Major Winter Holiday Rundown

The winter months are practically the holiday season, but there is untold history behind them. Here is a brief rundown, but there is always more available for curious souls.


Thanksgiving (November 24th, 2022)

Occuring on the fourth Thursday of November, this feast celebrates a shared sumptuous repast between the Plymouth colonists and the Wampanoag in 1621. However, it wasn’t until 1863 that Abraham Lincoln declared it a national holiday. Among turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing, and sweet potato casserole, people often overeat, but they console themselves that it was just one day.


Hanukkah (evening of December 18th to evening of December 26th)

Hanukkah, or Chanukah, means “dedication” in Hebrew. Every evening begins with the lighting of the menorah, with one more candle every night being lit. Every “day” of the holiday begins when there are three stars in the sky the previous night. It lasts eight nights because oil at the Second Temple in Jerusalem during the Maccabean Revolt against the Greek-Syrians was only meant to be enough for one night, but lasted 7 more days.


Winter Solstice (December 21st)

The winter solstice is the shortest day of the year, and for us Northern Hemisphere folks it falls on Wednesday, December 21st at 4:47 PM. Cultures around the world have celebrated this holiday for thousands of years, but “lately” it has fallen off compared to some other articles (considering I nearly forgot to include it). Don’t forget to celebrate both solstices and the equinoxes!


Christmas (December 25th)

Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, but the date was just chosen by Pope Julius I, likely because Saturnalia was around that time. Since 1870, it has been a federal holiday in the United States, but is also celebrated around the world by giving presents, decorating a tree with ornaments, and going to church.


Kwanzaa (December 26th to January 1st)

Kwanzaa is not actually a religious holiday, and many people celebrate Kwanzaa and Christmas. It was created in the 1960s to unite the African American community after the Watts Rebellion and revolves around 7 principles (represented by three green, three red, and one black candle). “Matunda ya kwanza,” meaning “first fruits,” is a Swahili phrase that gives origin to the name of the holiday. The extra “a” was added to accommodate seven children present at the first celebration of the holiday who each wanted their own letter.


New Year’s (January 1st)

The concept of New Year’s first began in Babylon to either renew the current ruler’s divine mandate or instate the new ruler. However, by the time of the early Romans, the calendar was not even close to accurate and had fallen out of sync with the sun. Julius Caesar had to add 90 extra days to the year 46 B.C.E. in order to right the situation (although his calendar was then replaced with the even more accurate Gregorian calendar).


Martin Luther King Jr. Day (January 16th)

Martin Luther King Jr. was the first modern private citizen to have a federal holiday named after them, but though King died in 1968, the holiday was not fully observed in every state until 2000. First off, it had to be passed through Congress, and it took until 1983 for this to happen. Even though President Ronald Reagan almost immediately signed it into effect, many southern states celebrated holidays commemorating Robert E. Lee instead, or blatantly ignored it.


Lunar New Year (Beginning on January 22nd)

The Lunar New Year is among the most important celebrations for many East and Southeast Asian cultures. Each year is represented by one of the 12 zodiac symbols (rat, ox, tiger, monkey, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig) and one of five elements (earth, water, fire, wood, and metal) in a repeating pattern. Prosperity, abundance, and togetherness are generally symbolized by various foods, and goodwill and good luck is wished. Unlike the New Year of the Gregorian Calendar, the Lunar New Year lasts for multiple days.


Valentine’s Day (February 14th)

Funnily enough, the Catholic Church recognizes 3 saints named Valentine or Valentinus, and all of them are martyred. It is unclear who the real Valentine was, but all of them have compassionate, heroic, and romantic characteristics. It is possible that Valentine’s Day was created to remember Saint Valentine’s death, but it is equally likely that it was created as an attempt to take attention away from the Pagan festival of Lupercalia. Women would place their names in a jar and be matched with men; often, these matches surprisingly ended well.


President’s Day (February 20th)

Though originally created to honor George Washington, President’s Day now is intended to honor all presidents. Washington’s birthday was unofficially observed in the early 1800s, but it wasn’t until 1879 that Rutherford B. Hayes (also claimed to be one of the worst presidents in history, but that’s another story) signed it into law. Under the Uniform Monday Holiday Act in the 1960s, the third Monday of February was officially established as President’s Day, although this never actually falls on a President’s birthday.