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8 Culturally Significant Winter Celebrations Around the World

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For the northern hemisphere, winter brings cooler temperatures and longer nights. In the southern hemisphere, the weather warms and residents take their vacations to enjoy the extended daylight. Either way, employees around the world commonly take a few days off work at this time. Take a moment to learn about the traditions that your global teammates hold dear and consider celebrating in your own way as you explore other cultures.

Santa Lucia Day

Due to the northern location of Scandinavia, countries like Sweden only have a few precious hours of daylight in the winter. The sun rises close to 9:00 in the morning and sets around 3:00 in the evening. A warm, bright celebration to look forward to is Saint Lucy’s Day. On December 13th, children sing songs dressed in white gowns. Boys carry stars and girls wear a crown of lights with a red sash. Traditionally, the eldest daughter will bring her family saffron buns and coffee.

Image of a saffron bun

Christmas

Christmas is the Christian holiday that falls on December 25th, when the birth of Jesus Christ is celebrated. Over the years, the celebration has gradually incorporated traditions from various religions and regions. Today, a few common themes of Christmas include gift giving, attending mass, feasting, and decorating the home.

Chinese New Year

To welcome the New Year, families take time to clean their homes, perform rituals, and prepare feasts. Dumplings are bountiful and long noodles are eaten to symbolize a long life. Since the holiday is based on the lunar calendar, the date of celebration shifts from January to February. Each year features one of the 12 zodiac animals. 2018 will be Year of the Dog.

Image of lanterns for Chinese New Year

New Year’s Day

For those who observe the Gregorian calendar, January 1st is considered the first day of the New Year. As the clock strikes midnight in each time zone, the New Year is welcomed over a span of 26 hours. See how the celebration unfolds in countries around the world with this infographic.

Epiphany

For Christians, this holiday (on January 6) marks the end of the Christmas season. For Greek and Russian Orthodox churches, this is the celebration of Christmas. Christians believe that this was when the three kings visited baby Jesus, celebrating the manifestation of God becoming human. It is celebrated in slightly different ways by Christians around the world; celebrations include children leaving straw for horses outside or putting their shoes by the door to be filled with small gifts from the kings.

Diwali

Diwali is a five day celebration where lights glow all around the house, gifts are exchanged, rituals take place, and special foods are consumed. The largest Diwali celebrations certainly take place in India, but it is celebrated by Hindus all around the world. In fact, Hindu Indians are the second largest ethnic minority in Britain. Click here to read more about how Diwali is celebrated in other countries.

Image of a rangoli for Diwali

Kwanzaa

The Kwanzaa celebration lasts for one week. It is celebrated around the world by people of African descent. The best and most beautiful objects are selected to represent African culture as family, community, and heritage are celebrated. The holiday name is derived from a phrase that refers to the first harvest in Swahili. This is a cultural holiday, not a religious one; therefore, it truly brings together people from various lifestyles to celebrate their common African heritage.

Hanukkah

The eight day festival of lights commemorates the miracles of the faithful Jews as they reclaimed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. The menorah holds eight candles and is placed in a window or doorway. Prayers are recited with the nightly lighting and gifts are exchanged.  

 Image of a menorah for Hanukkah

Those eight holidays are celebrated by billions of people around the world. There are many other winter celebrations sacred to other cultures. For example, consider:

  • Soyal, celebrated by the Hopi Indians in the Southwest United States, falls on the shortest day of the year. The Hopi people perform a purifying ritual to help the sun return from its winter slumber.
  • Dong Zhi is the Chinese Winter Festival that falls around December 22. From sundial observations, the Chinese discovered the winter solstice and knew that after the longest night, the days gradually became longer and lighter. It has been celebrated since the Han Dynasty, which lasted from 202 BC to 220 AD.
  • Saturnalia was a pagan public holiday celebrated at the winter harvest in ancient Rome. This was a time of “role-reversal,” where slaves were temporarily freed and the rich gave to the poor. Some historians think that this holiday was the precursor to the date of modern-day Christmas, which falls on December 25.
  • Inti Raymi in Peru occurs from June 21-24, which is the winter solstice in Cusco. It honors the sun god, which is the most important god for the Incas. The festivities include a mass, flag raising, thanks for blessings, rituals, sacrifices, and a procession.
  • Yalda night in Iran (as well as Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan) gathers family together to spend the longest and darkest night of the year together. Poems are read all night and a table of pomegranates, watermelon, nuts, and other treats is reminiscent of the red sunrise that is to come.
  • Midwinter in Antarctica is a party for researchers who have reached the midpoint of a season of isolation.

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This post provides a just a glimpse into these rich cultural celebrations. If your global team has winter customs that differ from your own, take the opportunity to begin a cultural dialogue as you learn more. To dive further into international communication, visit our Global Workforce Development page to learn how you can grow your team’s successes.    


If you're curious about celebrations across culture as you learn how to be an effective cross-cultural communicator, check out a few of our other blogs:

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