Throughout the world, many holidays fall during the winter months. Now is a great time to teach children to understand cultural differences as they celebrate their own holidays. Here are some different winter holiday traditions from around the world that you can talk to your children about.
- Hanukkah (Chanukah) – Jewish people celebrate this holiday, which lasts 8 days and nights in either November or December, to remember an ancient miracle where oil that should have lasted only one day burned for eight days in their temple. They celebrate by lighting a special candle holder called a menorah, with one candle for each day. There are foods they celebrate the season with, like potato pancakes called latkes. They may sing songs, exchange small gifts or play a game with a top called a dreidel.
- Christmas – Christians celebrate December 25th as the birth of Jesus Christ. They celebrate the day by giving gifts, going to church and spending time with their families. Some people put out milk and cookies for Santa Claus who, it is said, leaves presents for children underneath their trees. In Europe, carolers known as star singers perform Christmas songs as they walk behind a huge star on a pole.
- St. Lucia Day – This tradition is celebrated mainly in Sweden on December 13th. The day honors a 3rd-century saint, St Lucia. Many girls dress in long white gowns with red sashes, wearing a wreath of candles on their heads. They are called Lucia brides. They sing songs to wake up their families and bring them a traditional meal of coffee and saffron buns called Lucia cats.
- Kwanzaa – This spiritual holiday goes from December 26th to January 1st and celebrates ideals like unity and family life. It’s based on ancient African harvest festivals and is celebrated by many African Americans. During the holiday, people dress in special garb, light candles in a candleholder called a kinara and decorate their homes with fruits and vegetables. They celebrate the end of the festival with gift giving and a feast.
- New Year – In America, many people celebrate New Year’s Eve with parties that last until midnight on January 1st. There is a televised ball that drops in New York City’s Times Square and people sometimes light fireworks at midnight. People may celebrate New Year’s Day by spending time with family, making resolutions to improve things in the New Year and eating foods they believe to be good luck, like black eyed peas. In Ecuador, traditions for New Year’s Eve are very different. They build a straw man and dress him in old clothing, create a will that lists their faults and burn him, in hopes of making their faults disappear in the New Year.
- Chinese New Year – Chinese children may dress in new clothes to celebrate the New Year. People celebrate by joining in a large parade led by a silk dragon, which is a Chinese symbol of strength. They throw firecrackers during the parade, as the legend says the dragon sleeps during the year so the noise keeps him awake.
- Mardi Gras – The Tuesday before Christians participate in Lent, they celebrate with big parties and parades. A famous Mardi Gras celebration in the United States takes place in New Orleans where people wear costumes and attend giant parades and parties. In some towns in England, they celebrate with pancake contests. Women run a race while flipping pancakes. In Brazil, people celebrate a similar festival called Carnaval, or Shrove Tuesday.
Of course, there are many other winter holidays observed throughout the world in different ways, making it the perfect time to do some “research” with your children to discover how other cultures celebrate the season. For information on how we at Sparkles! talk about different holiday traditions, see a team member. Happy holidays!