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December is often seen as the last month of the year, but that’s true only of the western Gregorian calendar. Chinese, Islamic, Jewish and other calendars define the first and last month differently.
Nevertheless, December includes important holidays and events among these religions and among other traditions and social issues. For a complete list, see our online diversity calendar.
Christianity – Cultural Variations at Christmas
It’s well known that December is filled with the symbols of Christmas, both as a Christian holiday and as that of the winter festival of Yule. But it’s important to be aware of and sensitive to cultural variations, as it takes on the character of different cultures in different countries.
In Mexico, for example, Las Posadas is celebrated from December 16 to December 24, to commemorate Mary and Joseph’s effort to find an inn and the events associated with the birth of Jesus. The holiday takes its name from the Spanish word posadas, meaning “a dwelling.” A candlelight procession represents the star in heaven that guided the three wise men on their way.
After a religious ceremony on December 24, there is a traditional celebration centering on the piñata, a decorated clay container filled with toys and candy. A child is blindfolded, turned around a few times, and given a wooden stick and three chances to break the piñata. When the piñata is broken, the children scramble for the candy.
Judaism – the Real Meaning of Hanukkah
Hanukkah usually begins in December, this year on the evening of Dec. 24. It’s an eight-day festival, the last night of which is on sundown Jan. 1 Hanukkah marks the liberation of Jews from rule by the Syrian Greeks and the restoration of religious freedom and the survival of monotheism (belief in one God).
Because it often occurs in December, Hanukkah is often misunderstood as the “Jewish Christmas,” which underscores the need for workplace religious sensitivity training. But its eight days of gift-giving is based on the legend that when the Jews returned to cleanse their temple, the ritual oil for burning was expected to last only one day, but miraculously lasted for eight instead.
Buddhism – Dec 8
December 8 is an important holiday in Buddhism, which has two main branches. Theravada is the only surviving school of the original sects of Buddhism, and the predominant religion of continental Southeast Asia and Sri Lanka, and also found in parts of Indonesia, Malaysia, and Vietnam.
Mahayana is the later revisionist school of Buddhism, found primarily in China, Japan, Korea, and parts of the Republic of China and Vietnam. Offshoots of the Mahayana tradition include Vajrayana, found in Tibet and Mongolia, Jodo (Pure Land), and Zen Buddhism.
Buddhists who follow the Theravada tradition celebrate holidays according to the lunar calendar, in which dates of observance vary from year to year. The Mahayana tradition celebrates holidays on fixed dates, based on the Japanese Buddhist calendar. December 8, among Mahãyãna Buddhists, celebrates Buddha’s attaining understanding of the truth of existence, freeing himself from all human suffering, and finding perfect happiness.
Islam – Milad un Nabi on Dec. 13
The Prophet’s Birthday, or Milad un Nabi as it is widely known throughout the Muslim world, is celebrated by Muslim’s around the world. The day commemorates the birth of the Prophet Muhammad.
World AIDS Day – Dec 1
On a more somber note, December kicks off with an international event, World Aids Day, on December 1. This important event asks us to reflect on the many lives lost – and to inspire hope for a future cure.
Similar to the rest of the year, the month of December reflects expressions of traditions, cultures, and religions different from our own. These diverse events can enrich our workplace. And with proper awareness, fostered by tools such as online diversity training, it can make it more effective and productive.