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Divergent religions converge in December
Faiths fulfilled in month of celebration

December shimmers.

The air trills with prayers and songs, rising from all corners, all voices. Darkness is pierced by candles, lanterns and bright smiles. So many faiths have holy days during this month.

The best-known may be the radiant joy of Christmas, the miracle of Hanukkah, the solemn fasting of Ramadan with its concluding feast of Eid al-Fitr.

But many ancient faiths mark days of prayer, celebration and rededication during these same waning days of the year.

Those tied to the winter solstice, such as the Wiccan Yule and the Shinto solstice celebrations, always fall in December. Among Muslims, Jews, Jains and Sikhs, whose holy days are set by lunar calendars, celebrations shift to different dates each year.

This December brings a convergence of many days of faith.

Dec. 1

Holiday:Martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadur

Religion: Sikhism, a monotheistic religion founded in India around 1500, based on the teachings of 10 gurus

Celebrates: The ninth of the 10 gurus, remembered for his defense of the Sikh faith and religious liberty

Dec. 3

Holiday: First Sunday of Advent

Religion: Christianity, based on belief that salvation comes through Jesus Christ, son of God, and the teachings of the Holy Scripture, the Bible. Major groups include Roman Catholics, Protestants and Eastern Orthodox.

Celebrates: The first day of a four-week period preparing for the celebration of Christmas

Dec. 6

Holiday: St. Nicholas Day

Religion: Roman Catholicism

Celebrates: Fourth century bishop, the patron saint of children, who is the historical influence for Santa Claus

Dec. 7

Holiday: Mauna Ekadashi

Religion: Jainism, an Indian religion based on the belief that there is no supreme god and that every living thing has an eternal soul and a temporary body

Celebrates: Five of the 105 key occasions in the lives of the 24 holy teachers of Jain principles

Dec. 8

Holiday: Bodhi Day

Religion: Buddhism, founded in India, based on the idea that existence is a continuing cycle of death and rebirth

Celebrates: Anniversary of the enlightenment of the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, circa 596 B.C.

Holiday: Feast of the Immaculate Conception

Religion: Roman Catholicism

Celebrates: Belief that Mary, mother of Jesus, was born without sin

Dec. 10

Holiday: Second Sunday of Advent

Dec. 12

Holiday: Feast Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe

Religion: Roman Catholicism

Celebrates: The legendary appearance of the Virgin Mary near Mexico City in 1531

Holiday: Masa'il

Religion: Bahai, founded in 1863 in Iran, based on the belief that God sent messengers to teach eternal moral truths, among them Abraham, Jesus Christ, Buddha, Mohammed and the Baha Ullah

Celebrates: In the 19-month Bahai year, each month represents an attribute of God. Masa'il, signifying contemplation, is the 15th month.

Dec. 17

Holiday: Third Sunday of Advent

Dec. 21

Holiday: Yule

Religion: Wicca, based on folk rites and pagan witchcraft, celebrating the natural world and seasonal cycles

Celebrates: Winter solstice, darkness and the longest night as well as the rebirth of the sun

Holiday: First lighting for the Hanukkah candles

Religion: Judaism, based on a belief in one God and the moral, social teachings of the Torah, the five books of Moses

Celebrates: Marks the miraculous rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after the Jewish victory over the forces of Hellenistic assimilation in 165 B.C. The Festival of Lights focuses on rededication to faith.

Dec. 22

Holiday: Grand Ceremony of Winter Solstice

Religion: Shinto, the oldest-surviving religion of Japan, based on the worship of many deities who are the basic forces in nature

Celebrates: End of the declining strength of the sun, the yin period, and the beginning of the yang period, when the sun gains strength

Holiday: Laylat al-Qadr

Religion: Islam, based on the oneness of Allah, God, and the teachings of the Holy Scripture, the Koran.

Celebrates: The Night of Power, which falls during the final 10 days of the holy month of Ramadan, commemorates the revelation of the Koran by Allah to the Prophet Mohammed.

Dec. 24

Holiday: Fourth Sunday of Advent

Holiday: Christmas Eve

Religion: Christianity

Celebrates: The arrival of Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem

Dec. 25

Holiday: Christmas

Religion: Christianity

Celebrates: The birth of the Christ child, the promise of salvation and a future peace on Earth through a religion created after Jesus' death by his followers

Dec. 26

Holiday: Death of the Prophet Zarathustra

Religion: Zoroastrianism, a pre-Christian Persian religion teaching a belief in one God, Ahura Mazda, and that life is a battle between good and evil

Celebrates: Anniversary of the death of the founder of Zoroastrianism

Holiday: First evening of Kwanzaa

Religion: Interfaith

Celebrates: African-American family values and traditions are highlighted each night during the seven-day festival. Kwanzaa means ''first fruits of harvest'' in Swahili.

Dec. 27

Holiday: Eid al-Fitr

Religion: Islam

Celebrates: Morning prayers and feasting mark the conclusion of the month of Ramadan, when Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset and listen to the reading of the Koran.

Dec. 28

Holiday: Holy Innocents Day

Religion: Christianity

Celebrates: The memory of children killed by King Herod in his attempt to destroy the baby Jesus

Dec. 31

Holiday: Maidyarem Gahambar

Religion: Zoroastrianism

Celebrates: The five-day winter feast honoring creation

Holiday: Sharaf

Religion: Bahai

Celebrates: 16th month, whose name means honor

Sources: April Umminger and Cathy Lynn Grossman, USA TODAY and USA TODAY research

©Copyright 2000, USA Today

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