Gift box

It’s the holiday season—which for many of us means festive décor, cozy fires, gifts and family. In the U.S., many people hang wreaths, decorate trees, and shop for gifts to exchange with loved ones (and for Secret Santa gift swaps at the office). According to a Pew Research Center study, nine in 10 Americans celebrate Christmas as a religious and/or cultural holiday.

But there are many different holidays celebrated all around the globe, each with their own special traditions. Here are a few you may—or may not—be familiar with:


Throughout Scotland and parts of England, the New Year’s festival of Hogmanay is a three-day party (December 30 to January 1) with ancient roots. Traditions include giving gifts and celebrating with music and food, ending such gatherings with singing of Auld Lang Syne, a poem-turned-song that you’ve probably heard sung at New Year’s Eve parties in the U.S.

Many people consider “first-footing” to be important, a tradition in which residents invite someone into the home on New Year’s Eve as the first enterer—the bringer of good fortune for the year to come.

Las Posadas

In Mexico and Latin America, Christmas is a nine-day celebration that starts on December 16. The celebration is called Las Posadas, and it commemorates the biblical journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem.

It includes a nightly procession through the streets to re-enact the expectant couple’s search for a place to stay—and getting turned away. (But don’t worry—each night they eventually find a family to take them in.) Posadas is Spanish for “lodging” or “accommodations.” At the conclusion, a mass is held and children break open piñatas filled with treats.

Lunar New Year

The Chinese “Spring Festival” marks the end of winter and begins on the first day of the month in the Chinese lunar calendar (that’s late January in 2020). The celebration begins with the new moon and ends after 15 days with a Lantern Festival.

People clean their homes for good luck and eat dumplings for every meal (or at least on New Year’s Eve). On the eve, they set off fireworks to welcome blessings of the New Year. You might see red lanterns and strings of red chili hung on doors and in windows. This is the most important holiday in several East Asian countries, and it is also celebrated among Chinese communities in other countries—especially in Southeast Asia.


Lighting the menorah

Hanukkah is an eight-day Jewish holiday, also called the Festival of Lights. It begins on the ninth month of the ecclesiastical year on the Hebrew calendar—that’s December 22 in 2019.

The celebration involves lighting a nine-branched menorah every night while reciting blessings. There is also a nightly meal with traditional Hanukkah foods—such as latkes and sufganiyot—and a gift exchange each night.

Russian Christmas

Christmas in Russia is celebrated on January 7. Tradition calls for a 30-40 day fasting period, followed by a big family meal on Christmas Eve, but some fast on Christmas Eve only.

At the eve feast, people eat kutia (a porridge that sometimes has fruit or walnuts) from a common bowl, along with other foods. The meal often includes 12 dishes to represent Jesus’ 12 disciples. Grandfather Frost (Ded Moroz) is said to bring gifts to good children.


Kwanzaa is observed from December 26 to January 1. Each day celebrates one of the Nguzo Saba, or the Seven Principles, which are the values of African culture that help reinforce African-American communities. The Seven Principles are:

  • Unity (Umoja)
  • Self-determination (Kujichagulia)
  • Collective work and responsibility (Ujima)
  • Cooperative economics (Ujamaa)
  • Purpose (Nia)
  • Creativity (Kuumba)
  • Faith (Imani)

Every night of Kwanzaa, families gather to light one of the candles in the traditional Kinara (candleholder) and talk about the principle of the day. A big feast happens on December 31 with drumming, music, a candle-lighting ritual and a meal.

South American Christmas

The Christmas holiday in South America varies depending on the country, but it begins in early December on Santa Barbara’s Day with nightly celebrations. Nochebuena comes on December 24 and involves festivities that include a midnight mass (Misa de Gallo), which begins right after Christmas Eve dinner. Nochebuena also entails fireworks, a meal and a gift exchange.

Celebrate by Learning

Without question, this is a vibrant and festive time of year! So, even if you celebrate a particular holiday in your home, it’s always fun to explore other cultures and their holiday traditions. Do some research this season on a country that interests you—and find out what they do to celebrate at this time of year. You’ll be sure to learn something new, and maybe even discover a fun tradition you want to adopt!

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