The holiday season in the U.S. tends to be a blur of red and green decorations and Santa Claus, but it's the perfect time to introduce your children to the different holiday traditions that are celebrated around the world.
Kwanzaa was first celebrated in the U.S. in 1966. It occurs every year from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1, and it celebrates seven core principles of African-American culture. Each of the seven days of Kwanzaa is dedicated to one of those principles.
Hanukkah is celebrated by Jewish people throughout the world, but the most vivid celebrations are in Israel. Hanukkah is a celebration that lasts eight days, and it celebrates the Jewish victory over the Greeks. Part of the celebration includes lighting a menorah each night to commemorate how the oil in the temple miraculously lasted for eight days. Celebrants also exchange gifts.
St. Stephen's Day in Ireland
The Christmas season is very important in Ireland and is celebrated all month long until Epiphany. St. Stephen's Day is the day after Christmas, and the celebrations include the Wren Boys procession. Children dress up and go door-to-door singing and dancing while holding a pole topped with a wren. St. Stephen's Day is also a national holiday in Ireland, and many businesses remain closed.
Christmas is a festive time in Sweden and starts on the first Sunday of Advent. One of the biggest days is St. Lucia's Day on Dec. 13, when girls dress up in white dresses with a crown of candles on their head. They then bring coffee and rolls and sing songs. On Christmas, the Tomten comes out. He is the Christmas elf who looks after the family throughout the year and delivers gifts on Christmas.
Sviata Vechera in Ukraine
This holy supper takes place on Christmas Eve every year in Ukraine and begins when the children spot the first star in the eastern sky. In farming communities, the head of the household brings in a sheath of wheat called the didukh, or "grandfather spirit," which symbolizes the family's ancestors and the importance of the country's wheat crops.
Christmas in France is referred to as Noël and carries a lot of similarities to Christmas in the U.S., but with some key differences. Père Noël, or Father Christmas, is the one who brings gifts to children. Instead of hanging stockings, children place their shoes by the fireplace and awaken in the morning to find them stuffed with fruits, nuts and small toys.
The Christmas celebrations begin on Dec. 6 in Germany. Children write letters to the Christkind (Christ-child) and leave them on their windowsills. The Christkind is a winged figure dressed in white who delivers gifts each year.
Mexico shares many of its Christmas traditions with Spain. One them is Las Posadas, which is the re-enactment of Joseph and Mary's search for shelter in Bethlehem. People walk door-to-door carrying images of Mary and Joseph, and they sing songs.
The Festival of Winter in Russia
The Festival of Winter replaces Christmas in Russia, partially due to the ban on Christmas celebrations in the former Soviet Union. Throughout the season, people pray and fast. Gifts are delivered to the children by Babushka. Babushka means grandmother, and she is said to be a woman who refused to go with the wise men to see the baby Jesus. She regretted it and tried to catch up but couldn't, so instead, she now delivers gifts to the children.
Celebrations last three weeks in Italy and start eight days before Christmas. Children go from house to house singing songs and reciting Christmas poems. They wait until Epiphany to get their gifts, which are delivered by a kindly witch named Befana, riding on her broomstick.
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