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Diversity and the 2020 Holiday Season

November brings the beginning of the US holiday season, and with it, a unique opportunity to give thanks and be grateful for the colorful diversity that makes our world so wonderful. Between November 1st and January 15th, many of the world's major religions observe approximately 50 holidays, several of which overlap with each other and even fall on the same days.

Building awareness and understanding of the traditions and beliefs of others is an important step in creating a more open environment. This non-exhaustive list primarily highlights religious holidays occurring in November 2020 through early January 2021. It also includes links for a few of the holiday celebrations from around Duke. For a more complete and up-to-date list of year-round religious holidays and celebrations, visit the Anti-Defamation League’s Calendar of Observances as well as the sources* listed at the end of this post. Please contact the OIE Webmaster if you have any questions, suggested edits, or additions.

Note on COVID-19 and the Holidays

Due to the persistence of COVID-19, it remains important for everyone to continue the safe practices recommended to prevent its spread. Read the safety tips about How to Safely Enjoy the Holidays During COVID-19 published by Duke Health.


All Month, Native American Heritage Month: A time to celebrate rich and diverse cultures, traditions, and histories and to acknowledge the important contributions of Native people.

Nov. 1, All Saints' Day (Christian/Catholic): Commemorates all known and unknown Christian saints. Eastern Christianity observes it on the first Sunday after Pentecost.

Nov. 2, All Souls' Day (Chistian/Catholic): Commemoration of all faithful Christians who are now dead. In Mexican tradition it is celebrated as Dia de los Muertos between October 31 and November 2, and is an occasion to remember dead ancestors and celebrate the continuity of life. Chhath Puja (Hindu): A festival for worshipping Surya, the Sun God and his wife Usha (Chhathi Maiya) and is celebrated six days after Diwali. Chhath Puja is one of the ancient Hindu festivals and therefore holds great significance for the Hindu community. This puja is performed to express gratitude to Sun God for sustaining life on planet Earth.

Nov. 11, Veteran's Day: Veteran's Day is a United States federal holiday observed annually on November 11, honoring and remembering all those who have served in the United States Armed Forces. Duke hosted a virtual Veteran's Day ceremony. Read more and watch the video on Duke Today.

Nov. 14, Bandi-Chhor Diwas (Sikh): A commemorative occasion having no fixed date which occurs in October or November and celebrates the release of the Sixth Guru Har Gobind Sahib from imprisonment and coincides with Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights. Diwali (Hindu): Also called Deepavali, “Festival of Lights”, it celebrates the victory of good over evil, light over darkness, and knowledge over ignorance.

Nov. 15, Nativity Fast begins (Orthodox Christian): The Nativity Fast is one of four main fast periods throughout the ecclesiastical year for Orthodox Christians. Beginning on November 15 and concluding on December 24, the Nativity Fast gives individuals the opportunity to prepare for the Feast of the Nativity on December 25. By abstaining from certain food and drink, particularly from meat, fish, dairy products, olive oil, and wine, as well as focusing more deeply on prayer and almsgiving, those following this tradition find that fasting makes them conscious of their dependence upon God.

Nov. 22, Feast of Christ the King (Christian/Catholic): A festival celebrated in the Roman Catholic Church in honor of Jesus Christ as lord over all creation.

Nov. 24, Martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadur Sahib (Sikh): Sikhism followers remember the martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadur. He was beheaded as he refused to be forced to accept Islam as his religion and now stands as an example of freedom of choosing each one’s religion. Day of the Covenant (Baha'i): Day of the Covenant is a festival observed to commemorate Bahá’u’lláh’s appointment of His son, Abdu’l-Baha, as His successor.

Nov. 26-27, Ascension of 'Abdu'l-Baha (Baha'i): Bahá’ís observe the anniversary of the death of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, son of Bahá’u’lláh and His appointed successor, on Nov 28, 1921 in Haifa, in what is now northern Israel. Nov. 26, Thanksgiving (USA) (Interfaith): Following a 19th century tradition, it commemorates the Pilgrims’ harvest feast in the autumn of 1621. It is considered by some to be a "national day of mourning," in recognition of the conquest of Native Americans by colonists.

Nov. 29-Dec. 24, Advent (Christian/Catholic): Advent is a season of spiritual preparation in observance of the birth of Jesus. In Western Christianity, it starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. In Eastern Christianity, the season is longer and begins in the middle of November. Duke Chapel offered a virtual presentation of its annual presentation of G.F. Handel's Messiah. Learn more and watch a video of the concert here until January 6, 2020.

Nov. 30, Kartik Poornima (Hindu): One of the most renowned Hindu festivals that is observed on the Purnima tithi (full moon day) in the month of Kartik as per the traditional Hindu calendar. Guru Nanak Birthday (Sikh): An important holiday in the Sikh faith that celebrates the birthday of Guru Nanak Dev’s, who was the First Guru of the Sikhs and the Founder of Sikhism. He was born in mid-November and the holiday is celebrated according to the lunar date. St. Andrew's Day (Christian/Catholic): Primarily celebrated in Scotland as the nation’s patron saint, but it is also celebrated in Greece, Russia and other nations. It also marks the day before Advent for Catholics who participate in a St. Andrew Novena during which a specific prayer is recited 15 times a day from this day until Christmas.



Dec. 6, St. Nicholas Day (Christian): A celebration with European origins during which some families celebrate by distributing treats and small toys in stockings, shoes, or bags to their children. Some churches dedicate special services to St. Nicholas on this day.

Dec. 8, Immaculate Conception of Mary (Catholic): In Christian theology, the day commemorates the conception of the Virgin Mary free from sin by virtue of the merits of her son Jesus. The Catholic Church teaches that God acted upon Mary in the first moment of her conception of Christ, keeping her “immaculate.”

Dec. 10, Human Rights Day: This day commemorates the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on 10 December 1948. This declaration recognizes that all human beings in all nations have inherent rights and dignity.

Dec. 10-18, Chanukah or Hanukkah (Jewish): Eight-day “Festival of Lights,”celebrating the rededication of the Temple to the service of God in 164 BCE. Commemorates the victory of the Maccabees over the Greek King Antiochus, who sought to suppress freedom of worship. The Jewish community at Duke is still gathering remotely for the Festival of Lights. Read the Duke Today article.

Dec. 12, Our Lady of Guadalupe (Mexican Catholic): Celebrates the apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary (by her title, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of Mexico and the Americas) before Juan Diego, an indigenous convert to Roman Catholicism, on the Mexican hill of Tepeyac in 1531.

Dec. 15, Dhanu Sankranti (Hindu): Dhanu Sankranti or Dhanu Sankraman is an auspicious day as per Hindu mythology and occurs when the Sun enters Sagittarius or the dhanu rashi. The festival commences on December 16 and for nearly 15 days, celebrations take plays including plays and musical performances. Dec. 16-24, Posadas Navidenas (Mexican Catholic): A traditional celebration in Mexico during which over nine nights, neighborhoods celebrate and recreate the Bible story of Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem and their search for lodging. The tradition also involves singing special songs, foods, and other celebrations.

Dec. 21-Jan. 1, 2021, Solstice Yule (Christian or Pagan): In the northern hemisphere, the shortest day of the year. It marks the first day of the season of winter. Litha (Pagan) is celebrated in the southern hemisphere to celebrate the summer solstice. Pagan nature traditions associated with the celebration include evergreens and the yule tree brought indoors, holly, mistletoe, the burning of the Yule Log, candles, etc. have crossed over to Christian celebrations of the season.

Dec. 24, Christmas Eve (Christian): Celebration of the arrival of Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem for the birth of Jesus. Watch this year's Duke Chorale Christmas Concert.

Dec. 25, Christmas (Christian) / Feast of the Nativity (Orthodox Christian): Commemorates the birth of Jesus based on the Gregorian calendar. Geeta/Gita Jayanti (Hindu): The Bhagavad Gita is the most sacred, important Hindu script that influences numerous people, and Gita Jayanti is the birthday of Bhagavad Gita. It is celebrated by reading the Bhagavad Gita and discussing it with learned priests and scholars about how it has been benefiting humanity even today. Learn about Duke Chapel's plans for online Christmas celebrations.

Dec. 26, St. Stephen’s Day/Boxing Day: Commemorates St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, and in Hungary, it commemorates King Stephen of Hungary. It is also known as Boxing Day, which takes its name from the tradition of “boxing” small gifts to give to household servants. Zarathosht Diso: Zoroastrianism is one of the oldest monotheistic religions and was founded by the Prophet Zoroaster about 3,500 years ago. On this date, Zoroastrians remember the death of their prophet, Zoroaster. It's a solemn occasion devoted to prayer and remembering his life.

Dec. 26-Jan. 1, 2021, Kwanzaa: A seven-day celebration honoring African American heritage and its continued vitality. “Kwanzaa” means “first fruits (of the harvest)” in Swahili.

Dec. 27, Holy Family (Catholic): Religious festival commemorating the Holy Family – Jesus, Mary, and Joseph and focuses on religious family life.

Dec. 28, Holy Innocents (Christian): Remembrance of the massacre of young children in Bethlehem by King Herod the Great in his attempt to kill the infant Jesus.

Dec. 31, Watch Night/Freedom’s Eve (Christian): Christian religious service held on New Year’s Eve that celebrates and remembers the Emancipation Proclamation. New Year's Eve (secular): In the Gregorian calendar, New Year's Eve, the last day of the year, is on December 31. In many countries, New Year's Eve is celebrated at evening social gatherings, where many people dance, eat, drink. etc.



Jan. 1, New Years Day (Western Interfaith): First day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God (Catholic): Honors the mother of Jesus. Feast Day of St Basil (Orthodox Christian): Commemorates the day in which Basil of Caesarea died. He is one of the most distinguished Doctors of the Church and forefather of the Greek Oorthodox Church. Gantan-sai (Shinto): The Japanese New Year.

Jan. 3, Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus (Orthodox Christian/Catholic): Feast to honor the name of Jesus Christ.

Jan. 5/6, Twelfth Night (Christian): The twelfth day of Christmas or the twelfth day after Christmas. It marks the end of the Christmas season with the Epiphany on this day. It is celebrated with a switching of traditional roles where people cross dressed, authority was relaxed with a “King of Misrule” appointed by finding the bean baked into the cake. It also marks the first day of the Carnival season culminating with Mardi Gras. Jan. 5, Guru Gobindh Singh birthday (Sikh): Guru Gobindh Singh was the 10th Sikh guru of Nanak and founder of the Khalsa.

Jan. 6/7, Epiphany (Christian/Catholic, Orthodox Christian): Known as Theophany in Eastern Christianity, it celebrates the manifestation of Jesus as Christ. Three Kings’ Day, or Dia De Reyes (Christian): It is celebrated with children receiving gifts in their shoes in honor of the gifts bestowed by the Magi to baby Jesus. Nativity of Christ (Armenian Orthodox): Armenian Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus on Epiphany, except for Armenians living in Israel, who celebrate Christmas on January 19th. Jan. 7, The Feast of the Nativity (Orthodox Christian): Most Orthodox churches celebrate Christmas 13 days later than other Christian churches based on their use of the Julian rather than the Gregorian version of the Western calendar. Christmas (Eastern Christian): Commemorates the birth of Jesus based on the Julian calendar.

Jan. 10, Baptism of the Lord Jesus (Catholic/Christian): Celebrates the ritual of baptism as the washing of sins and acceptance of the Christian/Catholic faith and is tied in with Epiphany..

Jan. 14, Maghi (Sikh): Sikhs commemorate the heroic sacrifice of forty Sikhs, who fought for Guru Gobindh Singh Ji in 1705 against an imperial army. Jan. 14, Makar Sankranti (Hindu): Seasonal celebration marking the turning of the sun toward the north.


Jan. 20, Bodhi Day (Buddhist): Also known as Rohatsu, commemorates the day that the Buddha, Siddharta Gautama, experienced enlightenment or spiritual awakening (bodhi). Celebrated on the eighth day of either December or the 12th month of the lunar calendar.

Jan. 29-31, Mahayana New Year (Buddhist): In Mahayana countries the New Year starts on the first full moon day in January.