It’s the most wonderful time of the year for everyone indulging in family dinners, wrapping and unravelling gifts, and listening to festive music. Christmas is one of the most popular and loved holidays, but not the only one taking place in December. The months of winter may be colder and darker outside our windows but different cultures warm up their homes and hearts with their unique celebrations and festivities. Between December and January, there’s an exhaustive list of days and nights which matter more to some than others. As an international student and a third culture individual, I feel grateful to recognise the remarkable traditions and customs of different societies around the globe. It’s always good to be knowledgeable when it comes to cultures that are not your own, and if you’re open to exploring some of these glamorous winter celebrations, keep reading!
Marking the beginning of winter, Yalda Night is the longest and darkest night of the year by just a few seconds. The date varies every year but is typically on the 21st of December. This night is celebrated by Iranians and regions of Afghanistan, Azerbaijan and Tajikistan which surround Iran. Families gather together to indulge in Iranian sweets and roast nuts, read traditional poetry by renowned poets like Rumi or Hafez and take horoscopes. On this night – which is often symbolized by pomegranates (representing the dawn) – Iranians and others celebrating beat the frigid night by spreading warmth through the love in their homes.
This next celebration honours the passing of the winter solstice and the harvesting of winter crops for people from the Punjab region. Lohri is celebrated, around the 13th of January, by walking around a bonfire for prosperity in the coming seasons, and some will offer food to the fire, representing Lord Agni, to be blessed. Eating sheaves and roasted corn from the harvest as well as sugar cane products marks this festival, and other traditional foods involved include makki di roti, til rice, and sarson da saag. This celebration is all about demonstrating gratitude for the harvest and general blessings and praying for more!
Japanese people have a fascinating way of ending the Gregorian year with their celebration of Omisoka on the 31st of December. This event can be very spiritual and meaningful for people of Japan, who conduct a thorough cleaning of their homes and selves by bathing and refreshing their clothing so as to leave the year behind them and enter a new one clean; physically and mentally. At 11pm, families gather to have a large meal of Toshi Koshi soba, which are noodles, as they believe that eating long noodles allows for a long life! To celebrate further, many will go to shrines to welcome the new year with spirituality.
From the day after Christmas until the 1st of January, African Americans celebrate Kwanzaa culturally. This festival was modelled after traditional African harvest festivals and is the celebration of heritage, community and family for African Americans, who use this day to connect to their roots. Kwanzaa celebrates African principles of Umoja, Kujichagulia, Ujima, Ujamaa, Nia, Kuumba and Imani, which respectively stand for unity, self-determination, responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith. On each day of Kwanzaa, a candle is lit and a principle is discussed. This beautiful event is concluded by presenting purposeful gifts to one another on the last day!
Across the world, we have hundreds of thousands of celebrations from different cultures and religions. As we enter our coldest season of the year, keep in mind the warmth that comes from the love we spread in our traditions and customs, and make it a goal to learn about someone else’s culture! Merry Christmas to those celebrating and happy holidays!