Religious Calendar

December-January 2017

The calendar below, created by Dr. Peter Yuichi Clark, is an excellent way to keep on top of religious high holy days and festivals as they go by. It is especially useful for those in interfaith vocations who need this information on a day-to-day basis.

TIO is cooperating with another “working” religious calendar project being led by Read the Spirit. It extends what we usually mean by religious calendar to include important civic holidays. It identifies major religious holidays more than a year in advance. Most important, it features stories about what these many religious festival events are all about – what they mean, the important stories, the food associated, and how particular events are celebrated. Your own stories of religious holidays, whatever your tradition, are welcomed at the site. Check it out!

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The Iroquois Midwinter Ceremony, in which old fires are extinguished and new fires are lit, and the Hopi Holy Cycle, in which the changing of the seasons and the nature of the Hopi sacred universe are celebrated, begin in January and February, but the dates of observance vary by tribe.  It is also the season of K’aliyee, the time of the north wind that blows off glaciers and icecaps that linger from the last ice age.

Thursday, December 15

  • Birthday of Amitābha Buddha – Buddhism
    Marking the birth of the bodhisattva Dharmakāra who resolved to attain enlightenment as a buddha and vowed to create a Pure Land.  He became the buddha Amitābha (“infinite light”), and any sentient being who desires to be born into that land is guaranteed rebirth there through his vow, and from there she/he/it will unfailingly reach Nirvana.  This belief forms the foundation of Pure Land Buddhism, which is practiced by many Buddhists in Japan, China, and other East Asian countries.
  • Bill of Rights Day
    While not a religious festival, this day marks the signing into law of the ten original amendments to the United States Constitution in 1791, including the First Amendment that protects citizens’ freedoms of speech and of religious expression.

Friday, December 16

  • Posadas Navideñas begins (through December 25) – Christianity (Western churches)
    A Latino/Latina Christian feast of the Lodgings, commemorating the journey of Mary and Joseph toward Bethlehem in preparation for the birth of Jesus.

Sunday, December 18

  • Fourth Sunday of Advent (love) – Christianity (Western churches)

Wednesday, December 21  winter solstice

  • Winter Feast – Native American spirituality
    A time when Native Americans of the Woodland tribes share food with the spirits of winter.
  • Yaldā – Zoroastrianism
    The “night of birth” which marks the longest night of the year, after which days begin getting longer—thus symbolizing the victory of light and goodness over dark and evil.  This festival is celebrated with storytelling, poetic readings, family reunions, and feasting.
  • Yule – Wicca
    A celebration symbolizing the rebirth of the sun by the Goddess.  A present-day Wicca event that ritually marks the shedding of the dross of the past year and contemplating one’s future spiritual development.
  • Tohji-Taisai [Grand Ceremony of the Winter Solstice] – Shintō
    This day marks the end of the sun’s decline (the yin period) and the beginning of its growth (the yang period).  In Japanese spirituality, the sun is expressive of Amaterasu Omikami, the sun goddess and guiding spirit of the Japanese people.

Friday, December 23     

  • Birthday of the Prophet Joseph Smith – Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
    Commemorating the birth of Joseph Smith, Jr., in 1805 C.E. in Vermont.  He translated what became known as the Book of Mormon and became the first president of the LDS Church when it was founded in 1830 in Fayette, New York.

Saturday, December 24

  • Chanukah [Hanukkah] begins (through January 1) – Judaism
    The Jewish Festival of Lights commemorates the Maccabean victory over Syrian-Greek oppressors and the recapture and re-dedication of the Jerusalem Temple in 165 B.C.E.  Special readings and praise songs focus on liberty and freedom.  The eight-candle Menorah is lit at sundown, and gifts are given.
  • Christmas Eve – Christianity (Western and Eastern churches)
    Celebration of the arrival of Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem for the birth of Jesus. It is observed with worship, carols, candle lighting, manger scenes and festive meals.

Sunday, December 25

  • Christmas Day/Feast of the Nativity – Christianity (Western and Eastern churches)
    Celebration of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, observed by prayers, exchanging of gifts, and family parties.

Monday, December 26

  • St. Stephen’s Day – Christianity
    Remembrance of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr.
  • Kwanzaa begins (through January 1) – African American heritage
    A seven-day festival that celebrates values highly regarded by people of African American ancestry.  The values include umoja (unity), kujichagulia (self-determination), ujima (collective work and responsibility), ujamaa (cooperative economics), nia (purpose), kuumba (creativity), and imani (faith).  Each of these principles, collectively known as the Nguzo Saba, is represented by a red or green candle, each of which is lit on successive days using a central black candle. 
  • Zaratosht Diso [Anniversary of the death of the prophet Zarathustra (Zoroaster)] – Zoroastrianism
    Estimates of when he lived vary from the sixth to the second millenium B.C.E., but this date memorializes the death of the prophet Zoroaster, whose hymns (gathas) are preserved in the Zoroastrian scriptures.

Wednesday, December 28

  • Holy Innocents’ Day – Christianity
    A day of solemn memory for the male children of Bethlehem killed by King Herod in an attempt to destroy Jesus.  

Friday, December 30

  • Sharaf – Bahá’í
    The beginning of the sixteenth month of the Bahá’í year; its name means “honor.”

Saturday, December 31 New Year’s Eve

  • Ghambar Maidyarem (through January 4) – Zoroastrianism
    A celebration for the creation of animals, and a time for the equitable sharing of food with others.

Sunday, January 1New Year’s Day

  • Temple Day – Buddhism
    North American Buddhists attend special services in temples on this day.  
  • Birthday of Meitreya Bodhisattva – Buddhism [Pure Land schools]
    Marking the birth of Meitreya, who will come at the end of time to renew the pristine Buddhist teachings. 
  • Feast of Mary, Mother of God; and the Naming of Jesus Christ – Christianity
    Some Christians celebrate this day in honor of Jesus’ mother; others celebrate this day (eight days after Jesus’ birth) as the day when Jesus was presented at the Temple and officially named by his parents.
  • Gantan-sai (O-shōgatsu) – Shintō
    This Japanese celebration of the New Year includes prayers for the renewal of hearts, good health and prosperity.  The festival lasts for a week, during which time people visit one another’s homes and offer gifts of good wishes for the coming year.

Wednesday, January 4

  • Ghambar Maidyarem ends – Zoroastrianism
    A celebration for the creation of animals, and a time for the equitable sharing of food with all.

Thursday, January 5

  • Birthday of Gurū Gobind Singh Ji – Sikhism
    A celebration in honor of the tenth and final Sikh master [1666 – 1708 C.E.], who created the Brotherhood of the Pure (Khalsa) and who declared the scriptures (Adi Granth) to be the gurū for all Sikhs from that time onward.  This date is used by adherents of the Nanakshahi tradition.

Friday, January 6

  • Epiphany – Christianity (Western and some Eastern churches)
    Marking the traditional date of the visitation of the Magi to meet the infant Jesus and the end of the twelve days of Christmas, also known as Día de los Reyes (Day of the Kings).  In Armenian Christian churches, this date is celebrated as the Feast of the Nativity.  Most Western churches celebrate this feast as Epiphany, which comes from the Latin word meaning “manifestation”; in Ethiopian Orthodox churches it is known as Timkat and is celebrated on January 19th.
  • Feast of the Theophany – Christianity (some Eastern churches)
    In some Eastern churches, this feast is associated with the baptism of Jesus by John and Jesus’ first recorded miracle in the Gospels, where he changed water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana.  This celebration begins at sundown on the previous day.  In Eastern churches using the Julian calendar, this feast occurs on January 19th.

Saturday, January 7

  • Christmas – Christianity (some Eastern churches)
    The celebration of Jesus’ birth begins at sundown on this day, according to the Julian calendar used in some Orthodox churches.

Monday, January 9

  • Seijin-no-hi – Shintō
    Coming-of-Age Day, a Japanese national holiday in which families travel to shrines and announce to the gods that their children have reached adulthood.  Prayers are offered for the children’s wellbeing and lifelong health.

Tuesday, January 10

  • Memorial of Línjì Yìxuán – Buddhism
    Anniversary of the death in 866 C.E. of the Chinese Buddhist teacher who founded what is often known as the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism.

Thursday, January 12

  • Mahāyāna New Year – Buddhism
    This celebration falls on the first full moon day in January for Buddhists who practice in the Mahāyāna (Great Vehicle) stream.  By contrast, in Theravadin countries (Thailand, Burma, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, and Laos) the new year is celebrated in April, while Tibetan Buddhists generally celebrate it in March.

 Friday, January 13

  • Maghi – Sikhism
    Commemorating a battle in which forty Sikhs (the Forty Liberated Ones or Immortal Ones), led by a woman named Maathaa Bhaag Kaur, sacrificed themselves for their gurū. 

Sunday, January 15

  • Makar Sankranti – Hinduism
    A festival marking the change from decrease to increase of the sun. 
  • World Religion Day – Bahá’í
    A celebration of the teachings of unity found in all religious traditions.  The observance begins at sundown.

Monday, January 16

  • Memorial of Shinran Shonin – Buddhism
    Anniversary of the death in 1263 C.E. of the founder of the Jōdo Shinshū (True Pure Land) school of Mahāyāna Buddhism in Japan.
  • Martin Luther King, Jr., Day – USA national holiday
    A day remembering the life and legacy of the American civil rights leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

Wednesday, January 18

  • Sultán – Bahá’í
    The first day of Sultán (Sovereignty), the seventeenth month of the Bahá’í year.
  • Week of Prayer for Christian Unity begins – Christianity

Thursday, January 19

  • Swami Vivekananda Jayanti – Hinduism
    A celebration of the birth of Swami Vivekananda, who introduced Hinduism to North America at the World’s Parliament of Religions, held in 1893 in Chicago during the World’s Fair.

Wednesday, January 25

  • Memorial of Hōnen Shonin – Buddhism
    Anniversary of the death in 1212 C.E. of the founder of the Jōdo Shū (Pure Land) school of Mahāyāna Buddhism in Japan.

Friday, January 27

  • Chinese / Vietnamese / Korean New Year – Buddhism / Confucianism / Taoism
    The first day after the new moon is a religious and cultural festival for Korean, Vietnamese, and Chinese persons, marking the first day of the year 4715, the Year of the Rooster.

Monday, January 30

  • Jashne Sadeh – Zoroastrianism
    A celebration of the discovery of fire by King Hashang of the Peshdadian dynasty.

Tuesday, January 31

  • Birth of Gurū Har Rai – Sikhism
    A celebration of the birth of the seventh of the Sikh gurūs [1630 – 1661 C.E.], according to the Nanakshahi calendar.

If you want more information about any of these holy days, please contact

UCSF Medical Center Spiritual Care Services at 415-353-1941 (Rev. Dr. Peter Yuichi Clark)

Our thanks to the Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago, the Multifaith Action Society of British Columbia (Canada), BBC’s Religion Website, Peel Schools District Board (Mississauga, Ontario, Canada), the Arizona State University Provost’s Office, the NCCJ of the Piedmont Triad, the Anti-Defamation League, Project Interfaith (Omaha, NE), the University of Victoria Faculty of Law (British Columbia, Canada), the Center for Spiritual and Ethical Education, and

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