Holidays of Christmas
December 6: St. Nicholas DayIn many countries such as France and the Netherlands, this is the day when St. Nicholas brings gifts to children who have been good. Children learn songs and legends associated with the saint, and place their shoes by the hearth on December 5. The next day, they wake up to find them filled with candy or small toys.
See A Visit from St. Nicholas for St. Nicholas Day literature and articles.
December 13: St. Lucia DayThis Scandinavian holiday celebrates St. Lucia, who traditionally brings light to the darkest of winter days. The holiday is particularly popular in Sweden, where children dress take part in Lucia processions dressed in white, carrying candles, and singing the Swedish version of the Italian song Santa Lucia. Lussekatter, or saffron buns, are a traditional St. Lucia Day treat.
December 24-25: Christmas Eve and Christmas DayChristmas is the Christian holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus. Because it falls near the winter solstice, Christmas is also a seasonal celebration of the start of winter, and some Christmas customs developed from the pagan midwinter festival of Yule. Decorating Christmas trees, decking the house with winter greens, singing Christmas carols, and giving gifts to family and friends are some common Christmas traditions.
See Christmas Joy for literature, articles, and activities celebrating the joy of Christmastime.
December 26: St. Stephen's Day / Boxing DayThis day is Christian "the feast of Stephen" mentioned in the song "Good King Wenceslaus." In the United Kingdom and some Commonwealth countries, December 26th is known as Boxing Day, a name which refers to a tradition of churches collecting money in boxes for St. Stephen's Day. While the holiday was once primarily associated with charitable acts and donations, it has now become a major retail event similar to the American Black Friday.
See Christmas Giving for more on Boxing Day and literature celebrating the holiday spirit of giving.
January 5-6: Twelfth Night / The Epiphany / Little ChristmasThe twelve days of Christmas start on Christmas Day, the first day of Christmas, and end on January 5, the twelfth day of Christmas, or Twelfth Night. In the United Kingdom and in colonial America, Twelfth Night was a time for celebrating the end of Christmas, and for enjoying treats such as cake and wassail. The night precedes the Christian Epiphany, or the day when the Magi reached Bethlehem to see the infant Jesus. The Epiphany is the day children receive gifts in some countries such as the Philippines, and is also known as "Little Christmas" in Ireland.
January 13: The Feast of St. Hilary / HilarymasHilarymas is the feast day of St. Hilary, and is observed on January 13. While the holiday is fairly obscure in most places, in Sweden it marks the end of the Christmas season. There, it's the day for putting away the Christmas decorations and throwing out the Christmas tree--through the window, if one is following tradition to the letter! Children get to eat any edible treats that were hung on the tree on Hilarymas, and also play games and share other sweets.
February 2: CandlemasYou may know this holiday as Groundhog Day if you live in the United States, but February 2 has roots as the Christian observation of Jesus' presentation at the Temple in Jerusalem. Candlemas is traditionally the absolute last day of the Christmas season, and it was once considered unlucky to leave any Christmas greenery up after this day. The weather on Candlemas was said to be a predictor of the weather in the coming months: if sunny, winter would stay a while longer, and if cloudy, spring would make an early arrival. The modern superstitions of Groundhog Day developed from Candlemas weather lore.
See Winter Weather for more on Candlemas.