From fragrant wreaths and flickering candles to sparkling spider webs, winter is such a festive time of year all around the globe. Here, a look at how different cultures get into the holiday spirit.
Perhaps most notably a Swedish holiday, St. Lucia’s Day is also celebrated in several other Nordic countries, well as in Italy (particularly Sicily). Associated with the winter solstice, the day represents the feast day of Saint Lucia of Syracuse. There are different variations for different cultures, but in general, young girls dressed in white dresses deliver morning sweets and pastries (like traditional saffron buns) to their families, while carrying candles or wearing them on a garland in their hair.
In Japan, Omisoka is the eve of the country’s most important holiday, New Year’s Day, which represents the start of a new beginning. Japanese families gather for a late dinner around 11pm, traditionally of toshikoshi-soba, long crisscrossing buckwheat noodles that symbolize one year crossing over to the next. After dinner, people often visit shrines or temples at midnight to start the following year with their first prayer visit, or Hatsumōde. The next fews days are filled with prayers and celebrations—it’s a time to clear debts, give gifts and visit with loved ones.
Ukrainian Christmas is celebrated on January 7 in accordance with the Julian calendar. While Americans often think of shimmering orbs and festive figurines in terms of ornaments, many Ukrainian families decorate their Christmas trees with sparkling spider webs. This could-be-spooky tradition dates back to an old tale in which a family that couldn’t afford ornaments used glistening spider webs to decorate their tree.
The South African holiday of the Day of Good Will derives from Boxing Day, but was renamed to cut ties to the country’s colonial past. The Day of Good Will falls on December 26 and is a time to recognize less fortunate members for society by giving food or gifts to others (by literally, “boxing them up”).
Similar to Santa Claus’s entrance, Italy’s holiday witch Befana also enters through the chimney and delivers gifts and candy to kids. On January 5, the Christian holiday of the Eve of the Epiphany, Befana (who seemingly got her name from the celebration of Epifania), flies through the sky on a broom, stopping in from house to house to drop off goodies for Italian children.
Originating in Spain, Las Posadas is now most commonly celebrated in Mexico and Guatemala. It’s recognized during the nine days leading up to Christmas Eve (nine days to represent the nine months of Mary’s pregnancy) and symbolizes the time when Mary and Joseph walked door to door looking for lodging. To re-enact, revelers travel to neighbors houses singing a song and carrying a candle, ending with a celebration around a nativity scene.
What are you favorite holiday traditions? Tell us in the comments!