When you think of December celebrations, dancing elves and Christmas songs likely fill your head. But there is more to December than Ol’ Saint Nick. While you were busy standing in line to get the hottest new appliances to put under the tree, you were missing other incredible celebrations going on around the world, some that are interesting variations on Christmas and others that have nothing to do with it. With this assortment of festivals, you’ll be celebrating all month long.
Chichibu Night Festival, Japan
Chichibu City is home to the Chichibu Shrine, and every year on the second and third of December the Chichibu Night Festival, or Chichibu Yomatsuri, lights up this wintry mountain town. It’s considered one of the top three festivals involving floats in Japan. The main events take place on the third, when you’ll find the city lined with stands selling festival foods; six elaborate floats adorned with lanterns, tapestries and gilded wood carvings; and a two-hour fireworks show at night.
Junkanoo is celebrated in many places across the globe, but it holds the most honor in the Bahamas. Which means it parties harder. Every year on December 26 (followed by a second Junakoo session on January 1), thousands of Bahamians dance through Nassau’s Bay Street in wild, handcrafted crepe paper costumes doing choreographed dances. It’s not all fun and games though, the participants join as teams, all of which have most likely been working their dances, costumes and themes since last year’s festivities. At the end of the parade, the judges choose a winner. Reminiscent of New Orleans’ Mardi Gras, the town centers turn into wild oceans of color, and traditional Bahamian music can be heard throughout the streets. Some say the festival dates back to the 1700s.
Festival of Lights, France
Every December, Paris, the City of Light, passes the torch to another French city, Lyon, which hosts the four-day Festival of Lights. Held in honor of the Virgin Mary, thousands of candles are lit throughout the old city, and at night all the streetlights are turned off — creating a majestic candlelit atmosphere. Parades illuminate the streets, and the buildings are lit up with creative flashing displays attracting millions of visitors from all over the world.
Editor’s note: Due to security concerns following the Paris attacks, Lyon has cancelled the Festival of Lights in 2015, and citizens are instead requested to light candles in memory of the victims.
The King’s Birthday, Thailand
King Rama IX of Thailand is the world’s longest-reigning monarch and a beloved figure in Thailand. His birthday, December 5, is treated as a public holiday, during which buildings and homes raise flags and display portraits in honor of His Majesty. In Bangkok, the area surrounding the palace is filled with marigolds, and a fireworks display is conducted on the eve of the holiday. If you wish to experience authentic Thai pride, this is when to visit the country.
Finnish Independence Day, Finland
On December 6, 1917, Finland declared its independence from the Russian Empire. To celebrate this national holiday, every year windows and buildings are decorated with patriotic items, and commerce is shut down. The biggest celebration is in Helsinki where a torch parade is held, ending in speeches and music at Senate Square.
Night of the Radishes, Mexico
On the night of December 23, veggie and art lovers unite as a unique folk art competition takes place in the main plaza of Oaxaca City in Mexico. The craftspeople use radishes to create elaborate sculptures of animals, scenes and religious figures. The festival’s roots (ha!) date back to the 16th century when Spanish monks brought radishes over to Mexico. In order to promote this new and unusual vegetable, one of the monks suggested arranging the radishes to create eye-catching displays in the market, and the festival has continued ever since.
Boston Tea Party Reenactment, U.S.
If you weren’t around to witness the real thing on December 16, 1773, head to Boston on this day for the annual Boston Tea Party Reenactment. This popular event allows visitors to travel back in time to one of the most historic protests the country has ever seen, and even participate in some of the rabble-rousing.
The Whirling Dervishes Festival, Turkey
For the Islamic faithful, 13th-century Sufi poet Mevlâna is revered for his philosphies and poetry. He continues to be honored and his poetry read all over the world by followers including Madonna. One of his beliefs was that union with God was possible via dance. After his death on December 17, 1273, the Whirling Dervishes Festival came to fruition. Every year in Konya, Turkey, worship ceremonies consisting mainly of dance take place. Millions of people from all over the world come to witness the Mevlevi, or whirling dervishes, in long white skirts and black cloaks, dancing in a trancelike display of devotion and faith as they connect to God in the way Mevlâna taught.
On December 5, the eve of St. Nicholas Day, the people of Küssnacht, Switzerland, break out their whips and cowbells for one of the world’s most unusual parades. The festival’s original purpose was to chase out evil spirits, but somehow Santa Claus was dragged into the whole thing, and now the point of the parade is to run around chasing out the evil Ol’ St. Nick. While it’s all fun and games, it definitely is one way to get onto the Naughty List.
Burning of the Devil, Guatemala
If you are a fan of cleaning, head to Guatemala on December 7, when they chase out the devil with a little Windex and a broom. Quema del Diablo, aka the Burning of the Devil, occurs before Christmas when Guatemalans look in corners, under beds and in the garbage on the street for evil spirits. After cleaning out all the areas wherein evil might be lurking, everyone gathers to set the piles of garbage on fire to make sure the devil is gone for good, while marimba bands play in the background and create an interesting juxtaposition.
Pancha Ganapati, India
Think of this as the Hindu Christmas — but instead of Santa, the Hindus worship Lord Ganesha, and instead of one day of presents, children received gifts from December 21-25. There is no Christmas tree but a festive shrine created in the family’s living room dedicated to Lord Panchamukha Ganapati, a form of Ganesha. These five days consist of gift giving, picnics, worship and sweets, each day dedicated to one of the five faces of Pancha Ganapati.
Dongzhì Festival, China, Hong Kong and Taiwan
Dongzhì Festival is celebrated in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, and coincides with winter solstice each year. Families get together and eat traditional foods made specifically for this holiday. Everyone takes off from work and enjoys the warmth of their homes surrounded by family. If you have a sensitive stomach, however, be wary, as some of the foods eaten on this holiday are a bit … unique.
In Edinburgh, Scotland, New Year’s Eve is celebrated with live music, drama, carnivals and parades. The festivities begin on December 29 with a torch procession and ends with Dogmanay on the first day of the New Year. With a street art carnival, outdoor concerts, dancing, kilts, bagpipes and over 250,000 drunken revelers, Hogmanay has become the most famous New Year’s celebration in the world — step aside Times Square — and Europe’s biggest winter festival.
Of course December wouldn’t be complete without Santa and his sleigh. People all over the world celebrate Jesus Christ’s birth by putting gifts under the tree, eating big meals and singing carols. On Christmas Eve, churches are packed for Midnight Mass and a little worship before ripping open the gifts. But the best part of Christmas might be the Christmas markets which pop up across the globe in December, where visitors can get unique handicrafts, traditional foods, mulled wine and a boatload of holiday spirit. Some of the most famous Christmas markets can be found in Europe, Germany specifically.
Read about the 25 of the best places to spend Christmas around the world.
— Contributed by Maggie Parker