Unique Winter Festivals and Traditions Across the Globe


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When many of us think of wintertime, we think of icy and snowy weather, hot drinks, and shorter days. But It’s safe to say that most of us picture winter as the holiday season. This is reasonable, as 92% of Americans in December of 2019 reported celebrating Christmas and 5% reported celebrating Hanukkah, according to an AP-NORC survey. But what about other places around the world? What do they think of when they imagine wintertime? This is what I hope to discover to ring in the holiday season this year with knowledge about unique holidays that bring a new perspective to the season.

Dongzhi Festival

For people in mainland China, a big tradition in the wintertime is the Dongzhi Festival. It celebrates the arrival of the winter solstice (the time when either of Earth’s poles reaches its maximum tilt away from the Sun). For them, the solstice relates to the philosophy of the Yin and Yang (Yang symbolizes the positive while Yin is the negative). Traditionally, the positive things will become stronger after the solstice, like lengthier hours of daylight and an increase in positive energy. Chinese families celebrate this festival by coming together and eating a large meal with dumplings. 

Ursul – The Dance of the Bear

Right around New Year’s Eve, Romanians celebrate with a generations-old tradition called The Dance of the Bear. Here, carolers dress up in bear costumes and dance with the purpose of driving away evil spirits and helping ensure enriched soil for the upcoming year. Its origins come from a time when local Gypsies would descend into towns from the forests, where they lived, and brought bears with them. The dancers try their best to express fierceness, when in reality the holiday is a joyous and fun time. 

Yuzu Baths

In Japan, they combat the coldest days and longest nights of the year with something warm. That’s why in Japan, people enjoy steaming baths filled with yuzu (a citrus and aromatic fruit similar to grapefruits and lemons). They believe this scent of the yuzu has the power to ward off colds and ease the body and mind. They also consider yuzu baths a good luck ritual for the new year. 

Tombola Game

In Italy, a game called Tombola or “Italian Bingo” is a fun tradition done by people across generations during winter holidays. Its most common in places in northern Italy in the weeks between Christmas Eve and the feast of the Epiphany (Janurary 6). They also like to enjoy it alongside sweet bread snacks like panettone or pandoro and a glass of prosecco. 

Yalda Night

While in Iran, people celebrate the winter solstice on Yalda Night. There, they face the longest and darkest night of the year together to drink, eat, and read poetry throughout the night. In Persian, Yalda holds the meaning of birth. Iranians serve pomegranates and watermelon as they symbolize the cycle of life. 

Through much discovery, I am delightfully surprised how the holiday season can be spent in so many unique ways. I hope you take from this article a newfound sense of unity with those across the globe. Because although we have different holidays or beliefs, we all still associate wintertime with joyful festivities, traditions, and celebrations. I sincerely hope you all have a wonderful holiday season, however you choose to enjoy it!