For those of us here in North America, winter often means celebrating Christmas or Hanukkah with particular traditions. But for those of us who celebrate holidays other than these or celebrate in ways that honor our ethnic heritage, there are some unique traditions we may not even know about!

Traditions From Around the World

St Lucia’s Day

We just passed this holiday, which is celebrated in Scandinavia as well as parts of Italy on December 13. This celebration is in honor of Saint Lucia who was a young Christian martyr killed by the Romans in approximately 300 A.D.

A local girl is selected from the town folks to represent the saint who then leads a procession (parade), singing traditional songs.

Las Posadas

This holiday in Mexico takes place between December 16 and 24 and remembers the passage of Joseph and Mary as they made their way to Nazareth for the birth of Jesus. The festival includes children dressed as angels who lead other children through town, looking for lodging for Mary and Joseph.

At the end of the procession, there is a Mass service and the children break open piñatas filled with toys and candy.

Winter Solstice Celebrations Around the World (mid-December)

Iran – Yalda Night

In Iran, this is one of the most revered celebrations. “Yalda” means birth and the day that follows the longest, darkest day of the year belongs to the Lord of Wisdom, Ahura Mazda. Families eat together, read poetry and celebrate the birth that will come the next day, in the form of victory over the darkness.

China – Dong Zhi

This celebration honors the balance between Yin and Yang, with the end of the yin (negative/dark) period and the beginning of the Yang (positive/light). Families gather together to eat dumplings and tang yuan (rice balls, often brightly colored) and to pass on good wishes for the coming year.

Zuni – Shalako

The Zuni are a native American Pueblo people who reside in New Mexico. For them, the winter solstice signifies the beginning of the year. According to, “After fasting, prayer and observing the rising and setting of the sun for several days before the solstice, the Pekwin, or “Sun Priest” traditionally announces the exact moment of itiwanna, the rebirth of the sun, with a long, mournful call. With that signal, the rejoicing and dancing begin, as 12 kachina clowns in elaborate masks dance along with the Shalako themselves—12-foot-high effigies with bird heads, seen as messengers from the gods. After four days of dancing, new dancers are chosen for the following year, and the yearly cycle begins again.”


According to LearningLiftOff, “Kwanzaa, which means “First Fruits,” is based on ancient African harvest festivals and celebrates ideals such as family life and unity. During this spiritual holiday, celebrated from December 26 to January 1, millions of African Americans dress in special clothes, decorate their homes with fruits and vegetables, and light a candle holder called a kinara.”

Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras is the traditional celebration that follows the 12 days of Christmas in New Orleans, U.S, Brazil, Italy, the Netherlands among other places. There are several weeks of parades, festivities, parties, marching bands, costumes and fireworks.

The celebration continues until Fat Tuesday, which is the start of Lent. The parties and celebrations are to celebrate the last of the indulgent period prior to Lent.

Wrap Up

Regardless of the traditions your family currently celebrates, there is always room to incorporate new traditions into your winter holiday celebrations. Our family traditions bring us closer to who we are as people and to our heritage.

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