When Do All December Holidays Start? Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice Dates

As December gets underway, peak holiday season is fast approaching.

Though Christmas continues to dominate as the most commonly celebrated winter holiday across the United States, the Winter Solstice, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa all share the celebratory season.

Read on for more information about four important winter holidays and their cultural significance.

Menorah lighting
A student from a Yeshiva religious school lights a candle on a menorah during Hanukkah in the central Israeli city of Bnei Brak December 28, 2016. JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images

December 21: Winter Solstice

In the Northern Hemisphere, the Winter Solstice occurs every year on December 21, a day that marks the official start of the winter season with the shortest period of sunlight. The event occurs specifically when the sun is directly over the Tropic of Capricorn, a circle of latitude located 23.5 degrees south of the equator.

After the solstice, the days gradually become longer and the nights become shorter in a pattern that does not shift until the Summer Solstice—the longest day of the year—occurs toward the end of June. The Winter Solstice is a holiday widely celebrated by those who follow pagan traditions, and is known by many names around the world including Yule, the Longest Night, Jól and Midwinter. The word "solstice" is of Latin origin and roughly translates to "sun stands still."

December 22-30: Hanukkah

An eight-day long celebration known as the "festival of lights," Hanukkah is rooted in Jewish beliefs and can be traced back to 200 B.C., when a small army led by Judah the Maccabee reclaimed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem from the Greeks.

While Hanukkah is considered a minor holiday for those who practice Judaism, the celebration reflects upon a miracle believed to have occurred when a single day's worth of oil lit the menorah in the Holy Temple for eight days.

December 25: Christmas

This year, December 1 marked the beginning of Advent, a period of four Sundays leading up to Christmas in Catholic and Protestant Christian traditions. A primarily Western holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, the celebration will begin for many on the evening of December 24, Christmas Eve. During the night, gifts from Santa Claus will mysteriously appear in many households, delighting children on the morning of December 25.

Many historians dispute the religious claim to the day, arguing that Christ was most likely born in the spring and that many Christmas traditions are, in fact, rooted in Pagan beliefs. This year Christmas Eve will fall on a Tuesday and Christmas Day on a Wednesday.

December 26-January 1: Kwanzaa

A relatively new holiday, Kwanzaa was created in 1966 by American Black Power activist and professor of African Studies Maulana Karenga. Beginning on December 26 each year, Kwanzaa is a weeklong celebration during which each day highlights one of the seven core principles: Umoja (unity), Kujichagulia (self-determination), Ujima (collective work and responsibility), Ujamaa (cooperative economics), Nia (purpose), Kuumba (creativity) and Imani (faith).

For each day of Kwanzaa, a single candle is lit in the kinara, a holder containing three red candles on its left side, three green candles on its right side and one black candle in the center. Each candle is representative of one of the seven principles highlighted throughout the week. The name "Kwanzaa" is derived from the Swahili phrase "matunda ya kwanza," or "first fruits" in English.