The winter season is a time for celebration, complete with religious celebrations and traditional holidays in almost every part of the world. Apparently, The United States isn’t the only place booming with winter celebrations!
Fact: The Northern and Southern Hemispheres experience different “winter seasons.” The winter solstice of the Northern Hemisphere, which begins winter, occurs on December 21st; yet this marks the beginning of summer in the Southern Hemisphere. Thus, the winter seasons alter between here in the U.S. and, say, Australia.
The Northern Hemisphere: Traditions, Customs, and Holidays
The biggest winter celebrationin China would be the Chinese New Year. Also known as the Spring Festival, this celebration probably originated in 2000 BCE. Lots of gift-giving and feasting occurs during the Festival, but the most remarkable aspect is the honor paid to ancestors (Many portraits are brought out for ancestral worship.). Although there are Christians in China, Christmas is not ver widely celebrated there as of now.
Two countries deep in North Europe, Denmark and Finland, are great celebrators of Christmas. The Danish children normally leave milk out for Julemanden and his little elves. Grand feasting and drinking of Glogg (mulled wine) accompanies Finnish tradition. A different European country, Greece, reveres St. Nicholas and another saint, St. Basil.
Italians have a special legend that accompanies the celebration of Christmas. They believe that a kind witch, La Befana, gives presents to children as repentance for spurning the three Magi. Scotland, another European country, celebrates a holiday called Hogmanay. This holiday, which is similar to our New Year’s Eve, dates back to pre-Christian times.
In India, most people celebrate the festival of Diwali. Since there are different religions in the country, including Hinduism, there are many celebrations; but the “festival of lights,” which Diwali stands for, is a very old tradition that all enjoy.
Southern Hemisphere: A Different Winter Season
South America is the continent that is almost completely Spanishspeaking. Since it is located below the equator, its real winter months are June, July, and August. The lands below this point also partake in “winter traditions.” For example, Chile has a ceremonial event, La Fiesta Grange, which commemorates La Virgen Morena (Dark Lady), patron saint of miners. This occurs on two days at the end of December. La Virgen de la Candelaria, which is in celebration of the lakes, is celebrated in many of South America’s countries on February 2nd. Brazil has its own holiday for the three kings- Folia de Reis, in addition to the Epiphany. Most of these countries also celebrate Christian holidays and have carnivals in our winter months. Caroling and giving alms to the poor are part of the Christmas traditions.
Australians celebrate Christmas with trees, Father Christmas, and gifts, but it all occurs in the summer months. Since it is summer, many Australians leave on vacation to places where they celebrate their Christmas at that time!
Africans have their own holiday called Kwanzaa (Dec. 6th to Jan. 1st). Literally meaning “first fruits,” it is a celebration of the ancient harvest, but also of creativity, faith, and unity.
Christmas is celebrated worldwide because Christianity is all over the world. Midnight masses and feasts are common ways of celebration on this holiday. Because of how many different places celebrate Christmas, different customs have taken root in different areas. But this holiday isn’t the only reli gious one celebrated. For example, there is also the Swedish St. Lucia’s Day on December 13th. St. Lucia is the patron saint of light, and women partake in the celebration by dressing in white. Hanukkah, a very popular Jewish holiday, is celebrated in memory of the rededication of their Holy Temple. A menorah is lit during this eight day celebration. In Mexico, the people celebrate Las Posadas: a reenactment of the Bethlehem story. Mass followed by dinner with the family is also part of this tradition. Finally, St. Nicholas Day (Jan. 6th) is the feast day of the protector of the weak, and a day recognized many places. St. Nicholas is commonly believed to be the original source of “Santa Claus” because of his giving nature. Even pagans have a special holiday called Yule, which celebrates the winter solstice.
The world is brought together by the traditions and customs of its people. It doesn’t matter how far away we are from each other, or how different our land is from others — we are still unified by our beliefs. Winter is full of these unifying beliefs and that is why it is such a grand season. It’s interesting to think that while we celebrate our unique Christmas customs, someone on the other side of the world is practicing their own...in the heat of summer!