Holiday Traditions around the World

When the pumpkins leave the porches and begin making their way into pies, we know the holidays are upon us. First there’s turkey, then there are gifts and before we know it, a giant ball is dropping in Times Square. In the U.S., we have our own ways, both as a culture and within families, of celebrating the holidays, and those traditions are different than many other celebrations around the world.

Here are some fun holiday traditions that are happening right now, across the globe.

Chinese New Year. This 15-day holiday is filled with family, fireworks and food. January 31, 2014 begins the Year of the Horse. Families everywhere will put out oranges and tangerines to symbolize wealth and prosperity, make their own dumplings, light Chinese lanterns and more.  “Gung hay fat choy!” (that means, “May you become prosperous!”).

Christmas. During Christmas, Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Families decorate Christmas trees, bake cookies and spend time with their family. Children hear tales about Santa Claus, a jolly fat man in a red suit, who flies around the world on a sleigh pulled by reindeer. Santa climbs down chimneys and places gifts below the tree.

Hanukkah. Hanukkah, which is known as the Festival of Lights, is an eight-day Jewish celebration. Children receive a gift each day, and each night, families light the candles of the menorah. Popular foods eaten during Hanukkah are potato pancakes (latkes) and delicious jelly donuts (sufganiyot).

Kwanzaa. This African harvest festival, celebrated Dec. 26 – Jan. 1, embraces family and unity. Each day, a different candle on a kinara is lighted to observe the seven principles of the holiday. Parents and children exchange gifts—often of an educational or artistic nature—on the last day.

Three Kings Day. As part of the 12 days of Christmas, Three Kings Day is observed as the day that the three wise men met Jesus, surrounding him with gifts. The day is celebrated differently in various regions. In Spain, children often get to open their Christmas gifts. In Puerto Rico, kids sleep with a box of hay under their beds, as a way to welcome the gifts. In France, they celebrate by eating King cake, which has a small toy or coin hidden within.

The Yule Lads of Iceland. According to Icelandic tradition, there is not one, not two, but 13 Santas, known as Yule Lads, and they place small gifts into children’s shoes. Starting on December 12, kids place their best shoe on the windowsill of their bedroom so the Yule Lads can fill it. The Yule Lads are also known for playing tricks, and are named accordingly: There’s Þvörusleikir the Spoon-licker, Gluggagægir the Peeper, Bjúgnakrækir the Sausage-pilfer, Hurðaskellir the Door-slammer, and the list goes on. Because there’s no coal in Iceland, children who misbehave will get a potato in their shoe.