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December plays host to many religious holidays

Christmas and Chanukah may get the bulk of the attention come December, but the final month of the year includes other religious holidays as well. The following are just a few of the religious celebrations taking place this holiday season.

• Feast of Saint Nicholas: Typically falling on December 6, the Feast of Saint Nicholas, or Saint Nicholas Day, is a festival for children in many European countries. In commemoration of Saint Nicholas, gift-giving occurs in some countries on his feast day, while some countries’ celebrations are more low-key. Children are typically the recipients of gifts, and the legend of Saint Nicholas, whose reputation as a gift-giver was widely known during his lifetime, is said to have inspired the idea of Santa Claus.

• Bodhi Day: A holiday that commemorates the day Buddha received enlightenment, Bodhi Day is typically celebrated on the 8th day of the 12th lunar month. Bodhi Day is celebrated in many Buddhist countries and communities, and many celebrants choose to meditate in commemoration.

• Feast of the Immaculate Conception: This feast, which is celebrated on December 8, celebrates the belief in the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is a celebration of the belief that Mary was kept free of original sin from the moment of her conception. The day is a Holy Day of Obligation within the Catholic Church.

• Chanukah: Some may instantly associate Chanukah with exchanging gifts, but this well-known December holiday is not a celebration of giving and receiving gifts, but a commemoration of the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem during the Maccabean Revolt. Also known as the Festival of Lights, Chanukah is celebrated for eight nights and days, and in some years can begin in late November.

• Christmas: Celebrated every year on December 25 (though some Orthodox Christians use a different calendar and celebrate on a different day), Christmas commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ. Traditions associated with Christmas include attending Christmas Mass, decorating for the holiday and exchanging gifts with family and friends. Once celebrated strictly by Christians, the holiday is now celebrated by Christians and non-Christians alike and includes both religious and secular traditions.