By Erik J. Martin
Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve are far from the only major holidays celebrated around the world once the weather gets colder and the year comes to a close. Several other days on the calendar serve as important festive celebrations for different cultures inside and outside America that are deserving of increased awareness.
“It’s important to understand different winter holidays besides Christmas because of the growing multicultural population in the United States and the rise in celebration rates of many culturally specific holidays,” says Sudipti Kumar, director of multicultural insights at Collage Group. “By 2050, the majority of the US will be multicultural, and each major racial and ethnic group is growing in size.”
Learning about and embracing winter holidays from around the world promotes inclusivity and respect for cultural diversity.
This can help build connections and strengthen relationships. It allows individuals to engage in meaningful conversations, exchange greetings and participate in festivities. And it provides an opportunity to learn about various religious beliefs and practices, helping dispel misconceptions and stereotypes that may exist.
Here’s a list of different holidays on the calendar you may not be aware of or know much about.
This popular holiday, celebrated by Jewish communities, typically falls in late November or December. “This festival commemorates the miracle of the oil in the ancient Temple of Jerusalem. Families light the menorah, indulge in delicious fried foods like latkes, exchange gifts and play with the dreidel,” says Carolyn Morrow, a Christmas and holiday traditions specialist, who adds that Hanukkah has been celebrated for over 2,000 years.
St. Nicholas Day
St. Nicholas Day, observed on December 6th, holds significant importance in numerous European countries. It serves as a tribute to St. Nicholas, renowned for his benevolence and compassion. During this tradition, children place their shoes outside overnight, eagerly anticipating the arrival of St. Nicholas, who may leave small gifts or treats for them to discover the following morning. This cherished festivity traces its origins back to the 4th century.
Celebrated on December 8, Bodhi Day is observed by Buddhists. This observance marks the day when Siddhartha Gautama attained enlightenment and transformed into the Buddha. Followers adorn trees with decorations, engage in meditation, study sacred texts and participate in acts of benevolence and compassion. This festive tradition has been upheld since ancient eras.
St. Lucia Day
On December 13th, Scandinavia, particularly Sweden, observes St. Lucia Day, a festive occasion that pays tribute to St. Lucia, symbolizing the harbinger of light amidst the dark winter period. Girls don white robes and crowns adorned with candles on their heads, partaking in processions that illuminate homes and communities with warmth and radiance. This time-honored custom can be traced back to the 18th century.
Occurring on December 21 or 22, the winter solstice is cherished by many cultures worldwide. “It marks the shortest day of the year. Many cultures, from the ancient Romans with their Saturnalia festival to moderate neo-pagan groups, celebrate with feasts, bonfires and singing,” says Marcus Clarke, a seasoned travel expert and travel blogger. “These celebrations can be traced back thousands of years.”
Kwanzaa, observed from December 26 to January 1, “was created in 1966 to offer a cultural holiday specifically for African Americans and unify the Black community,” notes Kumar. “During the weeklong celebration, a candle representing a key symbol of Kwanzaa is lit each night and a principle of Kwanzaa is discussed.”
In Japan, Shogatsu, or New Year's Day, is a highly treasured occasion observed on January 1. Families unite to embrace the arrival of the new year through prayers, visits to sacred shrines or temples and indulging in feasts enriched with customary delicacies such as osechi-ryori. For centuries, this festive celebration has served as a symbol of rejuvenation and the commencement of new chapters.
Guru Gobind Singh Jayanti
“This holiday is celebrated by Sikhs on January 5,” explains Kumar. “It commemorates the birth of Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Sikh Guru. Devotees gather in Gurdwaras (Sikh temples), offer prayers, sing hymns and engage in community service. This celebration has been observed since 1666.”
Three Kings Day
Also known as the Dia de los Reyes, this event, primarily celebrated by Hispanics, is celebrated on January 6 and honors the Three Wise Men who brought gifts to the baby Jesus. “Many Hispanics, especially those with Mexican heritage, treat this as the day for exchanging gifts and eating special foods,” Kumar says.