Christmas, Hanukkah, Omisoka, Dōngzhì and more: Exploring holiday traditions around the globe

December 06, 2017 Kaitlyn Matousek

Holidays around the globe

How do different cultures celebrate the holidays? 

Depending if you live in the Northern or Southern Hemisphere the holiday season could mean bringing out all your warm, cozy layers to help brave the frigid winter air or soaking up the sun in the hopes of achieving that perfect summer glow.

Cultural celebrations vary wildly around the world, but many share common themes family festivities with traditional food and clothing. No matter what continent you live on, your age, race, gender or ethnicity, the holidays are a special time for people to come together.

Here are 8 different holiday traditions celebrated around the world.

Omisoka in Japan

In Japan, Omisoka, is New Year's Eve, the start of a new beginning. Japanese families gather an hour before the New Year to have a bowl of toshikoshi soba or toshikoshi udon together, a tradition based on the idea of eating the long noodles with "crossing over from one year to the next," and at midnight, many families make visits to a shrine or temple where a cast bell is struck 108 times, each strike symbolizing desires believed to cause human suffering.

Dōngzhì Festival in China

Dōngzhì Festival translates to Winter Festival and is one of the most important festivals celebrated during the winter solstice around December 22nd. The origins of this festival can be traced back to the yin and yang philosophy of balance and harmony in the cosmos because after the festival the days grow longer, symbolizing an increase in positive energy.  Traditionally, the Dongzhi Festival is also a time for the family to get together to make and eat tangyuan, balls of rice held together with flour which symbolizes reunion. 

Hanukkah in Israel

Hanukkah, also known as the festival of light, is an eight-day festival which marks the Jewish rebellion over the Greeks. The focal point of this eight-day celebration is the menorah, a branched candelabrum, and each night another candle is lit. Children get the week off from school and games are played.  Oily food symbolizes the miracle of the oil and especially popular are sufganiyot, donuts cooked in oil, and potato latkes, fried in oil.  

New Year's Eve in Ecuador 

In Ecuador, it is common for families to make viejos together, which are large straw figures. The tradition of the effigy burning began in 1895 with the yellow fever epidemic. That year people packed coffins with the clothes of the dead and set them in flames, the act is both a symbol and a purification rite. Today old clothes, straw, and newspaper are used to create a range of characters from lighthearted cartoon characters to friends and family for luck or disliked politicians. These viejos are then set ablaze at midnight to symbolically say goodbye to the old year. 

Kwanzaa in America

Dr. Maulana Karenga, professor and chairman of Black Studies at California State University, Long Beach, created Kwanzaa in 1966. After the Watts riots in Los Angeles, Dr. Karenga searched for ways to bring African-Americans together as a community.(SITE) and celebrates African-American culture.  Kwanzaa derives from Swahili and means "first fruits of the harvest". Kwanzaa is a seven-day long celebration beginning on December 26th and has seven principles, one principle for each day. Families celebrating Kwanzaa decorate their households with African art and fresh fruit and women adorn themselves with kaftans. Singing, drumming, and children are involved in Kwanzaa ceremonies to give respect and gratitude to ancestors. Today many African Americans celebrate Kwanzaa and New Years.

Diwali in India

Diwali or Deepavali is a five day Hindu festival of lights celebrated every year in autumn, following the cycle of the moon and spiritually signifies the victory of light over darkness, good over evil, knowledge over ignorance. People start preparing days before by renovating, cleaning and decorating their houses with Rangoli – creative colorful floor designs, and many candles. On the night of the new moon, fireworks are set off in the sky and a copious variety of sweets are consumed.

Christmas in Australia

Christmas in Australia is celebrated very similarly compared to how it is celebrated in the United States and Britain. Think decorating the Christmas tree, Santa Claus, and gift giving. Aussies love the outdoors, and Christmas falls right at the beginning of their summer so there is no better time to hit the beach for some fun in the sun. Instead of a hot roast dinner, prawns, cold turkey, ham, and salads are enjoyed outside for a Christmas lunch feast.     

Sviata Vechera in the Ukraine

The Christmas Eve festivities in the Ukraine are known as Sviata Vechera, which means “Holy Supper.” Kutia (sweet grain pudding) is traditionally served at the Ukrainian Christmas dinner table. It is often the first dish in the traditional twelve-dish Christmas Eve supper. Once the supper is finished females often sing Ukrainian Christmas carols.When the first evening star is sighted in the night sky in farming communities, the household head brings in a sheaf of wheat which symbolizes the wheat crops of Ukraine. It is called “didukh,” which translates to “grandfather spirit.” and symbolizes the family's ancestors.

No matter what you’re celebrating this winter, we’re sending you and your family lots of love and cozy feelings.



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