Besides Christmas: Winter Holidays Around the World
Dec 5, 2018
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Every year, about a month before Christmas, supermarkets turn into a sea of Santa’s hats, Christmas inflatables, and candy canes. While a significant number of people in the United States do celebrate Christmas, non-Christian holidays are often pushed to the side. Do you know what holidays you’re referring to when you wish someone Happy Holidays? Grab your kiddos and a cup of cocoa and learn about the holidays in winter, other than Christmas!


The Hindu festival of lights, Diwali, is an important occasion that marks the victory of light over darkness and good over evil. This holiday falls a little bit before the rest — it’s celebrated in October or November. Diwali is filled with fireworks, color, feasts, and family time. Learn more about it here:


Hanukkah (also Chanukkah) is the Jewish festival of lights. This ancient 8 night-and-day holiday dates back 2000 years, and this year it’s December 2 through December 10. It’s not a holiday of gift giving, but children do receive chocolate and candy. People celebrate Hanukkah by lighting eight candles in menorahs, spinning dreidels and eating delicious, deep-fried foods. We love this video about the celebration of Hanukkah by The Big Bang Theory star Mayim Bialik:

Bodhi Day

Bodhi Day is the most important holiday for Buddhists. It falls on December 8 and celebrates the day Buddha attained the enlightenment. On this day, some Buddhists decorate the sacred fig tree at their home with beads and multi-colored lights. Some people will spend the day meditating, others will visit shrines. In some homes, special cookies are served, shaped like Bodhi trees or their heart-shaped leaves.

St. Lucia’s Day

St. Lucia’s day is celebrated in Sweden, Norway, and the Swedish-speaking areas of Finland on December 13. St. Lucia was one of the earliest Christian martyrs, and she is regarded as the patron of light. Today, St. Lucia’s Day is a feast of candlelit processions, saffron buns, and mulled wine. For the procession, young girls wear white color dresses with red sashes and wear wreaths with lit candles (usually battery-powered) on their heads.

Las Posadas

Las Posadas is celebrated from December 16 through December 24 in Mexico, Guatemala, and parts of the U.S. It's a nine-day celebration before Christmas that begins with a candle-lit procession reenacting Mary and Joseph’s walk to Bethlehem. Many houses have nativity scenes, and every night of Las Posadas is celebrated with gifts, prayer, song, piñatas, parties, and tamales.

Winter Solstice

Also called Midwinter or Yul, Winter Solstice marks the day with the shortest period of daylight and the longest night of the year. Most of the customs, symbols, and rituals associated with Christmas actually are linked to the Winter Solstice celebrations of ancient Pagan cultures. Various cultures still celebrate the rebirth of the sun which falls on December 22 in 2018.

Boxing Day

Boxing Day (December 26) is a national bank holiday in the United Kingdom and other European countries. While nowadays it’s common to shop and relax with your family and friends, it’s just as common to give gifts to the poor and those who are in need. Boxing Day is also a day when the British take part in all kinds of silly activities. These include bizarre traditions including swimming the icy cold English Channel, fun runs, and charity events.


Kwanzaa is a relatively new holiday, established in 1966. Millions of African Americans celebrate their African heritage by dressing in special clothes, decorating their homes with fruits and vegetables, and lighting a candleholder called a kinara. People perform and listen to traditional music and discuss African principles and history. Creative gifts are given to loved ones, and the central event is a big feast on the sixth day of Kwanzaa. Kwanzaa begins on December 26 and ends on January 1.

Japanese New Year

A couple of days before December 31, Japanese people deep-clean the house and put up special decorations to welcome the New Year. Japanese people eat soba (long Japanese noodles) on New Year’s Eve in hopes for a long and healthy life. Children usually receive money in an envelope as a gift (toys are gifted to babies and toddlers). Another Japanese tradition is to watch the first sunrise of the brand new year.

Orthodox Christmas

Did you know that 18 countries around the world celebrate Christmas in January? Following the Julian calendar, Christmas is celebrated on January 7 in Russia, Ukraine, Israel, Egypt, Bulgaria, and many other parts of the world. Many Orthodox Christians fast for 40 days before January 7, usually excluding meat and dairy products. On Christmas Eve, a meal with 12 courses is served to represent 12 apostles.

Chinese New Year

The Chinese New Year is celebrated for 15 days, beginning on the first day of the lunar new year (February 5 in 2019). This 2-week festival marks the end of winter, and it is celebrated with parades, ceremonies, and feasts. The most important event is the lantern festival when children carry lanterns and solve riddles written on them.

What about winter holidays in Islam?

Islam does not have a distinct winter holiday that would be equivalent to Christmas. Learn why that is the case:

As you celebrate the December holidays in your own way, remember the rich cultural diversity. Knowing about holiday traditions can help you see new cultures in a clearer light and connect with people who celebrate differently than you. Holidays are about bringing people together, and we hope this list inspires further discussion and learning about the cultures around the world. Happy holidays!

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