17 Holidays Around the World
Discovering new holidays around the world can bring extra joy to any season. Whether it’s winter holidays like New Year’s Eve and Chinese New Year, holidays for kids like Hina Matsuri and St. Lucia’s Day, or seasonal holidays like Holi and Día de los Muertos, these celebrations open a window to the many cultures of the big, bright world.
Winter Holidays Around the World
Winter weather can be cold and dreary, but that’s all the more reason to chase away the blues with a good time! People celebrate many winter holidays around the world, with themes from ringing in the new year to finding love to lighting up cold, dark nights.
Chinese New Year
Chinese New Year (also called Lunar New Year and celebrated in many countries outside China), starts on the second new moon after the winter solstice. The exact date varies from year to year, but it always falls during the winter. In China, the holiday lasts for weeks!
Celebrations for Chinese New Year take all kinds of forms, from enormous public fireworks displays and exciting lion dances to special family dinners at home and giving children money in red envelopes for good luck. This vibrant, thriving holiday with ancient roots brings warmth and cheer to winter every year!
Valentine’s Day not for you? You might be interested to hear about Dragobete, a Romanian celebration of love on February 24. Dragobete was the Romanian god of love, whose mother, Baba Dochia, separated him from his wife after he married without her blessing. Every year, people in Romania celebrate the couple’s triumphant reunion by gathering snowdrops (an early-blooming wildflower), holding bonfires, and looking for love!
Pingxi Lantern Festival
Taiwan has a striking way of celebrating Lunar New Year: the Pingxi Lantern Festival. In the past, people in Taiwan used flying lanterns to signal safety after bandit attacks. That hopeful spirit powers a celebration in which thousands of people write wishes onto special flying lanterns in the village of Pingxi.
When the lanterns are lit, they float into the sky. Special regulations and Pingxi’s location between the mountains and the sea help keep the lanterns contained safely, creating one of winter’s most remarkable sights.
Holidays Around the World for Kids
Most holidays around the world are plenty of fun for kids. Presents, festivals, theatrical dances, and costumes—what’s not to love? But some global holidays focus especially on kids, including:
Japan’s 1,000-year-old Hina Matsuri festival celebrates girls through family gatherings and the display of special dolls bought just for the occasion. The most elaborate (and traditional) doll sets involve a seven-tiered display, with emperor and empress dolls on top and their musicians, ministers, and servants on the bottom.
Special family meals help mark the day. Sticky rice cakes wrapped in pickled cherry blossom, layered rice cakes, and more—yum! Even the dolls join in the fun, with the cakes placed alongside them on their display.
St. Lucia’s Day
St. Lucia’s Day in Sweden shines a special light on the oldest girl in each family—literally! During the celebration, which occurs on December 13 as part of the Christmas season, she must dress in white and wear an illuminated crown to represent Lucia, an early Christian saint. Sometimes she’ll serve special foods to family members. Boys get to join the fun, too, by wearing white and singing songs during parades.
Kwanzaa, a weeklong celebration of community and African culture, began with African Americans in the United States. Known for its seven principles of unity (umoja), collective work and responsibility (ujima), cooperative economics (ujamaa), self-determination (kujichagulia), purpose (nia), creativity (kuumba), and faith (imani), the holiday also places special significance on children.
Because children are the future of the community, they’re honored during Kwanzaa with gifts and encouraged to take important roles in celebrations. They even helped give the holiday its name—Kwanzaa’s founders added an extra a to the Kiswahili word kwanza because seven children were involved in the celebration’s early years!
December Holidays Around the World
Many popular holidays around the world take place in December. Maybe it’s the cold, the long nights leading up to the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere (and short ones leading up to the summer solstice in the Southern Hemisphere), or the religious festivals, but there are tons of holidays to celebrate at the end of the year!
Christmas may get a lot of attention, but Boxing Day on December 26 is a major holiday in its own right. According to legend, the holiday got its start when wealthy people in England brought food and other gifts to those who worked for them after Christmas. That spirit of generosity remains, but the holiday has also evolved to be more festive.
In some places, like Canada, Hong Kong, and England, stores hold major sales on December 26, making it one of the year’s biggest days for shopping. In the Bahamas, Boxing Day plays host to the Junkanoo festival, with a huge parade full of costumes and music.
And Australia and New Zealand take advantage of the Southern Hemisphere’s summer weather by celebrating with big sporting events!
When you’re talking about December holidays, you can’t forget Christmas. Enormously popular in many places, Christmas involves a host of different traditions in the many countries where it’s celebrated. For example:
- In Mexico, the celebration of Las Posadas from December 16 to December 24 honors Mary and Joseph’s search for an inn. Every night, families go to a different home and ask for shelter. Once they’re let in, they celebrate together!
- In India, people attend special midnight masses and make kheer, a sweet pudding, for neighbors and family.
- Norwegians celebrate with their own kind of rice pudding, called riskrem, on Christmas Eve.
- Brazilian children leave a sock near the window for Bom Velhinho (a Brazilian name for Santa Claus). If he finds it, they get a present!
- In Ireland, some people take a cold swim in the ocean on Christmas morning!
Every year, Jewish families around the world gather to celebrate Hanukkah. The holiday commemorates the miraculous longevity of a small quantity of oil that kept the menorah in the Second Temple in Jerusalem lit after it was reclaimed from invaders during an ancient battle. Though there was only enough oil to last for one day, it stayed lit for eight.
In remembrance, Jews worldwide light menorahs for eight days every Hanukkah to celebrate. Families give gifts, play games of dreidel, and enjoy special foods all over the world: sufganiyot jelly donuts in Israel, latke potato pancakes in Eastern Europe, fried plantain patacones in Colombia, and more!
Just before Christmas, on December 21 or 22 depending on the year, the Northern Hemisphere experiences the winter solstice. It’s the shortest day of the year, but that means every day after it gets a little longer until the summer solstice in June!
In Iran, people celebrate the winter solstice with the tradition of Yalda, gathering with family to read poetry, talk, and eat. In the United Kingdom, people in the city of Bristol hold a big parade and burn paper clocks on the beach. And in Japan many people (as well as some zoo animals!) take baths with yuzu fruit to relax and hold off colds.
Seasonal Holidays Around the World
Some of the world’s most fascinating and fantastic holidays occur in the same season every year. Religious observances, family traditions, and huge public celebrations all make regular appearances on the calendar. Diwali, Hanukkah, St. Patrick’s Day, Día de los Muertos—there’s a great holiday in every season, all year long!
Observed all over India every year in the fall, Diwali celebrates the triumph of light over darkness when Lord Rama returned home after vanquishing the evil king Ravana. Families put clay diya lamps in their windows and create beautiful rangoli welcome mats out of everything from sand and rice to powdered quartz and flower petals. Diwali is a five-day celebration with a huge feast on the third day, with people enjoying favorite dishes like samosas, paneer, and more!
Día de los Muertos
Many Latino homes and communities look forward every year to Día de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, on November 1 and November 2. Stemming from Aztec culture, it’s a bright, vibrant celebration of life and of those who have passed on. Families make an ofrenda in their home to honor their ancestors, host parties, and gather with friends and family among bright marigolds (considered attractive to the dead because of their bright colors and strong smell) and beautiful papel picado banners.
Ah, Halloween—ghosts and goblins, spooky bats, spiders, and skeletons, kids thronging the streets in colorful costumes collecting candy. This lighthearted celebration of frightening things falls on October 31 every year. The tradition stretches back as far as ancient Europe and features many local twists in the countries where kids celebrate it:
- Instead of saying “trick or treat,” some Canadian children ask for “Halloween apples.” In olden days, toffee apples were a favorite Canadian Halloween treat, though toffee bars are now more common.
- Mexican kids ask “¿Me da mi calaverita?” to ask for special candy skulls on Halloween.
- In Portugal, kids wait until November 1, then walk around with pumpkin lanterns and ask for special cakes.
Springtime in India and Nepal brings Holi, the festival of colors. During Holi, the triumph of the god Vishnu over an evil king is honored by lighting bonfires and roasting corn and other grains. In some places, people also hold a big contest to celebrate a legend in which Vishnu playfully threw colorful water on his milkmaids. A pot of buttermilk is hung high over a street, and people attempt to knock it down while others distract them by hurling colorful powder and water at them.
By the end of the celebration, everyone is drenched and covered in bright powder, laughing, and having fun—a perfect way to welcome spring!
New Year’s Eve
The new year in the Gregorian calendar (the one used in the United States, Europe, and many other countries) falls either in the depths of winter (in the Northern Hemisphere) or the height of summer (in the Southern Hemisphere). But either way, people around the world ring it in with fantastic celebrations.
In Spain, families count doce uvas (twelve grapes) and eat one grape with every strike of the clock at midnight for good luck. In Brazil, people wear white and go to the beach to make wishes to the goddess of water, Lemanjá. Buddhist temples in Japan perform the joya no kane ritual, ringing their bells 108 times to cleanse the 108 worldly passions and bless those who hear the bells. Filipinos wear polka dots and eat round fruit for good luck. The traditions are endless!
St. Patrick’s Day
Springtime also brings the worldwide spectacle of St. Patrick’s Day, a celebration of the patron saint of Ireland. In Ireland itself, St. Patrick’s Day means family meals as well as parades. Elsewhere in Europe, people honor the Irish with events ranging from a charity race to music festivals. Parades and festivals also take place in countries as far-flung as Japan and Australia. In the United States, the city of Chicago even dyes its river green!
What would winter be without Valentine’s Day? The holiday’s origins may be a little unclear, but it’s still celebrated all over the world. Danish people send anonymous rhyming love notes called gaekkebrev. In Japan, women give chocolate to men. And in South Africa, women sometimes pin the names of those they’re interested in to their sleeves to display their love.