From putting up a tree immediately after Thanksgiving to cooking a special meal for loved ones, the holidays are filled with many different traditions.
These annual rituals vary from house to house, but they also differ across the globe. Take a closer look at eight special holiday celebrations from the various cultures of the world.
This five-day festival of lights celebrates the triumph of good over evil. Observances vary by region and religion, but many people will light rows of clay lamps outside their homes throughout the festival, symbolically bringing light into the darkness.
Dongzhi Festival, China
During China’s winter solstice festival, families gather together, make symbolic offerings to their ancestors, and enjoy traditional delicacies such as tangyuan, a rice-ball dish that symbolizes reunion and prosperity.
This Scottish New Year’s Eve celebration dates all the way back to the Vikings’ winter solstice festivals in the eighth to tenth centuries. Different parts of the country have since formed their own traditions, such as Edinburgh’s street party and fireworks display, Stonehaven’s fireball parade, and Biggar’s bonfire in its town center.
Junkanoo, The Bahamas
This festival celebrates the strength and resilience of the Bahamian people in the face of many adversities. What started as a simple masquerade around the Christmas holiday has transformed into parades of colorful costumes, elaborate dance routines, and wonderful music held on December 26 and January 1 throughout the region.
St. Lucia’s Day, Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Italy
Each year on December 13, these countries hold a festival to recognize the works of St. Lucy, or Santa Lucia, an Italian martyr. In many places, a young woman representing St. Lucy leads a procession of children dressed in white with lights in their hands or hair to represent bringing hope and light into the darkest part of the year.
St. Nicholas Day, the Czech Republic, Netherlands, and Belgium
Observed on December 6, this holiday is a day of gift giving in honor of St. Nicholas’s good deeds. Children will often leave shoes or stockings outside their bedrooms the night before that are then filled with small gifts like candy.
Three Kings Day, Spain and Latin America
This celebration held on January 6, the twelfth day of Christmas, is marked by street parades and special performances. Observances vary by region, but typically children will place shoes outside their houses for gifts, many will enjoy a king cake with a hidden coin, jewelry, or small toy, and families will take down and burn their Christmas trees.
Japan’s winter solstice is a tradition that symbolizes harmony and balance in life. It falls on the longest night and shortest day of the year, during which many observers take a yuzu-yu (a yuzu citron bath) and eat toji-gayu (a rice porridge) for good health and luck in the coming year.