Winter Celebrations

Learn about unique traditions, celebrations, and holidays that occur around the world during December and January.

Winter solstice

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.

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In the Northern Hemisphere, the winter solstice happens in December, but it's in June for those living in the Southern Hemisphere.

Hanukkah

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A Hanukkah menorah has nine candles, a candle for every night, plus a helper candle in the middle. 


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. The dates of Hanukkah change because this holiday follows the lunar cycle.

In 2019, Hanukkah starts the evening of December 22 and ends on December 30.

Hanukkah: The Festival of Lights

Christmas

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.

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Around the world, family members help to decorate the tree and home with bright lights, wreaths, candles, holly, mistletoe, and ornaments. 

Kwanzaa

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.

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The candle holder used in Kwanzaa celebrations is called a kinara.

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.

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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. 

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. According to the Chinese calendar, the year you were born may determine your personality. Every year is represented by an animal, and legend has it that people born under that animal have certain personality traits. So just for fun, find your birth year and that year's animal, and see what some people believe it says about you. Do the same for your friends, parents, relatives, and teachers!

Updated November 5, 2019