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April 21, 2019

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Holiday traditions around the world

holiday traditions

The next two months are a season brimming with food, friends, family and festivities for cultures around the world. From the Philippines to South Africa, individuals join together to honor their religion, their loved ones and many other traditions. While most of us are familiar with customs surrounding Christmas, there are a variety of lesser-known holidays and practices that take place, signifying the end of one year and the beginning of another. Here's a glimpse at just a few:

United States

We’re familiar with Christmas and New Year’s celebrations in the U.S., but what about Soyal? Held on December 21, the winter solstice ceremony is celebrated by the Hopi and Zuni Native American tribes on the shortest day of the year with the purpose of bringing back the sun after a long winter. The major celebration lasts 16 days and ends with a feast and dancing. The ceremony stems from the belief that Katchinas—spirit messengers of harvests, rain, health, etc.—must be welcomed back from the mountains where they retreated during the summer solstice.


Makahiki is the ancient Hawaiian New Year's tradition that pays homage to the god Lono. The holiday spans four months, beginning late in the year and lasting through the start of the new year, and is a time for peace, celebration and feasts. Historically, warfare was prohibited during this time. Presently, the holiday is celebrated with games, food, charitable events, festivals and more.


On December 23, Oaxaca City residents celebrate Noche de Rabanos (Night of the Radishes), where more than 100 participants compete for prizes by carving and creating scenes using oversized radishes. The masterpieces often represent wildlife, the nativity and Mayan culture. Dating back to 1897, the Christmas celebration began when the city's mayor, Francisco Vasconcelos, created the event to attract locals to the market to buy their holiday goods, but it has since evolved into a celebration that attracts thousands of onlookers.


Burning the old to welcome the new is a symbolic staple in Ecuador’s Anos Viejos New Year’s Eve celebration. Families and friends gather to create effigies to embody the habits, people and energy they wish to banish from their life. Made of papier-mâché, old clothes, cardboard and other items, effigies are then proudly displayed throughout neighborhoods. Some regions even hold contests and parades before the dolls are burned at midnight in a ritual said to ward off negativity and pave the way for regeneration in the new year.

African diaspora

What is the African diaspora? It’s the overarching title for worldwide communities—predominately in the Americas—that are made up of descendants of Africa.

Started in 1966 by African-American professor Maulana Karenga, Kwanzaa’s seven-day celebration aims to connect African-Americans to their ancestral roots and is celebrated every year between December 26 and January 1. A kinara, or candleholder with seven candles—one black, three red and three green—is used to represent the seven principles of African heritage. Homes are decorated with colorful art and cloths, and feasts are planned. The final day of celebration is dedicated to gift giving.


One of the earliest Christian martyrs, Saint Lucia, is celebrated December 13 by many European countries, including Sweden. While it’s not an official holiday in the Scandinavian nation, the Feast of Saint Lucia kicks off the Christmas season and is the source of big celebrations and processions of participants dressed in white. Some towns even elect their own ceremonial Saint Lucia to lead the parades. There are many legends surrounding the saint, but most have these commonalities—she was responsible for bringing hope to the poor, and she died for her Christian faith in 304 A.D.


Observed for eight days and nights, Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, is recognized by Jews around the world and commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple, where Jews rose up to defeat their oppressors in the Maccabean Revolt. To kick off modern-era celebrations in Israel, runners pass and carry a torch for 20 miles between the city of Modi'in to Jerusalem while onlookers stand by the side of the road and cheer their efforts. At the end of the trek, a rabbi receives the flame and lights a menorah.


Named after two historically Jewish Districts where the celebrations take place, Budapest's Quarter 6 Quarter 7 festival happens twice a year. In the spring, the festival celebrates Passover, and in winter the festival celebrates Hanukkah with hundreds of concerts, film screenings, traditional kosher and non-kosher Jewish food, exhibitions and more over the course of eight days. Businesses, museums and community members of all races, religions and nationalities participate, and the Q6Q7 festival continues to grow each year.


Osechi-ryori are a collection of traditional New Year's dishes that represent a specific wish for the year to come. Kuri kinton, a dumpling dish made of sweet potatoes and chestnuts, is a wish for wealth, or Subasu. Vinegar lotus root is a wish to see the future clearly. Families place the Osechi ryori at the center of the table on December 31, where it is left until January 1. The meal is served in a three- or four-layered lacquer bento box called jubako and is believed to have begun in the Heian era that spanned 794 to 1185.


On January 19, many Ethiopian Orthodox Christians partake in Timkat, one of the country’s biggest festivals. A collection of music, food and processions honor Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River. While celebrated across the African nation, some of the biggest gatherings take place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, where thousands gather dressed in their best attire to dance, pray and witness a re-enactment of Jesus’ baptism. In recent years, Tinkat celebrations have become a tourist attraction for travelers around the world.


For most parts of the world, the brunt of Christmas celebrations happen in December. But for the Philippines, Christmas holiday festivities begin as early as September and are the longest running in the world. Community members decorate their homes with star-shaped lanterns called Parols and attend Simbang gabi, which is nine consecutive days of morning mass services leading up to December 25. It’s common to eat puto bumbong, or rice cakes, from stalls outside of the churches.

This story originally appeared in the Las Vegas Weekly.