There’s more to holiday season than Christmas

At this time of the year, as the holiday season approaches, 40% of remittances sent through Azimo last year were declared as gifts. So clearly, for many people, the Christmas period is one in which they love to share with their family and friends.

But this got us thinking that while in many parts of the world Christmas is the big event, it’s by no means the only celebration going on.

Hannukah – the Jewish festival of Lights – is a tradition that dates back to 164 BC when the Maccabees recaptured Jerusalem from the occupying Greeks. The festival last eight days and is celebrated with the lighting of the menorah, traditional food, the giving of ‘gelt’ (these days usually chocolate coins), and playing with a spinning top called a dreidel.

Meanwhile, further east in the world, Buddhists from the Mahayana tradition celebrate Bodhi Day – the Buddha’s attainment of enlightenment – on the 8th December. Bodhi Day is named after the Bodhi Tree at Bodhgaya, India under which Buddha sat in deep meditation before achieving enlightenment.

And the more you go back in time, the more festivals there seem to be. The 24th December is supposed to be the time that ancient Anglo-Saxon pagans marked Modranecht – The Night of the Mothers – with sacrifices. While during the time of the later Roman empire the 25th December was Dies Natalis Solis Invicti – the Birthday of the Unconquered Sun. And it has been argued that this festival is why the early Christian church adopted the 25th as the date of Christmas.

Boxing Day is a British tradition that also spread to many of its former colonies and is the name given to the 26th December. Tradition has it that this is the day that servants and tradesmen would receive a gift, often referred to as a Christmas Box, from their employer.

The 26th December is also the day that Zoroastrians remember the death of their prophet Zoroaster. This is a faith that was once one of the most important religions in the world and that held sway in Persia for 1200 years.

But if you think that all these festivals in December have their roots in ancient times, you’d be wrong. In 1985 Sivaya Subramuniyaswami – a western convert to Hinduism – created the festival of Pancha Ganapati in the USA. It runs between the 21st– 25th December and celebrates Lord Ganesha, Patron of Arts and Guardian of Culture. And yes, it was created to provide a Hindu alternative to Christmas. It’s mainly celebrated in America.