The Christmas Season

Christmas Morning Service
by Anders Zorn, 1908

Did you know that Christmas, New Year's Eve, and New Year's Day aren't the only holidays that make up the Christmas season? There are many smaller, less well-known holidays related to Christmas that occur over December and January. While many of these holidays have fallen out of favor over the years, there are some lovely traditions associated with them that are worth reviving. Read on to find out more about some of these old-fashioned little holidays!

December 6, St. Nicholas Day

In 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. While eating a treat that has been housed in a well-worn shoe sounds a little less than appetizing, you can practice this tradition in your own home by leaving out special Christmas stockings instead.

December 13, St. Lucia Day

This 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 26, St. Stephen's Day / Boxing Day

This day is "the feast of Stephen" mentioned in the song "Good King Wenceslaus." It is one of nine public holidays in Ireland, and is marked by Mummer's Festivals in some Irish counties. 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.

January 5-6, Twelfth Night / The Epiphany / Little Christmas

Contrary to popular belief, the twelve days of Christmas aren't a dozen days leading up to December 25. In fact, the 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 / Hilarymas

Hilarymas 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, Candlemas

You 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.