Ask An International Etiquette Expert: What are December’s Worldwide Holidays & Seasonal Salutations?

12/15/2016 01:50 pm ET
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Wondering what your work colleagues are celebrating and talking about at the ping pong table? Traveling for business or pleasure in December and want to be sure you are up-to-date on the latest worldwide holidays? Enjoy this list of December holidays around the world:

December 21-25: Pancha Ganapati (Hindu)

From December 21 to 25th, wish practicing Hindus a “Merry Pancha Ganapati!”

The five days of Pancha Ganapati are colorful celebrations of feasting, gift exchanges, music, and harmony. Every year, households create a shrine including a wooden or bronze statue of Lord Panchmukhi ("five-faced") Ganapati, a form of the Hindu Deity Lord Ganesha. Each morning of the holiday, the children decorate the statue in the day’s symbolic color that represents one of His five rays of energy, known as “shaktis.”

December 21:  yellow. On this day, family members rise early to decorate a shrine in honor of Ganesh and perform a grand puja to ask for his blessing. They sit together and reconcile for past slights, insults, and injuries inflicted towards one another, ending the ritual by commending one another’s best qualities.

December 22: blue. Day two is spent fostering love and harmony among neighbors and friends. Participants exchange gifts and sincere compliments, and resolve any misdeeds between them. Long-distance friends and relatives are contacted so that forgiveness may be sought by everyone, releasing tension and promoting peace.

December 23: red. The third day establishes harmony between colleagues and fellow citizens. Small gifts of gratitude are exchanged between employers and their employees, and all debts are settled.

December 24: green. On day four, Hindus evoke the joy and harmony of music, dance, art, and theater. Family and friends gather before Lord Ganesh to present their artistic talents in a celebration of art and praise.

December 25: orange. On the last day, Hindus strive for charity and righteousness by carrying out acts of charity. Family, friends and relatives come together to experience Lord Ganesh’s love and find inspiration for the new year.

December 21/22: Winter Solstice/Yule (Pagan) Christmas traditions including decorations, gift-giving, and feast can be traced to Winter Solstice and Norse origins. Some of these include the evergreen or ‘Christmas’ tree, holly, yule log, and mistletoe. The word 'yule' is from the Scandinavian word hjul meaning wheel.

Traditionally the longest night of the year, is when the sun begins its journey back from the darkness to the fullest light. As told in the Celtic legend of the battle between the Oak King- representing the light of the new year and the Holly King. During the Yule, the Oak King conquers the Holly King until Midsummer.

Greetings include “Happy Solstice,” “Merry Yuletide,” and “Happy Yule.”

December 21: Dongzhi Festival/Solstice (Chinese)

Dong Zhi 冬至, winter’s extreme, is a traditional Chinese Festival originating during the Han dynasty. The festival centers around the winter solstice and the balance of yin, the negative qualities of darkness and cold and yang, the qualities of light and warmth. The day is marked with worship of the heaven and ancestors. Traditional food enjoyed include tangyuan, jiaozi, babao porridge, chinese radish, wonton, and mutton.

“Happy Dong Zhi” or “Happy Festival” are both proper greetings. Culturally, it is crucial to indulge in the array of delicious foods presented (no refusing food offered) with family and friends.

Christmas Eve December 5/ December 24

Christmas Eve is celebrated December 5 in some cultures as the eve of Saint Nicholas’ feast day (December 6).

Christmas celebration of Christianity begin celebrating Christmas the night of the 24 beginning at Sunday. Many churches will ring church bells and hold prayer services in the evening. Catholics may attend Midnight Mass. The Gospels reflect Jesus being born at night. Christmas Eve is referred to the Good Night or Holy Night.

“Merry Christmas Eve” and “Happy Christmas Eve” are standard greetings.

Hanukkah Evening of December 24 to January 1

Hanukkah/Chanukah is an eight day festival of lights, celebrating the triumph of light over darkness.  

Customs include eating latkes and sufganiyot; giving gifts of money, and playing with a dreidel which is a four-sided top with a Hebrew letter on each side that spells an acronym for “a great miracle happened there.”

In Hebrew the word Hanukkah means “dedication.” The holiday is the celebration of the victory of Jewish Maccabees defeating Antiochus’ army.

To wish someone a Happy Hanukkah greet them with Hanukkah Sameach (Happy Hanukkah), Chag Sameach (Happy Holiday), or Chag Urim Sameach not commonly used meaning happy festival of lights.

Christmas December 25

Christian Christmas celebrations vary around the world. The traditional religious celebrations focus on the birth of Jesus to Mary, and her husband Joseph, as described in the Gospels in the Christian Bible (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). Traditions within religious denominations vary. For example, Advent candles and wreaths are used in Catholic Christmas celebrations.

Secular celebrations focus on Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus bringing presents in a reindeer sleigh. Brightly decorated evergreen trees and festive carols often coincide, or begin shortly after Thanksgiving starting the holiday season. Christians have adopted part of Winter Solstice traditions in hope of attracting non-Christian Romans to the “new” faith as it spread across the Empire during the early centuries of common era.

Traditional greetings include “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Christmas.”

Boxing Day December 26

Boxing day is celebrated every year on December 26. Boxing Day is observed only in the United Kingdom, Canada, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and some other Commonwealth nations and observant of the holiday vary among the countries.

In Britain it is also known as the feast day of Saint Stephen, the patron saint of horse, which is why Boxing day is associated with horse racing and fox hunting.

The holiday is called Boxing Day because in the Victorian era churches would display a box for donations to be collected in. The day after Christmas was also the time wealthy British residents would give time off to the help of the household to be with family after their service during Christmas Day festivities. Each was given a box by their employer containing, gifts, bonuses, and even leftover food.

The common greeting is “Happy Boxing Day!”

December 26-January 1: Kwanzaa (African-American)

The first celebration of Kwanzaa was in 1966. The celebration was started by Dr. Maulana Karenga, currently a professor at California State University Long Beach, as a way of uniting and empowering the African-American community after the Watts riots. The holiday is modeled after the African harvest festivals of Swahili matunda ya kwanza meaning first fruits.

The greeting is to reinforce awareness of the seven principles or Nguzo Saba (n-GU-zo SAH-bah). One would ask Habari gani (hah – BAR – ee GAH – nee), meaning what is the news? and the answer is each of the principles for each of the days of Kwanzaa:  

  • Umoja (oo-MO-jah), unity
  • Kujichagulia (koo-jee-chah-GOO-lee-ah), self-determination
  • Ujima (oo-JEE-mah), collective work and responsibility
  • Ujamaa (oo-jah-MAH-ah), cooperative economics
  • Nia (NEE-ah), purpose
  • Kuumba (koo-OOM-bah), creativity
  • Imani (ee-MAH-nee), faith

Epiphany January 6, 2017

Epiphany also known as Theophany, Three Kings Day is the day Magi visited Jesus with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. The Feast of Epiphany marks the end official end of the Christmas season for many Christians.

In some European countries, children leave their shoes out the night before to be filled with gifts, while others leave straw for the three Kings' horses. In addition, some celebrate with parades.

It’s important to recognize that we are truly a global community, and cultures have an incredible diversity of ways that they celebrate. As we come together with our family and friends in celebration and gratitude for the year, use this multicultural guide to wish the people in your life a joyous holiday.

Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., is a cross-cultural consultant, an international protocol expert and the founder of Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide. She is accredited in intercultural management, is the resident etiquette expert for CBS Austin’s We Are Austin, regularly quoted by BBC Capital, Investor’s Business Daily, Fortune, The New York Times, and numerous other media. She is the best-selling, international award-winning author of Access to Asia: Your Multicultural Business Guide, named to Kirkus Review’s Best Books of 2015 and recipient of the British Airways International Trade, Investment & Expansion Award at the 2016 Greater Austin Business Awards.

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