Pagan/Witch/European-based Shaman/Druid: Yule/Alban Arthuan is on the solstice itself. At its core it is a festival of lights and the return of the sun in a time of darkness. It is commemorated in a number of ways, depending on which pagan country/religious denomination you ask: the decoration of trees, lighting of dandles and stringing of lights, feasting, exchange of gifts, and singing up the sun. Ine theme is the return of the sun/son. There is usually a god that gets born or reborn this day. These are all powerful ideas, so much so, that later religions incorporated these themes into their holidays (see below).
Christian/Catholic: Christmas, held on the 25th, which is the celebration of the birth of the Christian messiah.
Judaism: Hannukah is also a festival of lights. It is a celebration of a miracle that saved Jews, an improbable military victory that saved them as a people.
Some lesser known and/or historical holidays include:
|Misrule! A World Turned Upside-Down.|
Voudou: Agou-Arroyo (12th) and Ganga-Bois (10th)
Roman pagan: Saturnalia
English pagan: Day of Misrule (17th) (This is hostorically the first day of the Roman festival Saturnalia.) It was a period of great feasting and festivity, with a lot of drinking and eating. Slaves would become masters for the festival, and everything was turned upside down. This part of the Roman festival survived into the 17th century.
Mithraic mysteries: A festival when a savior was born on December 25. The resemblances between the life of Mithras and Jesus are astounding.
In the Netherlands, SinterKlaas is celebrated on the 5th. In Catholic circles, St. Nicholas Day is on the 6th and a day commemorating the Immaculate conception is on the 8th. In Mexico, Las Posadas, dedicated to the Virgen de Guadalupe, is celebrated for 9 days. Silly people who like holidays (any holiday) have Festivus on the 23rd.
And of course, for those of us that use the Gregorian calendar, there is New Year's Eve. In Japan, is is called Omisoka, which is a remnant of the country's polytheist (Shinto) past.
December has also been designated Universal Human Rights Month by the United Nations, and I can think of no better month for it. Since most of the world are lifting up their voices in song to commune with each other and the divine- what a better month to remember that we are connected to everyone.