Holidays Around The World
Image by Element5
This holiday season, we encourage the whole family to explore the wonderful and rich cultural traditions taking place across the world. Guest blogger Preethi of Local Passport Family guides you through different holidays celebrated worldwide, including Hanukkah, Diwali, Yaldā Night, Kwanzaa, and Santa Lucia Day. Check out Local Passport Family for more global adventures, cultural learnings, and hands-on activities anyone can enjoy right from home.
Hanukkah is a Jewish festival of light that typically takes place in November or December. The word “Hanukkah” itself means “dedication,” in honor of the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem.
Around 200 B.C.E., Antiochus IV Epiphanes was living in Judea, or the land Israel. He told the Jews in Judea that they could no longer practice their religion and that they must worship the Greek gods that he and his people worshipped. Sadly, not long after, many of his soldiers killed thousands of Jews in Jerusalem, desecrated the temple, and erected an altar to the Greek god Zeus.
The Jews, led by Judah Maccabee, fought back and managed to recapture Jerusalem and the holy temple. But to rededicate the temple, they needed to light an eternal flame on the menorah.
Unfortunately, they only had enough sacred olive oil to last for one day for the menorah, and it would take a full 8 days to prepare new holy oil. Miraculously, however, after lighting the candle, the oil lasted the full 8 days!
This is why a Hanukkah menorah, or Hanukkiah, typically has 9 candles – one for each day of the celebration, and one helper candle, called the shamash.
For a full resource for celebrating Hanukkah with kids, you can head to this post!
- Hanukkah History Video for Kids
- Hanukkah Storytime
- Hanukkah Craft Activity: Hanukkah Menorah Handprint Project
I love this project because it’s super simple, and even very young children can participate!
Pour a small amount of blue paint in a paper plate. Have your child rub the inside of their hand in the paint so that it covers their fingers and palm. Make a handprint on the white paper. Repeat with the other hand, with the thumb of the 2nd hand connecting to the thumb of the first hand (so that there are 9 total “candles”).
After washing hands, pour a small amount of gold paint in a new paper plate. Have your child press their thumb into the paint. Then have them make a thumb print at the top of each “candle” to make a “flame.”
- Hanukkah Recipe: Potato latkes
There’s no more traditional food for Hanukkah than potato latkes. These crispy fried potato pancakes are as addictive as they are commemorative; the oil in which they are fried is an homage to the oil that lasted through the 8 days. (Other foods fried in oil are popular for Hanukkah, too!)
This potato latkes recipe is tried and true and utterly delicious!
Diwali, or Deepavali as it’s typically called in South India, is the Indian festival of lights. It is a celebration of the victory of light over darkness and good over evil. It’s one of the most important and celebrated Indian festivals both inside and outside of India.
The festival of Diwali typically takes place during the harvest season and usually lasts 5 days in North India, and 1-3 days in South India.
To celebrate, families usually clean their homes thoroughly before the festival. Then they decorate the front of their homes with rangoli, or beautiful designs made out of colored powder. Finally, families prepare their homes and the exteriors with small clay lamps called diyas (or deepas). It’s also very common to wear new clothes for Diwali. They also gather together and celebrate with music and food (especially sweets). Prayer ceremonies, or pujas, are an important part of Diwali celebrations, as are fireworks. Some families may exchange gifts.
For a full resource for celebrating Diwali with kids, you can head to this post!
- Diwali History Video for Kids
- Diwali Storytime
- Diwali Craft Activity: Sidewalk Chalk Rangoli
Rangoli is an Indian art form that creates patterns out of a variety of colors. Traditionally, rangoli is done with colored rice or sand. However, you can create a rangoli design out of simple sidewalk chalk!
Create 3 concentric circles, with the first about 1 foot in diameter, the second about 3 feet in diameter, and the third about 5-6 feet in diameter. Create petals and color them in with alternating colors, and fill in the rest of the circle with a different color. Continue adding petals and other designs to your rangoli!
- Diwali Recipe: Barfi
Sweets are very common during Diwali to celebrate the sweetness of life. Barfi (or burfi) is a very common sweet that is similar to a white fudge. It is traditionally made out of milk solids and ghee (clarified butter), but you can make a simple recipe from sweetened condensed milk!
YALDĀ NIGHT (Chelleh)
Yalda is an Iranian festival to celebrate the longest night of the year, and acknowledges the importance of the sun. It is celebrated on the night of the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. This celebration is very symbolic, and is done in remembrance of light conquering all darkness.
During this holiday of the longest and darkest night of the year, friends and family gather to eat, drink, and read poetry until late in the night. Red foods, such as watermelon and pomegranates, are traditional as they represent the crimson color of dawn and the glow of life. It’s also common to read the poetry of Hafez, a Persian poet whose work is commonly found in Iranian homes.
- Yalda History Video for Kids
- Yalda Storytime: Share the story of Nan-e Sarma, or “Grandma Frost”
- Yalda Craft Activity: Make this cute pomegranate decoration to celebrate Yalda!
- Yalda food: Dried fruit and nuts, watermelon, pomegranate
Kwanzaa is an annual, week-long celebration of African-American culture. Kwanzaa is a relatively new holiday - it was first celebrated in 1966 - and takes place from December 26 - January 1. The name comes from the phrase “matunda ya kwanza” which means “first fruits” in Swahili.
The holiday was created by Dr. Maulana Karenga, who was looking for a way to bring African Americans together after some race riots in Los Angeles. While Kwanzaa was a new holiday that he created, he borrowed aspects of African harvest celebrations, such as those of the Ashanti and Zulu.
There are seven principles of Kwanzaa, one for each day of celebration. These are principles that help build African American community and culture and are called the Nguzo Saba (seven principles in Swahili). Families light a candle on the Kinara (candleholder) on each of the nights, and a Karamu (African feast) is held on December 31st. There is also a symbol for each day of Kwanzaa.
As far as the actual celebrations, every family celebrates Kwanzaa a bit differently. Songs and dances are common, including with African drums. Storytelling and a big meal are also common ways to celebrate.
These are the 7 principles of Kwanzaa:
Unity: Umoja (oo–MO–jah)
Self-determination: Kujichagulia (koo–gee–cha–goo–LEE–yah)
Collective Work and Responsibility: Ujima (oo–GEE–mah)
Cooperative Economics: Ujamaa (oo–JAH–mah)
Purpose: Nia (nee–YAH)
Creativity: Kuumba (koo–OOM–bah)
Faith: Imani (ee–MAH–nee)
- Kwanzaa History Video for Kids
- Kwanzaa Storytime
- Kwanzaa Craft Activity: Music and rhythm are important parts of a Kwanzaa celebration. Learn how to make a simple West African djembe drum to play along!
- Kwanzaa food: In early celebrations, African harvest foods were common. Nowadays, however, comfort foods familiar to the African diaspora in the United States became are more common. You can make anything you like for Kwanzaa, but foods that are rooted in sub-Saharan Africa and connected to soul food are common on Kwanzaa tables.
Kwanzaa is about community, family, and friendship, so make sure that whatever food you have, it is shared!
SANTA LUCIA DAY
Santa Lucia Day is celebrated on December 13th to honor Lucia of Syracuse, a virgin Christian martyr in the 4th century. Legend goes that Lucia brought food to Christians hiding in Roman catacombs, and wore a wreath of candles on her head to light her way and to keep her hands free to carry supplies.
Until the Julian calendar, December 13th was the shortest and darkest day of the year, and coincided with the winter solstice. Santa Lucia Day was celebrated on this dark day as a festival of light. As it comes before Christmas, it is used as a way to point to the light of Christ.
Santa Lucia Day is most commonly celebrated in Scandinavian countries, Finland, and Italy. Typically, the oldest daughter in a family wears a white robe to symbolize a baptismal robe, along with a red sash to represent her blood as a martyr. She also wears a wreath with candles on her head. She typically carries saffron buns in a procession to symbolize bringing the light of Christ into the darkness of the world.
SANTA LUCIA DAY ACTIVITIES
- Santa Lucia Day History Video for Kids
- Santa Lucia Day Storytime
- Santa Lucia Day Craft Activity: On Santa Lucia Day, the eldest daughter typically wears a crown of candles and the boys wear star hats. You can make both out of simple construction paper! Learn how right here.
- Santa Lucia Day Food: Lussekatter (Saffron Santa Lucia Day buns)
There is no food more traditional to Santa Lucia Day than lussekatter, or saffron buns. Here’s a terrific and authentic lussekatter recipe. You can substitute turmeric for saffron if needed; you won’t get quite the same flavor, but it will add a nice yellow color and they will still be delicious!