As American friends and family enjoy Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November, the “holiday season” gets underway. It’s then that minds really start to turn towards thoughts of Christmas or Hannukah.

But there are numerous other special days and celebrations at this time of year – both well-established and off-beat. Here are just a few.

8 December, Bodhi Day /Day of Enlightenment

Siddartha Gautama (the historical Buddha) is said to have abandoned his years of highly disciplined routines, choosing instead to sit beneath a fig tree (also known as a Bodhi tree). It was here, through deep meditation, that he finally experienced enlightenment.

13 December, St Lucia’s Day

This Scandinavian celebration – which is also held in parts of Italy and Sicily – honours a Christian martyr killed by the Romans in approx. 304 AD. Traditionally, a girl is chosen to portray St Lucia, and she leads a procession through the town.

15 December, Zamenhof Day

Remember Esperanto? The artificial language was created in the 1870s by Polish ophthalmologist Ludwik Łazarz Zamenhof (15 December 1859-14 April 1917). Although it doesn’t have official status in any country, some estimates put the number of Esperanto speakers worldwide at more than two million.

Read more about the language and its inventor here

20-21 December, Winter Solstice

The northern hemisphere Yule celebration is an ancient festival marking the shortest day, midwinter, and the sun’s rebirth.

In countries like Iran, Afghanistan, and Azerbaijan, it’s called Yaldā Night, when families gather to eat (pomegranate, dried fruits, and nuts) and read poetry.

In China, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, and Vietnam, the solstice is celebrated with the Dongzhi Festival. It’s a time of family get-togethers and also a chance to honour those who have passed by tending to the graves of deceased loved ones, praying, burning incense, and offering food.

6 January, Mardi Gras

The “Fat Tuesday” (the literal French translation) Carnival begins as the 12 days of Christmas end. Across the US state of Louisiana, and especially New Orleans, there are parties, fireworks, music, and parades until the day before Ash Wednesday and the commencement of Lent. There are similar Carnival celebrations in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and Venice, Italy.

13 January, Lohri

In Northern India, they celebrate the end of winter and the changing course of the sun with large bonfires, into which they throw candles and sesame seeds. There’s singing and dancing until the fires go out. Children go door-to-door, almost like trick or treating, singing about Dulha Bhatti, a Punjabi Robin Hood-type.