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Discover the UK's December holidays in our festive countdown!

Carlisle Christmas market at night

8 November 2015

It’s beginning to look a lot like… Christmas, Hanukkah, Bodhi Day, Kwanzaa, Hogmanay…

Deck the halls, roast the chestnuts and heat up a vat of hot chocolate – December has arrived!

In the UK, this means many people are getting ready to celebrate Christmas, but it’s also a time when the UK’s international and multicultural vibrancy really shows itself. People from all countries and cultures will be getting together to melt the chill in the air, with some of the richest, brightest and warmest festivals – check out our list below to discover just a few.

It’s also a time when wearing a violently red jumper covered in snowflakes is considered the height of fashion (take a look at our guide to festive style), and when eating 12 fruit pies in one sitting is not only normal – it’s positively advisable!

As an international student, you’re in the perfect position to experience all the best things about the UK’s festive season – and our December Diary is here to help you do just that. Join us every day for…

   •  Student stories
   •  Top UK Christmas films
   •  Soundtracks to the season
   •  Recipes
   •  UK guides
   •  …and more

We'll be posting regular updates on Facebook and Twitter, plus new articles in this section throughout December!

Holiday highlights

Keep your eyes peeled for festivities around these dates…

8 December: Bodhi Day
Bodhi Day commemorates one of the most important moments for Buddhists – when the historical Buddha is said to have reached enlightenment. Traditional celebrations often involve cake and biscuits, sometimes in the shape of the Bodhi tree under which the Buddha sat.

Your students' union or student Buddhist society may already have an event arranged, or may be able to help you set up your own. There are also many Buddhist meditation centres around the UK that hold events. The Network of Buddhist Organisations connects Buddhists across the UK and may also have information on events near you.

6-14 December: Hanukkah
Hanukkah (or Chanukah) is the Jewish ‘Festival of Lights’. Jewish people celebrate the time when an oil lamp stayed burning in a temple for eight days during a period of upheaval, and commemorate the miracle by lighting a special candle (on a candle holder called a menorah) each day for eight days. This is also a time to enjoy food, drinks, music, games and generally have fun with friends.

Keep your eyes peeled for more on Hanukkah in the UK in the December Diary…

The Hanukkah menorah in Victoria Gardens, Brighton (Photo ©Dominic Alves on Flickr, CC BY 2.0)

17-23 December: Saturnalia or Winter Solstice
In ancient Rome, Saturnalia was the winter solstice festival, and some people who follow pagan religions in the UK still celebrate on this date.

The famous monument of Stonehenge takes a starring role on 21 December – this is the shortest day and the longest night of the year, and it’s believed the sunrise and sunset have a special significance at this ancient site.

21-25 December: Pancha Ganapati
This Hindu festival honours Lord Ganesha, the god of arts and culture. It was created in 1985 so that Hindu people could join in with the atmosphere of fun and friendship around Christmas time.

Five different colours represent the five days of the festival – yellow, blue, red, green and orange – and what better way to show off those colours by pouring them into some traditional Indian sweets?

Hang onto your stomachs and your taste buds – we’ll return to those sugary delights later in the month…

22 December: Dongzhi Festival
Get in touch with Chinese student societies such as the UK-wide Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA), which has many university and college branches, to find out what activities they’re planning for this traditional winter solstice festival. Societies often put on events inviting students from all over the world to join in special Dongzhi Festival activities, such as making (and eating!) traditional rice balls and dumplings.

Lots of restaurants and local Chinese organisations plan events too – check websites and social media for more details.

Dongzhi is a great warm-up to Chinese New Year, which takes place in February. Find out more in our article on Chinese New Year.

24-25 December: Christmas Eve and Christmas Day
For Christian people in the UK, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were traditionally reserved for family time and church. Nowadays, some people will go to a midnight church service to see in Christmas Day, but it’s also a time to see friends and celebrate with people from all cultures.

Most people in the UK open Christmas presents and have a special Christmas meal on 25 December. It’s a bank holiday, meaning banks and post offices, and also many businesses, are closed. It’s also traditionally the only day in the year when daily newspapers do not publish an issue. Christmas Eve isn’t officially a holiday in the UK – though many offices close for at least half the day.

Nowadays, however, many shops stay open and a lot of pubs, restaurants and hotels have Christmas Day events, meals and parties, so there’s plenty to do if you’re away from your family. Check out our guide to spending Christmas Day in the UK later in the month for more tips!

The annual Santa Dash event in Liverpool – look out for our article on weird festive traditions to find out more! (Photo ©James Glossop)

26 December: Kwanzaa
Originally a celebration of African-American culture that began in 1966, Kwanzaa has now come to the UK. It’s a time to focus on black history and culture – and have a big party, of course, with events in Leeds and London taking centre stage.

26 December is also Boxing Day in the UK – a second bank holiday.

31 December: New Year’s Eve
…or Hogmanay in Scotland. Join people in the UK for a rendition of the traditional Scottish song Auld Lang Syne – and an explosion of midnight fireworks – to see in 2015!

Happy holidays, everyone!