Updated August 26, 2016
Around the world, family members help to decorate the tree and home with bright lights, wreaths, candles, holly, mistletoe, and ornaments.
Photograph by Inara Prusakova, Dreamstime
A Hanukkah menorah has nine candles, a candle for every night, plus a helper candle in the middle.
Photograph by Gavril Margittai, Dreamstime
In the Northern Hemisphere, the winter solstice happens in December, but it's in June for those living in the Southern Hemisphere.
Photograph by Marcel Schauer, Dreamstime
The candle holder used in Kwanzaa celebrations is called a kinara.
Photograph by Timothy Nichols, Dreamstime
During Three Kings Day in France bakers hide a coin, jewel or little toy inside a cake. The person who finds the treat gets to wear a crown.
Photograph by Juan Moyano, Dreamstime
Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. Christmas in the United States brings together many customs from other countries and cultures. Around the world, family members help to decorate the tree and home with bright lights, wreaths, candles, holly, mistletoe, and ornaments. On Christmas Eve, many people go to church. Also on Christmas Eve, Santa comes from the North Pole in a sleigh to deliver gifts. In Hawaii, it is said he arrives by boat; in Australia, the jolly man arrives on water skis; and in Ghana, he comes out of the jungle.
Jewish people celebrate Hanukkah, a holiday honoring the Maccabees's victory over King Antiochus, who forbade Jews to practice their religion. For eight nights, Hanukkah is celebrated with prayer, the lighting of the menorah, and food. A Hanukkah menorah has nine candles, a candle for every night, plus a helper candle. Children play games, sing songs, and exchange gifts. Potato pancakes, known as latkes in Yiddish, are traditionally associated with Hanukkah and are served with applesauce and sour cream. This year Hanukkah starts the evening of Saturday, December 24, and the last night is Sunday, January 1. The dates of Hanukkah change because this holiday follows the lunar cycle.
The Winter Solstice occurs on either December 20, 21, 22, or 23 in the Northern Hemisphere, where it is the shortest day of the year. People all over the world participate with festivals and celebrations. Long ago, people celebrated by lighting bonfires and candles to coax back the sun.
Kwanzaa is celebrated December 26 through January 1. It is a holiday to commemorate African heritage, during which participants gather with family and friends to exchange gifts and to light a series of black, red, and green candles. These candles symbolize the seven basic values of African American family life: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith.
New Year's Day
New Year's Day is January 1, the first day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. Fireworks are often set off at midnight to celebrate the new year. Commonly served in the southern part of the United States, black-eyed peas are thought to bring luck and prosperity for the new year, greens (usually collards) to bring wealth, and pork to symbolize moving forward.
Three Kings Day
At the end of the Twelve Days of Christmas comes a day called the Epiphany, or Three Kings Day. This holiday is celebrated as the day the three wise men first saw baby Jesus and brought him gifts. On this day in Spain, many children get their Christmas presents. In Puerto Rico, before children go to sleep on January 5, they leave a box with hay under their beds so the kings will leave good presents. In France, a delicious "kings' cake" known as la galette des rois is baked. Bakers hide a coin, jewel, or little toy inside it.
Chinese New Year
The Chinese New Year is the most important of the traditional Chinese holidays. It falls on different dates each year, between January 21 and February 20. Visits to friends and family take place during this celebration. The color gold is said to bring wealth, and the color red is considered especially lucky. The New Year's Eve dinner is very large and includes fish, noodles, and dumplings. This year Chinese New Year began on February 8, and it's the year of the monkey!