Holiday traditions take on many forms, depending on where you are in the world. How do different cultures celebrate the holiday season?
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Colder weather, snow on the ground (depending on where you call home) and preparing for family gatherings – all means one thing – the holidays are upon us 🗓 ! But depending on your region or religion, the holiday season might carry different meanings Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or other celebrations.If you’re a #DigitalMarketer, you’re probably already familiar with the different traditions. After all, creating campaigns for global audiences requires attention to the holiday calendar. But what does this mean for all of us around the globe? Have you ever wondered how your clients, colleagues and partners across the world celebrate this time of the year?
It’s time to uncover the different holiday traditions worldwide 🌎 so you can make the most of the holiday rush, whatever business you’re in!
Two billion people around the world celebrate Christmas every year. You might hear a “ho ho ho” coming from Santa, St Nick or Father Christmas, depending where you fall asleep on Christmas Eve (24 December). The jolliness doesn’t just start on Christmas Eve and stop on Christmas day though; for some, celebrations last from the eve of 5 December, all the way up to 6 January.
In Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Northern France, on the eve of 5 December or the morning of 6 December, they celebrate “Niklolaustag,” or “St. Nicholas Day”. St. Nicholas arrives in the middle of the night on 5 December and places small gifts and sweets into the shoes of well-behaved children. And for the misbehaved? Well they have “Krampus” to fear, a dark, horned character who carries chains.
If you head west to Britain, it is Christmas tradition to keep up your decorations until the “Twelfth Night” which is 6 January (some debate whether it’s on the 5 January and is better known as “eve of Epiphany”). If you remove your décor before the Twelfth Night, then bad luck is sure to follow.
Another winter holiday celebrated around the world is Hanukkah. The Jewish holiday, also known as “The Festival of Lights” celebrates the miracle that took place thousands of years ago in Jerusalem. A lamp with only enough oil to burn for one day stayed lit for eight days and nights. Hence, the use of the Menorah, which holds the eight meaningful candles, where one is lit each morning throughout the holiday.
Interesting fact about the candles featured in the Menorah – the candles are attached from right to left, but then lit from left to right. “The Shamesh” or “guardian”, which is positioned in the middle, is the very first candle lit and then used to light all the others.
From 26 December to 1 January - 18 million people worldwide celebrate Kwanzaa, which means “First Fruits”. This holiday from African descent, celebrates the harvest, African heritage and the seven different principles of the harvest (one for each day). The seven principles are:
- Unity (Umoja) – recognized on 26 December
- Self-determination (Kujichagulia) – recognized on 27 December
- Collective work (Ujima) – recognized 28 December
- Cooperative Economics (Ujamaa) – recognized 29 December
- Purpose (Nia) – recognized 30 December
- Creativity (Kuumba) – recognized 31 December
- Faith (Imani) – recognized 1 January
Similar to Hannukkah, they use candles, called “Mishumaa Saba” placed in a Kinara (a candle holder) to represent these principles of the harvest, called “Nguzo Saba”, for all the language nerds out there (including us!).
The Winter Solstice affects all in the Northern Hemisphere on 21 December – when winter officially commences. Since this is the shortest day of the year, people worldwide take part in festivals and celebrations.
For example, in Scandinavia, it has been a Norse solstice tradition to light fires to scare off spirits during the longest nights. Today, the day’s meaning has transitioned to honor St Lucia, a Christian martyr. The celebration of this festival of lights includes a candlelit Lucia procession, with girls and boys clad in white full-length gowns singing songs together. Tradition has it that Lucia is to wear “light in her hair”, which in practice means children wearing a crown of lit or electric candles in a wreath on their heads, while carrying a candle too.
Dong Zhi is an important festival in China. It’s also known as the arrival of winter and is celebrated between 21 and 23 December (however the Chinese celestial calendar falls). It started as an end-of-harvest festival when field workers would return and share the fruits of the labor with their family. Now, families get together to celebrate the year they had.
Cavalcade of Lights
If you head to Toronto, Canada in the winter, the annual Cavalcade of Lights marks the beginning of the holiday season. On 30 November, Toronto’s main square (part of the city) and Christmas tree are lit with more than 300,000 lights. The lights stay lit from 30 November to New Year’s Eve at 11 pm.
New Year’s is about as close to a global holiday as we get. But, the cultural differences in this celebration show that even such a global date is localized according to the country and culture in which it’s celebrated.
One billion people around the world tune in to watch “the ball drop” at midnight in New York. Opening a bottle of champagne is another big part of holiday tradition around the world. Did you know 25 percent of all champagne is sold in the days around New Year's Eve? “Pop the bubbly” is something Americans also know all too well, since they consume nearly 360 million glass throughout the holiday season.
Another custom that’s globally recognized is eating a good meal to ring in the New Year. In Italy, Germany, Ireland and the U.S., they consume legumes and leafy greens with the belief it brings money or financial fortune. Much of the Western world eats pork with the hopes of progress and prosperity in the year to come. Ring-shaped cakes and pastries are served in The Netherlands, Mexico, Portugal, Spain and Greece to represent the year has come full circle. Find out how other countries ring in their New Year!
Make the most of this holiday season
Let’s be honest, we all know some months (like November through January) aren’t created equally and have more opportunities to get your business flowing.
As a digital marketer or content creator, having the awareness of the different holiday traditions celebrated around the world can help you better target your audience with culturally adjusted content that meets their expectations. Make this holiday season the most successful one yet!
About the author
Karalee Dunham is a Marketing Coordinator at Amplexor International and is based in River Falls, Wisconsin. She specializes in content creation and has been part of the Global Content & Language Solutions team since 2017.