Religious Holy Days

December 2018

For Native Americans of the Zuni tribe in New Mexico, December marks the time of the Shalako Kochina Ceremony.  For other aboriginal tribes, this is the season when the river freezes and the land sleeps, known as Luut’aa.

Sunday, December 2
First Sunday of Advent (hope) – Christianity (Western churches)
Chanukah [Hanukkah] begins (through December 10) – Judaism 
The Jewish Festival of Lights commemorates the Maccabean victory over Syrian-Greek oppressors and the recapture and re-dedication of the Jerusalem Temple in 165 B.C.E.  Special readings and praise songs focus on liberty and freedom.  The eight-candle Menorah is lit at sundown, and gifts are given.

Saturday, December 8
Bodhi Day (Rohatsu) – Buddhism 
Celebration of the time when Prince Gautama (also later known as Shakyamuni Buddha) took his place under the Bodhi tree, vowing to remain there until he attained supreme enlightenment. 
Feast of the Immaculate Conception – Catholic Christianity 
A Roman Catholic holiday celebrating the belief that Mary, mother of Jesus, was preserved from original sin for her entire life.   

Sunday, December 9
Second Sunday of Advent (peace) – Christianity (Western churches)  

Monday, December 10
Human Rights Day
While not a religious festival, this day marks the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948, including Article 18 which states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.”

Wednesday, December 12
Masá’il – Bahá’í 
The beginning of the fifteenth month of the Bahá’í year; its name means “questions.”
Feast Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe – Catholic Christianity 
Commemorating the appearance of the Virgin Mary near Mexico City in 1531 C.E.  Juan Diego, a native American living during the Spanish conquest of Mexico, saw a vision of the Virgin Mary. He was told to build a church in her honor exactly where he stood, and in that spot the Basilica of Guadalupe was
 erected. Thousands of pilgrims from all over the world travel to that church every year and venerate the icon of the Virgin that is there, imprinted on Diego's cloak; it is believed that Our Lady of Guadalupe can intercede with God so that faithful believers' prayers can be answered, and miracles can occur.  She is also the patron saint of Mexico. 

Saturday, December 15
Bill of Rights Day   
While not a religious festival, this day marks the signing into law of the ten original amendments to the United States Constitution in 1791, including the First Amendment that protects citizens’ freedoms of speech and of religious expression.

Sunday, December 16
Third Sunday of Advent (joy) – Christianity (Western churches)
Posadas Navideñas begins (through December 25) – Christianity (Western churches) 
A Latino/Latina Christian feast of the Lodgings, commemorating the journey of Mary and Joseph toward Bethlehem in preparation for the birth of Jesus.
Simbáng Gabi begins (through December 24) – Christianity (Roman Catholic and Philippine Independent churches)
A nine-day series of night Masses observed by Filipino/Filipina Roman Catholics and members of the Philippine Independent Church in anticipation of Christmas and in honor of the Virgin Mary.

Monday, December 17
Birthday of Amitābha Buddha – Buddhism 
Marking the birth of the bodhisattva Dharmakāra who resolved to attain enlightenment as a buddha and vowed to create a Pure Land.  He became the buddha Amitābha (“infinite light”), and any sentient being who desires to be born into that land is guaranteed rebirth there through his vow, and from there she/he/it will unfailingly reach Nirvana.  This belief forms the foundation of Pure Land Buddhism, which is practiced by many Buddhists in Japan, China, and other East Asian countries.

Wednesday, December 19
Maunajiyaras – Jainism
A day of fasting, silence, and meditation on the five holy beings: monks, teachers, religious leaders, Arihants or Jinas (enlightened masters), and Siddhas (liberated souls).  This day is also marked as the birth anniversary of many Tirthankaras or Pathfinders.

Friday, December 21  winter solstice
Winter Feast – Native American spirituality
A time when Native Americans of the Woodland tribes share food with the spirits of winter. 
Yaldā – Zoroastrianism 
The “night of birth” which marks the longest night of the year, after which days begin getting longer—thus symbolizing the victory of light and goodness over dark and evil.  This festival is celebrated with storytelling, poetic readings, family reunions, and feasting.
Yule – Wicca  
A celebration symbolizing the rebirth of the sun by the Goddess.  A present-day Wicca event that ritually marks the shedding of the dross of the past year and contemplating one’s future spiritual development.
Tohji-Taisai [Grand Ceremony of the Winter Solstice] – Shintō 
This day marks the end of the sun’s decline (the yin period) and the beginning of its growth (the yang period).  In Japanese spirituality, the sun is expressive of Amaterasu Omikami, the sun goddess and guiding spirit of the Japanese people. 

Saturday, December 22
Sanghamittā Day – Buddhism 
Celebrating the anniversary of the arrival of King Asoka’s daughter Sanghamittā, who founded an order of nuns in Sri Lanka and carried with her a branch of the original tree under which the historical Buddha found enlightenment (it still survives in the ancient capital of Anuradhapura).  This festival occurs on the full moon day in December.

Sunday, December 23
Fourth Sunday of Advent (love) – Christianity (Western churches) 
Birthday of the Prophet Joseph Smith – Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 
Commemorating the birth of Joseph Smith, Jr., in 1805 C.E. in Vermont.  He translated what became known as the Book of Mormon and became the first president of the LDS Church when it was founded in 1830 in Fayette, New York.

Monday, December 24
Christmas Eve – Christianity (Western and Eastern churches)
Celebration of the arrival of Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem for the birth of Jesus. It is observed with worship, carols, candle lighting, manger scenes and festive meals. 

Tuesday, December 25 
Christmas Day/Feast of the Nativity – Christianity (Western and Eastern churches)
Celebration of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, observed by prayers, exchanging of gifts, and family parties.

Wednesday, December 26 
St. Stephen’s Day – Christianity 
Remembrance of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr. 
Kwanzaa begins (through January 1) – African American heritage
A seven-day festival that celebrates values highly regarded by people of African American ancestry.  The values include umoja (unity), kujichagulia (self-determination), ujima (collective work and responsibility), ujamaa (cooperative economics), nia (purpose), kuumba (creativity), and imani (faith).  Each of these principles, collectively known as the Nguzo Saba, is represented by a red or green candle, each of which is lit on successive days using a central black candle.  

Zaratosht Diso [Anniversary of the death of the prophet Zarathustra (Zoroaster)] – Zoroastrianism
Estimates of when he lived vary from the sixth to the second millenium B.C.E., but this date memorializes the death of the prophet Zoroaster, whose hymns (gathas) are preserved in the Zoroastrian scriptures.

Friday, December 28 
Holy Innocents’ Day – Christianity 
A day of solemn memory for the male children of Bethlehem killed by King Herod in an attempt to destroy Jesus.   

Monday, December 31  New Year’s Eve
Ghambar Maidyarem (through January 4) – Zoroastrianism
A celebration for the creation of animals, and a time for the equitable sharing of food with others.
Sharaf – Bahá’í 
The beginning of the sixteenth month of the Bahá’í year; its name means “honor.”

January 2019

The Iroquois Midwinter Ceremony, in which old fires are extinguished and new fires are lit, and the Hopi Holy Cycle, in which the changing of the seasons and the nature of the Hopi sacred universe are celebrated, begin in January and February, but the dates of observance vary by tribe.  It is also the season of K’aliyee, the time of the north wind that blows off glaciers and icecaps that linger from the last ice age.

Tuesday, January 1  New Year’s Day
Temple Day – Buddhism
North American Buddhists attend special services in temples on this day.   
Feast of Mary, Mother of God; and the Naming of Jesus Christ – Christianity
Some Christians celebrate this day in honor of Jesus’ mother; others celebrate this day (eight days after Jesus’ birth) as the day when Jesus was presented at the Temple and officially named by his parents.
Gantan-sai (O-shōgatsu) – Shintō
This Japanese celebration of the New Year includes prayers for the renewal of hearts, good health and prosperity.  The festival lasts for a week, during which time people visit one another’s homes and offer gifts of good wishes for the coming year.

Friday, January 4
Ghambar Maidyarem ends – Zoroastrianism
A celebration for the creation of animals, and a time for the equitable sharing of food with all.

Saturday, January 5
Birthday of Gurū Gobind Singh Ji – Sikhism
A celebration in honor of the tenth and final Sikh master [1666 – 1708 C.E.], who created the Brotherhood of the Pure (Khalsa) and who declared the scriptures (Adi Granth) to be the gurū for all Sikhs from that time onward.  This date is used by adherents of the Nanakshahi tradition.

Sunday, January 6
Epiphany – Christianity (Western churches)
Marking the traditional date of the visitation of the Magi to meet the infant Jesus and the end of the twelve days of Christmas, also known as Día de los Reyes (Day of the Kings).  In Armenian Christian churches, this date is celebrated as the Feast of the Nativity.  Most Western churches celebrate this feast as Epiphany, which comes from the Latin word meaning “manifestation”; in Ethiopian Orthodox churches it is known as Timkat and is celebrated on January 19th.
Feast of the Theophany – Christianity (some Eastern churches)
In some Eastern churches, this feast is associated with the baptism of Jesus by John and Jesus’ first recorded miracle in the Gospels, where he changed water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana.  This celebration begins at sundown on the previous day.  In Eastern churches using the Julian calendar, this feast occurs on January 19th. 

Monday, January 7 
Feast of the Nativity (Christmas) – Christianity (some Eastern churches)
The celebration of Jesus’ birth begins at sundown on this day, according to the Julian calendar used in some Orthodox churches.

Tuesday, January 8
Seijin-no-hi – Shintō
Coming-of-Age Day, a Japanese national holiday in which families travel to shrines and announce to the gods that their children have reached adulthood.  Prayers are offered for the children’s wellbeing and lifelong health. 

Thursday, January 10
Memorial of Línjì Yìxuán – Buddhism
Anniversary of the death in 866 C.E. of the Chinese Buddhist teacher who founded what is often known as the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism.

Saturday, January 12
Swami Vivekananda Jayanti – Hinduism
A celebration of the birth of Swami Vivekananda, who introduced Hinduism to North America at the World’s Parliament of Religions, held in 1893 in Chicago during the World’s Fair.

Sunday, January 13 
Maghi – Sikhism
Commemorating a battle in which forty Sikhs (the Forty Liberated Ones or Immortal Ones), led by a woman named Maathaa Bhaag Kaur, sacrificed themselves for their gurū.  

Monday, January 14
Makar Sankranti – Hinduism
A festival marking the change from decrease to increase of the sun.

Wednesday, January 16
Memorial of Shinran Shonin – Buddhism
Anniversary of the death in 1263 C.E. of the founder of the Jōdo Shinshū (True Pure Land) school of Mahāyāna Buddhism in Japan.

Friday, January 18
Week of Prayer for Christian Unity begins – Christianity

Saturday, January 19
Sultán – Bahá’í
The first day of Sultán (Sovereignty), the seventeenth month of the Bahá’í year.

Sunday, January 20  
Tu B’Shevat – Judaism
A joyous celebration of the coming spring, including the planting of trees and the conservation of fruits native to Israel, as well as special meals where Jews eat the seven fruits of the land (wheat and barley; grapes; figs; pomegranates; olives; and honey).  The festival begins at sundown.
World Religion Day – Bahá’í 
A celebration of the teachings of unity found in all religious traditions.  The observance begins at sundown.

Monday, January 21
Martin Luther King, Jr., Day – USA national holiday
A day remembering the life and legacy of the American civil rights leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate. 
Mahāyāna New Year – Buddhism
This celebration falls on the first full moon day in January for Buddhists who practice in the Mahāyāna (Great Vehicle) stream.  By contrast, in Theravadin countries (Thailand, Burma, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, and Laos) the new year is celebrated in April, while Tibetan Buddhists generally celebrate it in March.

Friday, January 25
Memorial of Hōnen Shonin – Buddhism
Anniversary of the death in 1212 C.E. of the founder of the Jōdo Shū (Pure Land) school of Mahāyāna Buddhism in Japan.

Wednesday, January 30
Jashne Sadeh – Zoroastrianism
A celebration of the discovery of fire by King Hashang of the Peshdadian dynasty; it is a festival in which a large bonfire is built as an act of defiance to drive back the winter.

Thursday, January 31
Birth of Gurū Har Rai – Sikhism
A celebration of the birth of the seventh of the Sikh gurūs [1630 – 1661 C.E.], according to the Nanakshahi calendar.

Thank you

Thank you to ACPE Certified Educator Rev. Dr. Peter Yuichi Clark at UCSF Medical Center Spiritual Care Services, San Francisco, CA, for compiling this list each month. Email him for more information.  

Also our thanks to the Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago, the Multifaith Action Society of British Columbia (Canada), BBC’s Religion Website, Peel Schools District Board (Mississauga, Ontario, Canada), the Arizona State University Provost’s Office, the NCCJ of the Piedmont Triad, the Anti-Defamation League, Project Interfaith (Omaha, NE), the University of Victoria Faculty of Law (British Columbia, Canada), and

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