There are infinitely more worldwide celebrations than what we have listed here and many that you may not have ever heard of and taking time to learn about just a few gives you a better understanding of the world. Hopefully you can extend your holiday season even longer!
Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year!
One of the most widely known December holidays, Christmas traditions vary around the world. While Americans celebrate with Christmas trees, visits from Santa Claus, and dreams of snowy landscapes, Christmas falls during Australia’s summer, where it is popular to go camping or to the beach over the holiday. Some Australians decorate a “Christmas Bush,” a native Australian tree with small green leaves and flowers that turn red during the summer.
In England, Christmas traditions are similar to those in the United States, but instead of leaving milk and cookies for Santa Claus, children leave mince pies and brandy for Father Christmas. In Iceland, capital city Reykjavik turns into a winter wonderland with its Christmas market and for the children, there is not one but thirteen Santa’s, known as Yule Lads. One arrives each night in the thirteen days before Christmas, leaving small gifts in shoes left in window sills.
Hanukkah, or Chanukah, is an eight-day Jewish celebration that commemorates the re-dedication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem following the Maccabean Revolt. Those who took part in the re-dedication witnessed what they believed to be a miracle. Even though there was only enough untainted oil to keep the menorah’s candles burning for a single day, the flames continued to burn for eight nights.
Also known as the Festival of Lights, Hanukkah begins on the 25th of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar. Celebrations revolve around lighting the menorah. On each of the holiday’s eight nights, another candle is added to the menorah after sundown. The ninth candle, called the shamash (“helper”), is used to light the others. Typically, blessings are recited and traditional Hanukkah foods such as potato pancakes (latkes) and jam-filled donuts (sufganiyot) are fried in oil. Other Hanukkah customs include playing with dreidels and exchanging gifts.
Kwansaa was created by Dr. Maulana Karenga in 1966 after the Watts riots in Los Angeles. He founded US, a cultural organization, and started to research African “first fruit” (harvest) celebrations. From there, he combined aspects of several different harvest celebrations to form the basis of Kwanzaa.
The name Kwanzaa comes from the phrase “matunda ya kwanza” which means “first fruits” in Swahili. Each family celebrates Kwanzaa in its own way, but celebrations often include songs and dances, African drums, storytelling, poetry reading, and a large traditional meal. On each of the seven nights, families gather and a child lights one of the candles on the Kinara, then one of the seven principles, values of African culture, is discussed. An African feast, called a Karamu, is held on December 31.
Boxing Day takes place on December 26. Only celebrated in a few countries, the holiday originated in the United Kingdom during the Middle Ages. It was the day when the alms box, collection boxes for the poor often kept in churches, were opened and their content distributed, a tradition that still happens in some areas. It was also the day servants were traditionally given the day off to celebrate Christmas with their families.
Boxing Day has now become a public holiday in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, among other countries. In England, soccer matches, and horse races often take place on Boxing Day. The Irish refer to the holiday as St. Stephen’s Day, and they have their own tradition called hunting the wren, in which boys fasten a fake wren to a pole and parade it through town. The Bahamas celebrate Boxing Day with a street parade and festival called Junkanoo.
The Winter Solstice occurs around December 21. It is the shortest day of the year. People all over the world participate in festivals and celebrations. Long ago, people celebrated by lighting bonfires and candles to coax back the sun.
With its origins in Spain, Las Posadas is a nine-day celebration that is now primarily celebrated in Mexico, Guatemala, and parts of the Southwestern United States. The roots of this holiday are in Catholicism, but several different branches of Christian Latinos follow the tradition. During the celebration, a procession moves from house to house with a candle inside a paper lampshade, stopping at each home to sign and pray. Eventually, the procession ends at a home or church, and the celebration continues with caroling, feasting, and pinata breaking!
Also referred to as the Feast of the Sacrifice, Eid-al-Adha is an important Islamic holiday celebrated worldwide to honor the willingness of the prophet Abraham to sacrifice his first-born, Ishmael, on God’s command. Last year, the holiday took place in late October, but the date greatly varies depending on the Islamic lunar calendar. To celebrate, families traditionally dress in their finest clothing to perform prayer in a large congregation or mosque and sacrifice their best halal domestic animals as a symbol of Abraham’s sacrifice. Ultimately, most of the meat is shared with friends, neighbors, and the poor, to ensure that none are without a chance to partake in the holiday feast!
This five-day Hindu festival is an official holiday in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar, among others. The festival is also referred to as the “festival of lights” and celebrates both the attainment of nirvana by Mahavira (an Indian Sage), as well as a Death Anniversary of Swami Dayanand (Hindu religious leader).
The word “Diwali” is a contraction of a word translating to “row of lamps,” as the holiday involves the lighting of small clay lamps to symbolize the victory of good over evil. Firecrackers are burst and, during the festival, all those celebrating wear new clothes and share sweets with family and friends.
In Ecuador, families dress a straw man in old clothes on December 31. The straw man represents the old year. The family members make a will for the straw man that lists all of their faults. At midnight, they burn the straw man, in hopes that their faults will disappear with him.
In Japan, Omisoka (or New Year’s Eve) is the second most important holiday of the year, following New Year’s Day, the start of a new beginning. Japanese families gather for a late dinner around 11 PM, and at midnight, many make visits to a shrine or temple. In many homes, there is a cast bell that is struck 108 times, symbolizing desires believed to cause human suffering.
Those in Hong Kong pray to the gods and ghosts of their ancestors, asking that they will fulfill wishes for the next year. Priests read aloud the names of every living person at the celebration and attach a list of the names to a paper horse and set it on fire. The smoke carries the names up to the gods and the living will be remembered.
To celebrate the Chinese New Year, many children dress in new clothes to celebrate and people carry lanterns and join in a huge parade led by a silk dragon, the Chinese symbol of strength. According to legend, the dragon hibernates most of the year, so people throw firecrackers to keep the dragon awake.