hype, You Might be Forgetting These Significant December Festivals

For many of us, it’s Christmas as soon as Thanksgiving is over. For some of you super-crazed Christmas fans, the Christmas season might even start as early as Halloween. But it’s important that there’s a lot more going on in December than just Christmas. Here’s just a few of the many holidays, celebrations, and festivals taking place both in the US and internationally this December.


Asarah BeTevet


This year the Tenth of Tevet (the tenth month in the Hebrew calendar) falls on December 23rd. The Tenth of Tevet is a minor fast day in Judaism which is not related to Chanukah despite being soon after. The fast commemorates the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon (588 BC). A year and a half later Nebuchadnezzar II would break through the city walls and destroy Solomon’s Temple.


Destruction of Temple of Jerusalem, by Francesco Hayez

Courtesy of ArtDot

The Chief Rabbinate of Israel has also declared the day a general Kaddish day, specifically for those who lost family in the Holocaust but do not know the date of their deaths. Fasting starts at sunrise and ends at sundown.


The Emperor’s Birthday (Japan)


December 23rd is the birthday of the Emperor of Japan, Emperor Akihito. Because the 23rd falls on a Sunday this year, the Emperor’s birthday will actually be observed on Monday the 24th. Akihito ascended to the throne in January of 1989 and is the 125th Emperor of the Yamato dynasty. The Japanese monarchy claims to be the oldest line of hereditary monarchs in the world with the first Emperor in the line, Emperor Jimmu, taking the throne in 660 BC. Emperor Akihito’s father was the famous Emperor Hirohito who ruled Japan during WWII. Emperor Akihito is turning 85 and is scheduled to abdicate the throne April 30th, 2019 due to his age. The heir apparent is his eldest son, Naruhito. Happy early birthday Emperor Akihito!


Picture Courtesy of Green Shinto


Birthday of the National Guard (US)


The US National Guard was first established as the English Colonial Government Militias on December 13th, 1636 and is often touted as the oldest military organization in the US. The name “National Guard” was first used in New York; the name was based on the French National Guard. In 1903 Congress passed the Dick Act, requiring states to divide their state militias into a National Guard and a Reserve Militia. The National Guard has units in every state, Guam, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and DC. In general, the governor of each state/territory directs the National Guard within their territory; except in DC where the President is the executive of the DC National Guard.

Notable mobilizations of the National Guard in the 20th century include:

  • President Eisenhower mobilizing the Arizona national guard to ensure the ability of the Little Rock Nine to attend Little Rock Central High School

  • On May 4th, 1970, Jim Rhodes mobilized the Ohio National Guard to the campus of Kent State University to quell protests against the Vietnam-war, 4 students were killed when they were fired on by the National Guardsmen

  • On April 29th, 1992 the city of Los Angles erupted into riots following the acquittal of 4 LAPD officers who brutally beat Rodney King, a black taxi drive. The riots lasted 6 days, 63 were killed and there was over 1$ Billion in property damage. Governor Pete Wilson called in the California Army National Guard to help quell the riots

  • In 1993 portions of the Texas and Alabama national guards helped the FBI in the Waco standoff

Happy birthday National Guard and thank you to all who serve!


Picture Courtesy of Duck Duck Go


The Dōngzhì Festival


Each year the Dōngzhì Festival is held on the winter solstice, which this year is on December 21st. “Dōngzhì” translates to something like ‘the extreme of winter,’ which is what the solstice is. The origins of the festival are drawn from Yin and Yang as the solstice marks a shift in day length and a return to warmer weather and longer days. Some believe this is the point in the year when everyone becomes a year older. For many, this is also a day to worship ancestors. The solstice marks the beginning of winter and the end of the harvest. Farmers would return to their families who would hold a special dinner to celebrate. A staple of Dōngzhì dinner, especially in Southern China, is tāng yuán, sweet rice balls which are also popular at the Lantern Festival and as dessert at weddings. Here are some tāng yuán recipes that you can make at home:

Noob Cook: Homemade Tang Yuan

Instructables: Tangyuan (Glutinous Rice Dumplings in Sweet Soup)


In Northern China dumplings, especially lamb, are popular on Dōngzhì. The story goes that Zhang Zhongjing, a doctor during the Han Dynasty, had lamb dumplings prepared and given to poor people with chilblains (a condition which is often mistaken for frostbite which looks similar and appears under similar conditions) in an attempt to cure them. As it turns out vitamin B can help reduce or even stop chilblains and lamb is high in vitamin B. So go make some of your own:


Omnivore Cookbook: Mom’s Best Lamb Dumplings

Chinese American Family: Best Lamb Dumplings

Wholesome Cook: Northern Chinese Lamb Dumplings




Picture Courtesy of pinimg


Dōngzhì is the last major festival before Chinese New Year, which is six weeks later. The festival is similar to American Thanksgiving is its emphasis on family.




Chanukah is probably the most widely known of Jewish holidays among non-Jewish people. However, there is a misconception that Chanukah is basically Jewish Christmas. While in practice the celebrations are sometimes similar, especially in the US, the origins of Chanukah are not related to Christmas.

The story of Chanukah begins with Antiochus III the Great of Syria defeating Ptolemy V Epiphanes of Egypt in 200BC and bringing Judea under Syrian control. In 175BC Antiochus III’s son, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, invaded Judea and eventually looted the Second Temple of Jerusalem (which had replaced the Temple of Solomon, destroyed in 586BC). Judaism was outlawed, an altar to Zeus was put up in the Temple, and pigs were sacrificed in the altar of the Temple. This led to a revolt of the Maccabees, led by Judah “the Hammer,” against Antiochus which succeeded in taking back the Temple in 165BC. Because the Temple had been polluted it could only be cleansed by burning kosher olive oil each night in the Temples menorah. Unfortunately, only one flask of oil could be found, which would only last for one day. However, the oil miraculously lasted for eight days which was enough time to prepare more kosher oil for the menorah. Because of this Chanukah is known as the Festival of Lights.

The menorah that you’re probably thinking of looks something like this


Picture Courtesy of wp.com


There are eight candles usually of equal elevation and a ninth which is often elevated in the center but really could be anywhere. Contemporary menorahs can get real funky.


Picture Courtesy of bp.blogspot


Picture Courtesy of Style Carrot


The singled out candle (usually at a different elevation from the other eight) is called the shamash. Depending on your tradition you might use the shamash to light the other candles or light the shamash last. Chanukah lasts eight days and nights; on the first night one candle is lit (not counting the shamash), on the second two, and so on. However, many people also have oil lamp menorahs, which harkens to the original story. In honor of the oil, many families will also eat oil-based foods like latkes, which are basically fried potato pancakes. This year Chanukah lasts from sunset December 2nd-sunset December 10th.


Happy holiday season everybody.


Third year in the College of Arts and Sciences, double majoring in History and Foreign Affairs.
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