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Multicultural Calendar

December does not have designated heritage months, but it does have several internationally recognized celebrations.

Read more on our Heritage Month Guide.

1. World AIDS Day: International

Also known as United Nations World AIDS Day, this day has been declared by the World Health Organization as a time to increase education and awareness of AIDS.

3. International Day of Persons with Disabilities: United Nations

An international observance, this day was established to promote an understanding of disability issues and mobilize support for the dignity, rights, and well-being of persons with disabilities. It also seeks to foster awareness of the importance of integrating persons with disabilities into every aspect of life.

5. Saint Nicholas Day: Netherlands

This day begins the Christmas season in the Netherlands with the arrival of Saint Nicholas, "Sinterklaas,". Cities have parades where he comes riding on a white horse or in a barge or even on a motorcycle wearing a bishop's hat and a red cape. That evening, adults have parties and exchange gifts, while children set out shoes filled with carrots and hay for Saint Nicholas' horse. In the morning, they find the shoes filled with gifts.

10. International Human Rights Day: United Nations

On this day in 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the first such statement of principle by an international body. The document, conceived as "a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations," sets forth the basic civil, economic, political, and social rights that should be guaranteed to every person.

11-12. Arbaeen: Islamic

Begins at sundown on December 11. This day marks the end of the traditional 40-day mourning period following Ashura, the anniversary of the martyrdom of Hussein ibn Ali, grandson of Islam's prophet Muhammad and third Imam of the Shi'a Muslims. For Shi'a Muslims, Arbaeen is a day of commemoration and pilgrimage to the shrine of Hussein at Karbala.

12. Fiesta de Guadalupe (fee-esta-de-gwad-ah-loopey): Mexico

This is the feast day of the patron saint of Mexico. The shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe is Mexico's most sacred religious site. This date celebrates the anniversary of the day on which Juan Diego, an Aztec peasant, is said to have seen a vision of the Virgin Mary, who ordered him to go and tell the Bishop of Mexico to build a church on that spot.

13. Younghill Kang (1903-1972): Korean American

Kang came to the United States in 1921, three years before the passage of the law that would bar Koreans and Japanese for 28 years from settling in the United States. He attended university classes and read widely in American literature, beginning to write in English in 1928. He published translations of Korean works, book reviews, a memoir, and two novels recounting the experiences of Korean immigrants, The Grass Roof and East Goes West. Though he achieved only modest recognition during his lifetime, he is now acknowledged as an important figure, perhaps the first writer to express the claim of Asian immigrants to be full participants in American society.

16. Hanukkah (12/17-12/24): Jewish

Hanukkah begins at sundown on December 16. Because this holiday occurs in December, it is often misunderstood as the "Jewish Christmas", however it commemorates the victory of the Jewish people, led by the Maccabee family, over the Syrian Greeks in 165 B.C.E. This victory marked the end of a three-year period of religious persecution, restored Jewish independence, and ensured the survival of monotheism (belief in one God). According to legend, when the Jews returned to cleanse their Temple, which had been defiled by pagan worship, they discovered only enough consecrated oil to keep the holy lamp burning for one day. However, the oil miraculously lasted eight days, the time needed to secure a new supply. Hanukkah is celebrated by lighting a candle on each of the eight days of celebration. On the first night, one candle is lit in a branched candlestick called a menorah, and an additional candle is lit each night until the eighth night. This ceremony has given the holiday the additional name of "Festival of Lights." Hanukkah is joyfully celebrated. Special Hebrew hymns, including "Rock of Ages," are sung, family members exchange gifts, and children play with a dreidel, a four-sided top inscribed with the Hebrew letters for "a great miracle happened there." Potato pancakes, or latkes, are a traditional food treat, with the oil used for cooking recalling the oil in the sacred lamp. The holiday ends at sundown on December 24.

Las Posadas (12/16-12/24): Mexico

Las Posadas, celebrated from December 16 to December 24, commemorates 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.

16. Reconciliation Day: South Africa

Traditionally celebrated by Afrikaners as the Day of the Vow, it commemorates the day that a group of Voortrekkers defeated a Zulu army at the Battle of Blood River, while African National Congress activists commemorated it as the day in 1961 when the ANC started to arm its soldiers to overthrow apartheid. Now with the advent of democracy in South Africa, this day is set aside to focus on overcoming the conflicts of the past and building a new nation.

20. International Human Solidarity Day: United Nations

Proclaimed by the U.N. General Assembly in 2005, this day is dedicated to raising awareness of the importance of solidarity for advancing the international development agenda, especially for the eradication of poverty. At the launch of International Human Solidarity Day, a keynote address was given by Lech Walesa, former president of Poland and co-founder of the labor union Solidarity, which inspired the Solidarity movement throughout Central and Eastern Europe.

21. Winter Solstice 
25. Wendell Chino (1923-1998): American Indian (Mescalero Apache)

Chino, an Indian spokesman and activist who was president of his tribe for 34 years, was a key figure in the movement to demand that the United States government honor its treaties with Indian nations regarding the use of land and other natural resources. He was hailed by Roy Bernal, chairman of the All Indian Pueblo Council, as "the Martin Luther King Jr. or Malcolm X of Indian Country." When the Bureau of Indian Affairs' contracts for such activities as mining, lumber production, and water use began to expire in the 1960s, Chino refused to renew the contracts. Instead he formed companies to manage these resources that would be controlled by the Mescalero Apaches living in southern New Mexico. They built the Inn of the Mountain Gods, Casino Apache, a timber mill, Indian schools, a hospital, and a health center. Promoting "red capitalism," or Indian control of Indian land, Chino traveled widely as a spokesman for Indian issues and served as president of the National Congress of American Indians.

Christmas: Christian

Most Christians observe Christmas to celebrate the birth of Jesus, and it is celebrated as a public holiday in many countries worldwide. Eastern Orthodox Christians who follow the Orthodox New Calendar, such as the Greek and Cypriot Orthodox Churches, observe Christmas on this date. However, other Eastern Orthodox Christians and Coptic Orthodox Christians follow the Orthodox Old Calendar, or Julian calendar, and celebrate Christmas on January 7. The Armenian Apostolic Church observes Christmas on January 6. Christmas is a family-oriented holiday with special foods, colorful decorations, and exchanging of gifts. Families often have their own traditions, especially concerning when gifts are exchanged and what foods are served. Jehovah's Witnesses are among those who do not celebrate this holiday.

26. Sojourner Truth (1797-1883): African American

Isabella Baumfree, born a slave, fled her slave master in 1826 and became free in 1828 under the New York State Anti-Slavery Act. In 1843 Isabella experienced what she regarded as a command from God to preach. She changed her name to Sojourner Truth and became a traveling speaker and an eloquent advocate of the abolition of slavery and the granting of civil rights to women. She settled in Washington, D.C. after the Civil War where she worked to help impoverished former slaves. She died on this date.

26. Kwanzaa (quanza) (rhymes with wanza): African American

The festival of Kwanzaa, first celebrated on December 26, 1966, was created in the United States by scholar and cultural activist Dr. Maulana Karenga. Patterned after harvest festivals in Africa, Kwanzaa derives its name from the Swahili phrase matunda ya kwanza, meaning "first fruits." Symbols of Kwanzaa are set upon a low table laden with tropical fruits and vegetables. A seven-branched candelabrum called a kinara, reflecting the Nguzo Saba, or the seven principles of Kwanzaa, is used for lighting one candle for each day of the holiday. Kwanzaa decorations traditionally use a color scheme of red, black, and green: black to represent the faces of Black people and their collective beauty, red to represent the struggle and the blood of ancestors, and green to signify youth and renewed life. The Kwanzaa observance includes storytelling about the seven principles of Kwanzaa: Umoja (Unity), Kujichagulia (Self-Determination), Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity), and Imani (Faith). A Pan-African holiday, Kwanzaa is also celebrated in Africa, the Caribbean, South America, and in African communities in the United Kingdom and other European countries.

Boxing Day: United Kingdom

Observed in the United Kingdom and in many countries of the Commonwealth of Nations, this is the day when people give gifts or money to tradespeople and others who provide service, in appreciation for the work they have done over the past year. Several theories exist about the origin of the name Boxing Day. One contends that this was the day when churches opened their Christmas alms boxes and distributed the contents to the poor. Another gives its origin as the day when employers gave their servants boxes containing gifts and year-end bonuses—since servants were required to work on Christmas Day, their holiday leave started the day after Christmas. When Boxing Day falls on a weekend, the following Monday is often observed as a holiday in most countries of the current or former United Kingdom.

The entries for this calendar have been adapted from the Electronic Diversity Calendar (TM). Used with permission.

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