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Six Winter Holidays Around the World

Winter is full of many holidays and cultural and familial traditions. It’s certainly a time when many come together to celebrate family, love, and good fortune. Read on to see how some cultures are celebrating this winter. 

Kwanzaa — A Celebration of Culture

Since 1966, Kwanzaa has been observed by African people around the world the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. During Kwanzaa, people give each other gifts, but no deities are involved. Kwanzaa is a seven-day ceremony celebrating the New Year’s first harvests. 

Kwanzaa has seven main principles: Umoja (unity), Kujichagulia (self-determination), Ujima (collective work and responsibility), Ujamaa (cooperative economics), Nia (purpose), Kuumba (creativity), and Imani (faith).

Kwanzaa isn’t a Swahili word. It’s borrowed from the word kwanza, meaning “first,” from the Swahili phrase “matunda ya kwanza,” adding an extra ‘a’ to make the word long enough to accommodate one letter for each of the seven children present at an early celebration.

Pancha Ganapati — The Family Festival of Giving

Pancha Ganapati is a modern Hindu festival honoring the Five-Faced (pancha means “five”) Maha Ganapati — Lord of Categories. It falls during the 30 days of the ancient Markali Pillaiyar home festival and lasts for five days — from December 21 through 25.

Families will decorate a shrine using lights, festoons, and cloth in the color of the day. Before the puja, a tray of sweets, fruits, and incense is prepared and offered to Lord Ganapati, ideally by the children. Chants and songs are sung in His praise. After the worship, sweets are enjoyed while colorfully wrapped gifts are given to the children, who place them before Pancha Ganapati to open on the fifth day.

Lord Ganesha came from the forest, so pine boughs, bamboo, palm fronds, or banana leaves are common decorations.

Hanukkah – Festival of Lights

The holiday commemorates the triumph of a band of rebel Jews known as the Maccabees in reclaiming their temple from the Greek-Syrians. The temple required a holy light to burn inside at all times, but the Jews had only enough oil for one night. Incredibly, the light burned for eight days.

Latkes, sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts), apple fritters, and kugel — delicious and savory fried foods are central to the celebration. This isn’t a coincidence; people fry food in oil for Hanukkah to symbolize the miracle oil that burned for eight nights straight.

You may have seen the holiday spelled like Hanukkah, Hannuka, or Chanukah. The most common version is Hanukkah, but all of the spellings are acceptable because there is no correct way to translate the Hebrew sounds into English.

Winter Solstice — The Shortest Day

Winter Solstice is the shortest day of the year for the Northern Hemisphere. The daytime lasts 7 hours and 49 minutes in London, 9 hours and 15 minutes in New York, and 9 hours and 20 minutes in Beijing.

The days get colder but not warmer after Winter Solstice. This Winter Solstice fact seems to disobey the laws of nature. Although the sun shines longer and longer in the Northern Hemisphere, it does not get warm gradually.

The Winter Solstice was first discovered in China 2,500 years ago. In the Spring and Autumn Period (770 – 476 BC), China had applied the ancient instrument called Tugui for measuring the length of the sun’s shadow.

Boxing Day — A Day to Give

Boxing Day is a day when gifts are given to people in the service industry (mail carriers, door attendants, porters, and tradespeople). It’s a holiday in the UK and most places settled by the English, except the United States. The holiday is also a time to give to people who are in need.

In Ireland, the 26th is generally called St. Stephen’s Day or the Day of the Wren. It used to be considered unlucky to kill a wren bird on any day but Boxing Day. The hunting of wrens was a popular Boxing Day event in England many years ago. 

Japanese New Year — Shōgatsu

The welcoming of the New Year in Japan involves deep cleansing, resolute silence, symbolic food, and the welcoming of the gods. The Japanese believe in the importance of welcoming the new year with a clean slate. For Oosouji, a few days before the year ends, major house cleaning happens in every household.

The Japanese extremely discourage any form of noise-making on New Year’s Eve. Joya no Kane is the only desirable loud sound on New Year’s Eve — it’s a Buddhist tradition of banging the temple bell 108 times to welcome the new year. This practice originated from the belief that there are 108 types of unnecessary emotions (Bonno) in the world such as anger, grudge, and discord. 

Let us know what holidays you celebrate.

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