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Winter Around the World

Winter around the world.

For many, the cooling weather brings to mind some of our favorite winter traditions and holidays.

Let’s take some time to learn about some winter traditions and holidays from other parts of the world.

*Most of these holidays and traditions are deeply rooted in history and most have a religious or spiritual connotation. I have done my best to present the celebration (food, music, dance, family) parts of these festivities. Please use your discretion when doing further research and presenting with your group.*


Hari Natal:

Selamat hari Natal! That’s Indonesian for “Merry Christmas.”!

Indonesia is located in the southern hemisphere, meaning that their Christmas is warm, sunny, and tropical, Christmas is celebrated in a unique cultural way:

In Bali, beach parties are common to celebrate Christmas.

In Jakarta, Christians hold a mass prayer service in Gelora Bung Karno stadium.

In Yogyakarta, the priest or pastor usually leads mass complete with a Wayang Kulit, or shadow puppet, performance called “The Birth of Christ.”

It is tradition to visit relatives’ homes and children sometimes receive money from their elders.

In Ambon, sirens of ships and church bells can be heard through the city on Christmas Eve. Families get together, and youngsters stay up the whole night to light fireworks.

In Manado City they have a Christmas safari, or Safari Natal. During the Christmas safari, they visit different cities and worship with members of the community. Residents of Manado also parade through the city and carry out the tradition of visiting ziarah, or family graves, to clean and decorated with Christmas lights. Christmas festivities end in the first week of January with the Kunci Taon .People parade around town wearing kostum or funny costumes.

*Host your own Indonesian Christmas beach party. Together with your group research some silly costumes, traditional Indonesian foods and music. Invite family, friends, or a younger group to share what you’ve learned.

Boxing Day:

Boxing Day takes place on December 26th and is only celebrated in a few countries; mainly Canada, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand, and in some European countries such as Hungary, Germany, Poland, the Netherlands, and Scandinavia,

In Germany it is known as "Zweite Feiertag” or 'second celebration’.

Box is day is said to have started in the UK during the Middle Ages. It was the day when the alms boxes, or collection boxes for the poor, often kept in churches, were traditionally opened so that the contents could be distributed to poor people. Some churches still open these boxes on Boxing Day.

In The Netherlands, some collection boxes were made out of a rough pottery and were shaped like pigs. It is thought that this is where the term PIGGY BANK came from.

It was common for working people, such as milkmen and butchers, to travel round their delivery places and collect their Christmas box or tip. This piece of the tradition has mostly come to an end.

Today Boxing Day is a public holiday. There are often sports played on Boxing Day in the UK, especially horse racing and European football matches and it has become a major shopping holiday. Much like Black Friday (the day after American Thanksgiving) in the US.

*Decorate or create your own alms box or piggy bank. Together with your group donate your savings to a worthy cause next year on Boxing Day*


A Japanese traditional celebration on the last day of the year. Or Japanese New Year’s Eve.

The New Year, known as shogatsu is one of the most important holidays celebrated in Japan.

Some of the actual traditions done during omisoka include:

Osoji or “big cleaning”. This is the practice of cleaning the entire house before the New Year arrives. Almost all families living in Japan observe this tradition. it is seen as a way to create stronger bonds with each other.

Japanese families gather for a late dinner around 11 PM, and at midnight, many make visits to a shrine or temple. The bell ringing done by temples follows a certain count. This count reflects the Buddhist belief that humans have 108 earthly desires called Bonnou that keep them from reaching enlightenment. To help in rid others of every last Bonnou, each temple strikes their bell 108 times.

This tradition encourages people to leave all the bad things in the past and look forward to creating a better year ahead.

Those in Hong Kong pray to the gods and ghosts of their ancestors, asking that they will fulfill wishes for the next year. Priests read aloud the names of every living person at the celebration and attach a list of the names to a paper horse and set it on fire. The smoke carries the names up to the gods and the living will be remembered.

*Is there an area in your home, meeting space, or community, that needs a “big clean”? With your group, family, or both have an Osoji day.

Winter Solstace:

The winter solstice is celebrated on December 21st and is the shortest day of the year.

In china the Dong Zai Festival or the “arrival of winter” is a very famous celebration. It is an annual festival during the start of the winter solstice to celebrate an increase in positive energy as the world returns to longer daylight hours.

Based on the Chinese calendar, this is a time to celebrate the end of fall and harvest. Families will come together for food and celebrate their successful harvest. Popular foods during the festival include dumplings and tangyuan. They will gather to enjoy all of the fruits and vegetables harvested during the year.

The ending of the festival is celebrated with lighting of lanterns.

In Scotland, Hogmanay isled by bagpipes and kilts, this Winter Solstice celebration is a Scottish tradition that has been going on for over 150 years.

The cobblestone streets are filled with visitors around the world to watch the famous fireball show. Large balls of fire are swung around to celebrate another year with a great entrance to the winter months.

*The winter solstice, or first day of winter, holds cultural significance to many countries and cultures. Do some research and put together a presentation for your group about one of these countries or cultures and why it is a day they celebrate and how they celebrate*


Makar Sankranti,

Makar Sankranti is celebrated as a very important festival in India on January 14th

In Gujarat and Maharashtra, Makar Sankranti is a festival of the young and the old. Colorful kites are flown all around. The tradition of kite flying is for a healthy exposure in the early morning Sun. These initial rays are healthy and a good source of Vitamin D. It is also considered to be good for skin and helps in fighting many infections and sickness caused by the chilly winter winds.

In Punjab, Makar Sankranti is called Lohri. December and January are the coldest months of the year in Punjab and huge bonfires are lit on the eve of Sankranti. Sweets, sugarcane and rice are thrown on the bonfires and friends and relatives gather together.

In Uttar Pradesh, this period is celebrated as Kicheri. It is considered important to have a bath on this day and masses of people can be seen bathing in the Sangam at Prayagraj where the rivers Ganga, Jamuna and Saraswathi flow together.

In Southern India it's the harvest festival Pongal and lasts for 3 days. On the first day, rice boiled with milk is offered to the Rain God. On the second day, it is offered to the Sun God and on the third day, the family cattle are given a bath and dressed with flowers, bells and colors, to honor them for their hard work in the fields.

*Have you ever flown a kite in the winter? Bundle up and head out side for some kite flying fun!*


Junkanoo is the greatest cultural event in the Bahamas. It is a type of street carnival which occurs on Boxing Day (December 26) and New Year's Day (January 1) in Nassau.

The parades consist of spectacular costumes made of crepe paper and mask of colored cloth and leather. Stilt dancers, street dancers, clowns and acrobatic dancers are accompanied by powerful rhythms beaten on goatskin drums, cowbells, bugles, horns, whistles and conch shells.

To avoid the full heat of the sun the parades usually begin at 2am and go on until 10am.

The Junkanoo parades are performed by groups. The groups are judged in categories for best costume, best music and best theme.

The Junkanoo parade in Nassau is the most famous one but there also similar festivals of music, costumes and dances in other Caribbean areas like the Jonkonnu in Jamaica, the Jankunu in Belize

*Together with your group find a few videos of a Junkanoo parade. Listen to some traditional music and choreograph a short dance routine. What would your junkanoo constume look like? Sketch and color your perfect costume*


Believed to be around 800 years old, it was recognized as the “Mother of all Philippine festivals” and is week-long celebrations that people from all over attend. The festival is held on the third week of January every year on the second Sunday after Epiphany

The Ati-Atihan festival is named after the Ati, the indigenous natives of the island .The name Ati-Atihan means "make-believe Atis”. It is a festival in honor of the Santo Niño.

During the last three days of this week-long festival, a parade is held with colorful painted faces and outstanding costumes. The dancing on the rhythms of the drums makes this festival very similar to the Mardi Gras celebration in Rio in Brazil.

*Learn more about the Ati-Atihan festival. Their costumes, face paint, masks, and props all have special meaning. Why is it such an important celebration for the people of the Philippine Islands?*

Old New Year:

Observed in Russia, for many Russians the winter holidays aren’t finished until January 14, when they celebrate Stary Novy God: Old New Year.

New New Year is an official holiday that Russians celebrate most heartily. Old New Year is a more relaxed time when Russians celebrate as they please. It is seen as a nostalgic holiday and spent at large family gatherings where they eat and sing carols.

They often eat traditional holiday foods like traditional Russian salads. The most popular is Olivier salad, which includes potatoes, carrots, pickles, green peas, eggs, chicken or bologna, and mayonnaise.

They may bake dumplings with a “surprise” inside. It was traditionally a button, a piece of thread, or a bean. In more modern times the “surprise” has been edible. The diner who discovers the “surprise” is said to receive good fortune in the year ahead.

During the Soviet era, New Year’s was celebrated instead of Christmas. Christmas is now regaining importance, but New Year’s Day is when the Russian Santa, Ded Moroz or Grandfather Frost, visits children to pass out gifts. Instead of elves, he brings along his granddaughter, Snegurochka or The Snow Maiden, to help him. Rather than having Christmas trees, families decorate a New Year’s tree, or NovogodnayaYolka, and it is left up to celebrate both New Year’s holidays.

Old New Year has a special place in Russian culture but it’s not the only country that recognizes the occasion in some way Armenia, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia and Kazakhstan observe the holiday.

Parts of the Scottish Gaelic community use the day as a way to celebrate and promote Gaelic culture.

Some German-speaking areas of Switzerland also observe Old New Year under the name St. Sylvester’s Day.

*Learn a little more about Old New Year and New New Year. Make and share “Surprise” dumplings*

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