Favorite Holiday Traditions Around the World
There are approximately 29 holidays between the beginning of November through mid-January. These holidays are observed by over 7 different ethnic and religious groups worldwide. By all accounts, that makes this time of year a happy, family-centered season full of interesting celebrations. Here are some favorite holiday traditions from around the world:
The Winter Solstice occurs around December 21 and it’s also the shortest day of the year. Since ancient times, people have marked this day by placing wreaths on doors, decorating trees, lighting bonfires and burning candles.
St. Lucia Day
On December 13, many Catholic girls in Sweden dress in long white gowns with red sashes. They also place a wreath of burning candles on their heads. The girls sing songs and bring their families coffee or tea in the morning.
Favorite Holiday Traditions for Christmas
The Philippines are all about lights. Especially the city of San Fernando. Therefore, Christians hold a Giant Lantern Festival featuring thousands of spinning lights that light up the night sky, symbolizing the Star of Bethlehem.
Since only about one percent of the population is Christian, Christmas is not a national holiday in Japan. However, those who do want to commemorate Christmas do so with an annual dinner featuring Kentucky Fried Chicken. Sometimes the wait is hours-long to get inside this popular food chain.
Iceland celebrates 13 rather than 12 Days of Christmas. On the last night, kids place their shoes by the window before bed. If they’ve been good, they’ll wake up to candy treats. On the other hand, if they’ve been bad, their shoes will be filled with rotten potatoes.
A red candle is placed in front windows overnight during the holiday season to signify Irish warmth and love to travelers.
In many alpine countries, including Austria, kids report their good and bad deeds. Have they been good girls and boys this past year? Children with more good than bad on their lists get sweets and fruits. Other children believe they’ll be haunted by a devil-like monster named Krampus on Christmas morning.
Morocco, Algeria and other North African communities
In most of the world, a menorah is placed in a window to signify the eight nights of Chanukah. In northern African countries, Jewish families also hang the menorah on a hook in the doorway. This is thought to bring good luck to the family.
Romania, Austria and other central European communities
Families scrape out potatoes, fill the space with oil and insert a wick to serve as a menorah. They do this one day at a time, adding a new potato each evening. And the discarded potatoes make great latkes, a traditional Chanukah meal.
Many Jewish families, all over the world, believe it’s important to light and display the menorah lights outside the home. Unfortunately, Jerusalem is often windy and rainy around Chanukah. So for centuries, Jews built glass boxes to protect the menorah from such elements. This city’s oldest homes have shelves carved out of the exterior walls for their Chanukah menorahs.
Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Morocco, Greece and Yemen
A day called Festival of the Daughters is observed during Chanukah. It’s often on the sixth night. It celebrates Jewish heroines and includes sweet treats, dancing, and singing.
Avignon (known as wine country in southern France)
After the sun sets on Saturday night during Chanukah, families open a new bottle of local wine. They make a toast. They also visit other families to taste their chosen Chanukah wine.
Many of these favorite holiday traditions can be found in African American communities. They are also observed around the world by anyone who has ties to Africa.
Dinners include the following:
- Corn: a tribute to fertility, each ear of corn symbolizes a child in the family.
- Gifts: they’re placed on the table for the kids to enjoy. Many are homemade gifts of cultural value.
- Kinara: black, red, and green candles (signifying the colors of the Pan-African flag) are lit.
- Reflection: the themes of holiday include unity, self-determination, work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith.
New Year’s Eve
Families dress up as straw men in old clothes. This represents the year that’s ending. At midnight, they burn a homemade or fake straw man to symbolize saying goodbye to the old year. Then they welcome in the new year.
Families eat a late dinner around 11pm. At midnight, some visit a shrine or temple and ring a bell 108 times. This symbolizes the 108 desires believed to cause suffering. They hope that there will be fewer desires, and less suffering, in the new year.
One of the most favorite holiday traditions in Hong Kong is to pray to ancestors. They also ask their ancestors to fulfill wishes for the upcoming year. At an organized celebration, priests read the names of every living congregant out loud. They also write these names on a paper horse and set it on fire. It is believed that the smoke carries the names up to heaven so that the living will be remembered.
Three Kings Day
In Mexico, children open presents on this day to celebrate the gifts the Three Wise Men brought to Jesus when he was born. In Latin America and Spain, most kids get their presents this way rather than from Santa Claus. Sometimes, those gifts are found in their shoes!
Communities of Orthodox Christians mark this date as the day Jesus was baptized. They also bathe in ice cold water that has been blessed by priests. In contrast, Greek Orthodox boys jump into icy ponds or lakes to retrieve a ceremonial cross. They believe whoever finds the cross will receive special blessings all year.
Most every community, culture and faith tradition recognizes New Year’s Day. Some celebrate with parties and festivities. Others prefer quiet contemplation.
In short, this is a happy season filled with a lot of love, family and friends. No matter how you celebrate, or where, enjoy your own favorite holiday traditions. Have a great time!