Poinsetta is the traditional flower of December.

December 2018 Cultural Diversity Review

Christmas Cultural Diversity

After the diversity of religious festivals and notable national days during the previous few months, December is undeniably dominated by one holiday – Christmas. This month we take a deeper look at the day when over two billion people (over a third of the world’s population) will celebrate the birth of Christ.

Month info: The tenth month in the old Roman calendar. In Latin decem means “ten”. The Anglo-Saxons referred to December–January as “Yule month”, marking the pagan festival which has contributed to some modern holiday traditions such as mistletoe and the Yule log..

Featured Holiday in December

Christmas Eve

December 25: Christmas Day

Under the Julian calendar, the winter solstice was fixed on December 25, and this date was also the day of the popular roman holiday of Saturnalia, in honour of Saturn, the god of agriculture; which was later superceded by Sol Invictus, a day that bundled up the celebration of several sun based gods into one easy to manage festival.

As Christianity began to take a hold across the Roman empire and beyond, the date of when to celebrate the birth of Christ became a bit of an issue, with several different dates proposed.

It wasn’t until 350 AD, when the then Bishop of Rome, Pope Julius I, fixed the official Christmas day on December 25. Unfortunately Julius I didn’t show his working out on how he reached this date; some scholars later suggested that it was calculated as nine months after the Annunciation (March 25), when the angel Gabriel is said to have appeared to Mary and told her she would bear the son of God. Whatever the reasoning, it is clear that, just as key pagan sites were being chosen for new churches, so too the date was chosen with the intention to catapult Christmas into becoming a major festival by placing it over the pre-existing pagan festivals.

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Facts about Christmas

  • Alabama was the first US state to legalise the celebration of Christmas. The last state to make Christmas a legal holiday was Oklahoma in 1907.
  • Many parts of the Christmas tree can actually be eaten, with the needles being a good source of Vitamin C.
  • The bestselling Christmas single ever is Bing Crosby’s White Christmas, selling over 50 million copies worldwide since 1942.
  • Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer was invented in 1938 by a department store, Montgomery Ward, as a marketing gimmick to get kids to buy holiday coloring books.
  • Kissing under the mistletoe is thought to derive from Frigga, the Norse goddess of love, who was associated with the plant.
  • All the gifts in the song ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’ would equal 364 gifts.
  • In Icelandic folklore, the Yule Cat (Jólakötturinn) will eat anyone who does not receive new clothes by Christmas Eve.
  • Good King Wenceslas was not a king, he was a Duke

More facts about Christmas

Focus on Christmas

December 25: Christmas Day around the world

Not all countries celebrate Christmas on 25th December, and it is not a public holiday in many countries.

The Orthodox Church recognises 7 January as the day that Jesus was born. The different date from the western tradition of 25 December is twofold. Firstly, in 1582, Pope Gregory XIII, ruled that the Catholic Church should follow a new calendar – called the Gregorian calendar rather than the Julian calendar which had been established by Julius Caesar in 46 BC. This meant the dates differed by 10 days with Gregorian Christmas on 4 January. Secondly, due to the way that leap years differ between the two calendars, Orthodox Christmas has moved forward by another 3 days since 1582 and is now on 7 January.

And more countries than you might think don’t celebrate Christmas at all.

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December 25: Oh Christmas tree…

What better way to celebrate the birth of someone who is the basis for one of the world’s greatest religions than by chopping down a tree, sticking shiny things on it and putting it in your living room for a few weeks in December?

This rather strange arboreal custom emerged in the 16th century in Germany. The origins go back further yet, to ancient tree worship and pagan rituals tied to the winter solstice on December 21.

The most popular and enduring origin for the Christmas tree traditions is that a monk who went on to become St. Boniface, the Apostle of the Germans, appropriated trees for Christmas back in the 7th century, putting a pre-Christian tradition into the service of Christianity.

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Other Notable Holidays in December

December 8: Feast of the Immaculate Conception

Overshadowed by her son’s birthday, this is still an important holiday in many Catholic countries. For Roman Catholics, this day celebrates the belief that Mary, mother of Jesus, was preserved from original sin all of her life. It is observed as a day of obligation with required church attendance.

The Immaculate Conception is a Holy Day of Obligation whose meaning is often confused. By the sounds of it, one would think we would celebrate the day Jesus was conceived. On the contrary, it is the day that the Blessed Mother Mary was conceived.

Mary’s mother was St. Anne and her father was Joachim. While they are not mentioned in the bible, their names appear in some very early Christian texts. Anne and Joachim had been a childless couple until an angel appeared telling Anne that she would give birth to a child that the world would honour. Anne became a saint as she offered her child to god’s service.

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December 31: New Year’s Eve

New Year’s Day was fixed at 1st January in 153 BCE, when the two Roman consuls, after whom – in the Roman calendar – years were named and numbered, chose that date, mainly for military reasons.

During the Middle Ages, a number of different Christian feast dates were used to mark the New Year, though calendars often continued to display the months in columns running from January to December in the Roman fashion.

New Year’s Eve is traditionally the time to make New Year’s resolutions, which one hopes to fulfill or abide by in the coming Year; such as stop smoking or drinking alcohol, or lose weight or get physically fit.

“Auld Lang Syne”, written by the Scottish poet Robert Burns in 1788, is traditionally sung at midnight on New Year’s Eve. The words auld lang syne mean “times gone by”.

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National Days in December

16 countries have their national days in December. How many people in the company do you know from each country? Remember to wish them a happy national day!

DateCountryHoliday
Dec 01 Central African RepublicNational Day: Proclamation of the Republic in 1958
Dec 01 RomaniaGreat Union Day: unification with Transylvania
Dec 02 LaoNational Day: Peoples republic declared 1975
Dec 02 MyanmarNational Day: Beginning of Student led protests against the British in 1920
Dec 02 United Arab EmiratesNational Day: Formation of federation of seven emirates on independence from the UK in 1971
Dec 05 ThailandHM The Kings Birthday: Dec 5 or following Mon if it falls on a weekend. Birthday of King Bhumibol Adulyade
Dec 06 FinlandIndependence Day: Declaration of independence from Russia 1917
Dec 09 TanzaniaIndependence Day: Independence from the UK in 1961 of Tanganyika
Dec 12 KenyaJamhuri Day: Marks the date of Kenya’s establishment as a republic on 12 December, 1964
Dec 13 Saint LuciaNational Day: Saint Lucia is the Patron Saint of Saint Lucia
Dec 16 BahrainNational Day: Accession Day for the late Amir Sh. Isa Bin Salman Al Khalifa
Dec 16 KazakhstanIndependence Day: Declared sovereign republic within the USSR in 1990
Dec 17 BhutanNational Day: Ugyen Wangchuck elected hereditary king in 1907
Dec 18 NigerRepublic Day: Autonomous state within the French Community from 1958
Dec 18 QatarQatar National Day: The assumption of power of Sheikh Jassem bin Mohamed al-Thani in 1878
Dec 20 MacauMacau Special Administrative Region Establishment Day: Transfer of sovereignty to the PRC in 1999

December Observances

Throughout the month, there are days set aside to observe all sorts of events, some serious and some not so serious. These days can provide interesting ways to engage employees in diversity issues. The table below shows a selection of these days with some ideas how you could use them within your organisation.

DayObservanceSuggestion
2ndAdvent beginsPoll: Do you have an advent calendar?
4thNational Cookie DayFood: Like anyone needs an excuse to bring cookies to the office.
12thGingerbread House DayPictures: Post your pictures of your Gingerbread houses on the intranet.
14thChristmas Jumper DayCharity: Have a ‘wear a christmas jumper to work’ Day and support Save the Children.
18thArabic Language Day Quiz: can you spot the English words that come from Arabic?
26thNational Thank-you Note DayDiscussion: Which colleague most deserves a thank you note this year – and why?
 31stMake Up Your Mind DayPoll: It’s the last day of the year. Are you the sort of person who looks back on what you have done or forward to what you will do?