The colder months are known to be a time to mingle, indulge in food and beverages, and provide respite to shorter dreary days. From all corners of the globe, celebrations fire up just before the winter season begins- and continue almost until spring.
Our human spirit for connection through celebration is certainly one we all have in common. Many have ties to religious traditions dating back centuries ago. Others pay homage to individuals and to the season itself. Here are some events and their dates for the 2021-2022 winter season.
- Hanukkah, Global Nov. 28 – Dec. 6
- St. Nicholas Day, throughout Europe Dec. 6
- St. Lucia Day, Sweden, Scandinavia, Norway, Denmark, and Italy Dec. 13
- Winter Solstice, Global Dec. 21
- Christmas Eve, Global Dec. 24
- Christmas, Global Dec. 25
- St. Stephen’s Day, Ireland Dec. 26
- Boxing Day, Most prominent in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand Dec. 26
- Kwanzaa, Global Dec. 26 – Jan. 1
- New Year’s Eve/New Year’s Day, Global Dec. 31- Jan. 1
- Three Kings Day, Spain, Puerto Rico, Europe, Latin America Jan. 6
- Chinese New Year, China and Asian countries are the most prominent Feb. 1
- Brazilian Carnival, Brazil Feb. 25- March 5 Mardi Gras, Global March 1
Nov. 28 – Dec. 6- Hanukkah, Global
Also known as the Festival of Lights, this Jewish celebration commemorates the recovery of Jerusalem in the second century BCE. The menorah holds eight candles representing the eight days and nights of its observance. Every evening at sundown for eight nights another candle is lit.
Latkes, a potato pancake, a game with a wooden top called a dreidel, and traditional songs are just some of the customs celebrated by the Jewish community.
Dec. 6 -St. Nicholas Day, throughout Europe
Celebrates St. Nicholas of Myra- the man whose life inspired the traditional Santa Claus and Father Christmas. The holiday takes place on the anniversary of his death, Dec. 6, 343 A.D.
St. Nicholas gave money to the needy and was compassionate towards children. Parades, feasts, gift-giving, and festivals mark the occasion.
Dec. 13 -St. Lucia Day, Sweden, Scandinavia, Norway, Denmark, and Italy
Honors third-century St. Lucia of Syracuse.
According to legend, Lucia brought food and aid to Christians hiding in the Roman catacombs, wearing a lighted wreath on her head to see and keep her hands free to carry as much food as possible.
Swedish girls dress up as Lucia brides in long white gowns with red sashes and a wreath of burning candles on their heads. They awaken families by singing, bringing them coffee and twisted saffron buns called Lucia cats.
Dec. 21 -Winter Solstice, Global
Of all the celebrations listed here, perhaps the winter solstice is one with no specific religious ties. It is recognized by many cultures dating back to the earliest civilizations.
The early German Yule traditions originated from the solstice, and it is also where the mistletoe tradition began.
A common celebration is a spiral path made of tree boughs and lit by candles. The inner part of the spiral represents the shortest, darkest day of the year. It is often associated with time, seasons, and sometimes a spiritual journey.
Some of the larger solstice celebrations take place at Stonehenge in southern England and Newgrange, Ireland. These celebrations have become so popular you must purchase tickets to attend.
Dec. 24- Christmas Eve, Global
One unique Christmas Eve celebration takes place in Ukraine known as Sviata Vechera (Holy Supper). Caroling, eating, and other festivities begin once the first evening star is sighted. Wheat is symbolic for this area and often used for decoration at this time.
Dec.25 -Christmas, Global
People celebrate this Christian holiday by going to church, giving gifts, and sharing the day with their families. In the United States and Canada, Santa Clause is a traditional figure of gift-giving. In almost every country around the world, there is another name for Santa
Dec. 26 – St. Stephen’s Day, Ireland
An Irish tradition known as the Wren Boys Procession takes place. Children go from door to door singing, holding a stick topped by a holly bush and a (fake) wren. They ask for money for the starving wren.
Dec. 26 – Boxing Day, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand are the most prominent
Originally it was a day when servants, tradespeople, and the poor received gifts. By the 21st century, it became a day associated with shopping and sporting events. The Bahamas celebrate Boxing Day with a street parade and festival called Junkanoo.
Kwanzaa -Dec. 26 – Jan. 1, Global
This celebration of African-American culture originated in 1966. It includes a communal feast called Karamu on the 6th day. Derived from ancient African harvest festivals, it celebrates ideals such as family life and unity. Wearing celebratory clothes, decorating homes with fruits and vegetables, and lighting a candle called the kinara is customary.
New Year’s Eve/New Year’s – Dec. 31- Jan. 1, Global
In the United States, we ring in the new year by dropping a sparkly ball in Times Square, attending parties, and making resolutions for the new year, here is a look at some other celebrations around the globe.
Ecuador Families dress a straw man (representing the old year) in old clothes on Dec. 31. The family members make a will for the straw man listing all of their faults. At midnight, they burn the straw man, with hopes of their flaws also leaving.
Japan Omisoka (or New Year’s Eve) is the second most important holiday of the year, following New Year’s Day. Many Japanese families gather for a late dinner around 11 PM, and at midnight, visit a shrine or temple. In many homes, a cast bell is struck 108 times, symbolizing desires believed to cause human suffering.
Hong Kong Residents often pray to the gods and ghosts of their ancestors, asking to fulfill wishes for the upcoming year. Priests read aloud the names of every living person at celebrations and attach a list of the attendees to a paper horse lighting it on fire. The smoke carries the names up to the gods.
Jan. 6 – Three Kings Day, Spain, Puerto Rico, Europe, Latin America
At the end of the Twelve Days of Christmas comes a day called the Epiphany, or Three Kings Day. Celebrated as the day the three wise men first saw baby Jesus and brought him gifts. On this day in Spain, many children receive their Christmas presents. In Puerto Rico, before children go to sleep on Jan. 5, they leave a box with hay under their beds so the kings will leave good presents. In France, the King cake is baked with a coin, jewel, or a little toy inside.
Feb. 1 – Chinese New Year, China and Asian countries are the most prominent
Spring Festival or the Lunar New Year, celebrates the beginning of a new year on the traditional lunisolar Chinese calendar. In Chinese culture and Asian countries within Sinosphere, the festival is commonly referred to as Spring Festival. Marking the end of winter and the beginning of the spring season. Observances traditionally take place from New Year’s Eve to the Lantern Festival, held on the 15th day of the year. The first day of the Chinese New Year begins on the new moon appearing between Jan. 21 and Feb. 20.
Feb. 25- March 5 – Brazilian Carnival, Brazil
An annual Brazilian festival held the Friday afternoon before Ash Wednesday at noon, which marks the beginning of Lent, the forty days before Easter. During Lent, Roman Catholics and some other Christians traditionally abstain from consuming meat and poultry, hence the term carnival, from carnelevare, to remove meat.
Rhythm, participation, and costumes vary from one region of Brazil to another. Samba schools lead huge parades in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, and Vitória. It is a six-day party where crowds follow the trios eletricas (parade floats) through the city streets, dancing and singing.
March 1 – Mardi Gras, Global
Mardi Gras (French for Fat Tuesday), refers to events of the Carnival celebration, beginning on or after the Christian feasts of the Epiphany (Three Kings Day) and culminating on the day before Ash Wednesday. It reflects the practice of the last night of eating rich, fatty foods before fasting for Lent. The most well-known of Mardi Gras celebrations take place in New Orleans, La. Other cities around the globe in Italy, Belgium, France, and Australia partake in the tradition.