Winter Holidays around the World

December 20, 2016 Natalie Veis Williams

Christmas is just around the corner. The next few days will be spent surrounded by family and friends, opening presents, feasting, singing carols, attending church services celebrating Jesus Christ's birth and many other traditions by Christians and non-Christians around the world.

There are many other holidays and celebrations that happen during the winter. For example, today is the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year for anyone living north of the equator. Its origins predate Christ when early Europeans celebrated a time of renewal as the darkest days of winter were behind them and longer days with more sunlight were ahead of them. Evidence of solstice celebrations have also been found in ancient Peruvian, Egyptian, Iranian and Chinese civilizations.

In this blog, I will cover a few of the other winter celebrations happening around the world.

gpi-winter holidays-hanukkah



Hanukkah, or Chanukkah, is an eight-day Jewish holiday celebrating the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem after the Maccabean Revolt. Hanukkah is not as significant as other Jewish holidays, like Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur or Passover (to name a few), but is likely well-known because of its proximity to Christmas.

Hanukkah traditions include:

  • The lighting of candles in a menorah that holds nine candles, one for each night, plus a shammus. Each night, another candle is added from right to left (like the Hebrew language).
  • Eating fried foods, like latkes, because of the significance of oil to the holiday.
  • Playing dreidel, a gambling game played with a square top.


Kwanzaa was created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, professor and chairman of Black Studies at California State University, Long Beach. He created this holiday after the Watts riots in Los Angeles, as a way to bring the African-American community together. The name "Kwanzaa" comes from the Swahili term "matunda ya kwanza" which means "first fruits". It is a combination of many different African harvest celebrations.

Kwanzaa is a seven night celebration observed between Christmas and New Year's Day.

gpi-winter holidays-kwanzaa

An important tradition of Kwanzaa is in the evenings families gather together and a child lights one of the candles of the Kinara (candleholder), then one of the seven principles, or Nguzo Saba, of Kwanzaa is discussed.

These seven principles are:

  • Unity
  • Self-determination
  • Collective Work and Responsibility
  • Cooperative Economics
  • Purpose
  • Creativity
  • Faith

Las Posadas


Las Posadas is a nine-day celebration with origins in Spain, but it is now primarily celebrated in Mexico, Guatemala and part of the southwestern U.S. This religious festival is celebrated between December 16th and 24th.

It has Catholic origins, but is celebrated by many Christian branches, and honors the journey Joseph and Mary made from Nazareth to Bethlehem in search of a refuge where Mary could give birth to Jesus.

During the festival, processions go from house to house asking for lodging for Mary and Joseph. Children are dressed in silver and gold robes carrying lit candles. At each stop, hosts provide refreshments, carols are sung and prayers are read.

Mass is held after each procession. At the end of the service, children break open piñatas, which are crafted in the shape of a star to represent the star that guided the three wise men to baby Jesus.

No matter which celebration you are observing this holiday season, all of us at GPI wish you a peaceful and joyful time.

The GPI bloggers will be off for the holiday season December 22nd through January 9th. See you next year!


Cultural Resources from GPI

You may gain further insight into country specific cultural facts and related topics by reviewing some previous blogs written by GPI:

Please feel free to contact GPI at with any questions about our translation services.  Also let us know if you have any interesting blog topics you would like us to cover in future blogs. You may also request a complimentary Translation Quote for your projects as well.



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