December National Days
Whilst you’re busy preparing for Christmas, take time out for other events taking place in December.
1 World AIDS Day
An opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV & show their support for people living with It. The day also commemorates people who have died from HIV. We don’t hear so much about it these days but more people than ever are living with HIV in the UK and each year new infections occur. Around 100,000 are living with HIV in the UK & 1 in 5 people with HIV in the UK are undiagnosed. Learn the facts about HIV & visit the World Aids Day website for more information.
2 International Day for the Abolition of Slavery
Set up by the United Nations, the focus of this day is on eradicating contemporary forms of slavery. This might be trafficking in persons, sexual exploitation, the worst forms of child labour, forced marriage & the forced recruitment of children for use in armed conflict.
2 National Mutt Day (USA)
Celebrated on both July 31st and December 2nd, National Mutt Day is all about saving and celebrating mixed breed dogs. The day was created in 2005 by Celebrity Pet Expert and Animal Welfare Advocate, Colleen Paige. The aim is to raise awareness of the plight of mixed breed dogs in shelters desperately waiting for new homes. If you are unable to provide a suitable home for a dog you could volunteer to walk a dog regularly. Another option is a donation (monetary or supplies) to a local shelter.
2 The Great Christmas Pudding Race
Organised by Cancer Research Aid Committee (CRAC) in aid of Cancer Research UK. Teams of 6, wearing fancy dress, run around the Covent Garden obstacle course that includes foam slaloms, flour-filled balloons & inflatable slides & all whilst carrying a pudding on a plate. Great fun to take part in & great fun to watch! Get a team together & sign up at The Great Christmas Pudding Race website.
2-3 Tree Dressing Day
Based on old customs from all over the world, Tree Dressing Day was initiated by Common Ground in 1990 to show that every tree counts & should be celebrated. It’s our responsibility to look after them & to respect their cultural & environmental importance. Choose a tree in your garden, village or community & decorate it with ribbons, pictures, poems or in any way you please.
3 International Day of Persons With Disabilities
Set up by the United Nations in 1992, the day aims to promote an understanding of disability issues, the problems faced on a daily basis & the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities. It is also used as an opportunity to increase public awareness, understanding and acceptance of people with disabilities.
Begins on the Sunday nearest to 30th November (St Andrew’s Day) & runs until midnight on 24 December (Christmas Eve). It is the start of the Christian Church year & a time to prepare & wait for the birth of Christ. It is traditional to have an Advent wreath made from evergreen branches. The circular shape of the wreath reminds Christians of God, His eternity & endless mercy which has no beginning or end. Four red candles stand in a circle on the wreath, with a fifth white candle in the middle to represent Christ. A red candle is lit on each Sunday of Advent, saving the white one for Christmas Day. It is customary these days to have an Advent calendar with windows to open or drawers with presents to help children count down the days but these tend to start on 1st December.
5 Day of the Ninja
Started by the creators of the Ninja Burger franchise in 2003. People are encouraged to dress as ninja, engage in ninja-related activities & spread information about ninja online. Ninjas were spies & mercenaries who snuck around Japan in the late 14th century causing mayhem. With areas of Japan at war with each other, they became know for their sabotage & assassination techniques. Following the unification of Japan in the 17th century, ninjas faded into obscurity & became a figure of folklore. Fancy being a (non-violent) ninja for the day? Visit the Day of the Ninja website for more information.
6 St Nicholas Day
The origin of our Father Christmas & patron saint of children. Born in the 3rd century in what is now Turkey, St Nicholas devoted his life to serving God & helping those in need. He later became Bishop of Myra & many stories exist of his kind deeds. One of the most famous, tells of a man who had 3 daughters. He was so poor he could not afford a dowry for them & without it they would be unlikely to marry. On 3 occasions, a bag of gold was mysteriously found when they awoke. The bags of gold, tossed through an open window, landed in stockings or shoes left before the fire to dry.
This story led to the custom of children hanging stockings up on Christmas Eve. In some European countries, children still put their shoes out on the night of the 5th & find them filled with presents in the morning.
7 International Civil Aviation Day
A United Nations day to raise awareness of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), responsible for developing international standards aviation safety. The day aims to generate global awareness of the importance of international civil aviation in the social and economic development. It also commemorates the ICAO’s role in promoting the safety, efficiency and regularity of international air transport.
8 National Brownie Day
Not the Girl Guide ones, instead we’re celebrating those lovely squishy chocolate cakes. They originated in America at the beginning of the 20th century. No one really knows where or how – but that’s not really important, as long as they’re here! Brownies are made with flour, sugar, butter & eggs like most cakes but have the added ingredient of melted chocolate. Rather than baking until the sponge springs back when lightly pressed, it is removed from the oven whilst it still has a slight wobble which results in a lovely gooey texture. Make yourself popular & bake a batch to share.
9 International Anti-Corruption Day
A campaign run by the United Nations to fight corruption in both rich & poor countries. Corruption contributes to instability, poverty & is a dominant factor driving fragile countries towards state failure. The campaign aims to get governments, organisations & individuals to join forces to fight this crime; display the International Anti-Corruption Day logo on leaflets, share on social networking sites, adopt the logo as your profile picture on Facebook & tweet about it using #breakthechain, @UNDP & @UNODC.
10 Human Rights Day
Proclaimed by the United Nations in 1950 to bring to the attention of the world the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This is used as the common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations in an effort to prevent the horrors of the World War II concentration camps every happening again.
Quoting from Amnesty International UK, ”Human rights are about treating all people with the equal dignity that they are entitled to as human beings. Every person in the world, including children, must be recognised as having the same worth and dignity without regard to such differences as ethnic origin, colour of skin, sex or beliefs. Working out what this principle means in terms of individual entitlements and needs has arguably been the most important advance of recent history.” The day is marked by political conferences & meetings & by cultural events dealing with human rights issues. In the words of the 2014 Human Rights Day slogan, ‘every day is Human Rights Day’.
10 International Animal Rights Day
A campaign for the international acceptance of the Universal Declaration of Animal Rights. This states that humanity must respect all animals’ basic moral rights to ‘life, liberty and natural enjoyment’. Campaigners felt that the same morals that make up the Declaration of Human Rights should also apply to animals. This day is an opportunity to remind society that freedom, justice and dignity are inclusive terms, since suffering and the desire to live are not confined to a particular race, sex, social position or species. Groups are encouraged to hold candle-lit vigils outside local sites of animal abuse, campaign stalls or other outreach events to highlight links between human and animal rights.
11 International Mountain Day
A UN day designated in 2003. It is an opportunity to create awareness about the importance of mountains to life. To highlight the opportunities & constraints in mountain development & to build partnerships that will bring positive change to the world’s mountains & highlands. “Mountains provide most of the world’s freshwater, harbour a rich variety of plants and animals, and are home to one in ten people. Yet, each day, environmental degradation, the consequences of climate change, exploitative mining, armed conflict, poverty and hunger threaten the extraordinary web of life that the mountains support.”
12-20 Hanukkah (Chanukkah)
Jewish Festival of Lights, celebrated for 8 days & nights. The exact date changes each year but it takes place in November or December. Over 2500 years ago Antiochus, a Syrian king, instructed the Jewish people to worship Greek gods. A statue of Antiochus was erected in the Jewish temple and the Jews were ordered to bow down before him. The Ten Commandments forbid Jews to worship statues or idols and so they refused. A small group of Jews rebelled & after a three year war they recaptured Jerusalem from the Syrians. However, the temple was mainly destroyed.
The Jews managed to repair the Temple & when finished, they rededicated it to God by lighting a lamp. Unfortunately, they could only find one small jar of oil which was only enough for one day but miraculously, the lamp stayed alight for eight days. To celebrate this, during Hanukkah one candle on the Hanukiah, an 8-branch candlestick, is lit each day. Hanukkah is one of the less important Jewish holidays but has become more popular in modern times due to its proximity to Christmas.
21 Winter Solstice
The shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere & the start of astronomical winter. The date can vary between December 20 & December 23 though is usually on 21st or 22nd. The winter solstice occurs when the North Pole is tilted furthest away from the sun. This results in the least number of daylight hours and the longest night of the year. For those countries furthest north, there is barely any sunlight at this time of year.
For many, the winter solstice is a time for celebration as the days will start to get longer. Although famed for its summer solstice celebrations, the winter solstice is thought to have been more important to the people who built Stonehenge. It is aligned on a sight-line that points to the winter solstice sunset. Many cattle were slaughtered at this time so that they would not have to be fed through the winter so there would have been plenty of opportunity to feast.
24 Christmas Eve
The evening before Christmas Day & traditionally a time for putting up the Christmas decorations. A pine tree & the house are decorated with wooden figures, holly, ivy, mistletoe & candles. Children hang up a stocking above the fireplace or at the end of their bed. They hope Father Christmas will come down the chimney during the night & fill it with presents. A mince pie is left out for him & a carrot for his reindeer. In some European countries, a special meal is eaten & presents exchanged in the evening as many religious celebrations begin at sunset. Many people attend midnight mass, a church service to welcome the baby Jesus who was born during the night.
25 Christmas Day
Originally part of a pagan winter solstice festival, the Christian church adopted the feast to celebrate the birth of Jesus. In the UK it is a public holiday & a time to share with family & to give & receive gifts. Many of the Christmas traditions were revived in the Victorian era with the help of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol & Prince Albert & Queen Victoria & it became a popular celebration.
A traditional meal of turkey (originally goose), roast potatoes, parsnips & Brussels sprouts is served followed by Christmas Pudding & brandy butter. Mince pies, fruit cake & a yule log are also served. In the Middle Ages, this time of year was known as Yuletide. It was traditional to go out & find a large log or Yule Log & burn it in the hearth. As Christmas took over, the Yule Log became a chocolate cake made in the shape of a log & decorated with holly.
26 Boxing Day
The day following Christmas Day. Originally called St Stephen’s Day & a feast day in honour of the first Christian martyr. There are several theories as to how it became known as Boxing Day. Traditionally it was a time when servants would receive a gift (Christmas Box) from their employer. Also, a box was placed in churches on Christmas Day into which the congregation would put a donation. The box was opened the next day & distributed amongst the poor of the parish. It is common now for many shops to start their sale on this day.
31 New Year’s Eve
A celebration to see out the old year & welcome in the new. Most people celebrate the evening with a party & fireworks. In Scotland, it is traditional to go first-footing & visit friends, with gifts. The first person across the threshold is preferably a dark-haired man carrying coal. This will bring good luck for the rest of the year.