International Winter Holiday Traditions

Tis the season to be jolly! December is a month of multicultural holiday celebrations. Some of these more well known holidays are Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa. However, December has many more notable holidays such as the Three Kings Day celebration, St. Lucia’s Day, Ramadan, Eid al-Fitr, the Fiesta of our Lady of Guadalupe, and Omisoka among countless others.

Around the world Christmas is celebrated differently. In Germany, the December 6th has its own special Holiday tradition when children put big boots and a plate of bread outside of their front door. The legend goes that Santa Claus’s white horse eats the bread, and Santa leaves nice presents in the boots. These presents left in the boots usually consist of a variety of nuts, oranges, sweets, apples, chocolate, and even small presents. However if the children had been naughty, Santa leaves a switch (stick/whip) as punishment.

In Italy, the long awaited holiday for many children is January 6th. The sixth of January is the day when the three wise men visited the cave in Bethlehem where Jesus was to give him gold, incense, and myrrh. For this reason children in Italy are brought presents from a “Befana,”  a good witch, who comes into the house through the chimney. Three kings day is the last day of the Christmas holiday in Italy.

Celebration of St. Lucia Day  Source:
Celebration of St. Lucia Day

In Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Croatia, and Bosnia December 13th is a special day for all children: St. Lucia Day. Saint Lucia or Saint Lucy was a young Christian girl who was martyred, killed for her faith, in 304 A.D. The most common story told about St. Lucia is that she would secretly bring food to persecuted Christians living in the catacombs in Rome. She would wear candles on her head so she had both hands free to carry food. Many children dress up as saint Lucia, and many schools in Sweden will choose a Lucia to visit hospitals and the elderly singing songs about St. Lucia and handing out ginger snap biscuits. Sweden also chooses a national Lucia every year. In Denmark and some parts of Italy children are told St. Lucia will bring them presents.

In Mexico, the Fiesta of our Lady of Guadalupe begins a week before December 12th. During this week, thousands of pilgrims within the country travel on foot or by burro to gather at the Basilica of Ville Madero on the outskirts of Mexico city. What occurs there are among the most impressive ceremonies in honor of the virgin Mary, patron saint of Mexico. The main part of the festival begins on the eve of December 12th when Conchero dancers gather in the atrium of the church. The dancing, much like hopping steps, begin at midnight and continues on throughout the day. The songs and dances of the Concheros have been passed down from generation to generation and follow rigid traditional patterns.

Omnisoka in Japan Source:
Omisoka in Japan

In Japan, the holiday of Omisoka is celebrated after the Osoji, or big cleaning. Osoji ends on December 31st and cleanses the house for the coming year. On Omisoka Toshikoshisoba, or buckwheat noodles, are eaten. Eating the noodles symbolizes enjoying a long life. The tradition started in the Edo period (1603-1867). Joya is on the night of new years eve, in which large bells are rung in temples 108 times once for every human desire. Otoshidama meaning God’s Spirit is given to children as presents. The presents usually consist of pocket change, in the old days it consisted of rice cakes because rice cakes were thought to symbolize the God’s spirit. Among the last things to do on Omisoka is Hatsumode, the first trip to a temple to pray for happiness and good luck in the upcoming year.

Ramadan, for followers of the Islamic faith, is a month of fasting and observing it is one of the five pillars of Islam. The fasting lasts for twenty-nine to thirty days and ends with Eid al-Fitr;  a single day during which muslims are allowed to eat to the hearts content, but are not allowed to fast.

The month of December is a great month for people and cultures alike to come together and celebrate their holidays. It is the month of celebration for all. Whether you are celebrating St. Lucia, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Ramadan, Omisoka or any other this year, remember to be joyous and appreciate your family and friends.The holiday season unites everyone through celebration.\

By: Michael Eckles

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