Holiday Traditions Around the World

by Emese Graham
people explore a christmas market in sweden

Most Canadians take the end of December to pause if they can. To step back from work and step into the family kitchen, to share a few special moments with loved ones and to look to the year ahead. These are true holy days – sometimes in the spiritual sense, sometimes not,  but always in recognition that we’re a part of something a little bit bigger than ourselves. If you find yourself spending this time of year far from home, it’s possible you’ll see some of these holiday traditions around the world with your own eyes. 

Hanukkah in India

coconut oil wicks are lit for hanukkah

Jewish communities in India often fuse traditional elements of two very different Festivals of Light. Borrowing a little from Diwali, it’s become common practice to use wicks dipped in coconut oil to celebrate Hanukkah instead of the menorahs found in most other places around the world. As for the foods that commemorate the oil that miraculously burned for 8 nights, many Indian families will swap out latkes with laddus or other local treats. 

Christmas in Sweden

giant goat made of straw in Slottstorget’s castle square in Gävle

Ah, the smell of Christmas: chestnuts roasting on an open fire, gingerbread cookies baking in the oven, and a giant straw goat being torched to the ground. Since 1966, Slottstorget’s castle square in Gävle has built a 13 metre Yule Goat to celebrate the beginning of Advent. And since 1966, troublemakers with a little too much festive spirit have managed to send the Gävle Goat up in flames almost 40 times. The “tradition” of Advent arson is, of course, illegal and dangerous, but thankfully, local firefighters are never too far away. 

Ōmisoka in Japan

a woman and a child look at holiday lights together during Ōmisoka in japan

Toshi-koshi is the crossing from this year to the next, and during Ōmisoka, Japanese families take the time to refresh and reset before the new year arrives. On the last day of the year, people spend time cleaning their homes, paying off debt, and visiting local shrines or temples to pray and receive a cup of amazake. Around midnight, loved ones will gather together to share a symbolic bowl of long soba or udon noodles. 

Kwanzaa in the United States

seven candles are lit surrounded by other kwanzaa symbols like fruit gifts and kwanzaa mat

Kwanzaa, or the Festival of First Fruits, is a celebration of pan-Africanism and the beauty of black communities and traditions. Created by American Dr. Maulana Karenga in 1966, Kwanzaa celebrations revolve around the lighting of seven candles – each corresponding to seven core principles: Umoja (Unity), Kujichagulia (Self-Determination), Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity), and Imani (Faith). 

Kwanzaa has since been adopted in many Canadian, French, Brazilian, British, and Jamaican homes- often alongside Christmas traditions. 

Christmas in Venezuela

a plate of hallaca surrounded by christmas decorations

“It’s Christmas Eve, where’s your helmet?” In Caracas, Venezuela, Christmas Eve morning resounds with the peel of church bells, the pop of festive firecrackers, and the racket of people of all ages rollerblading their way to morning mass. What better way to work up an appetite for the afternoon’s hallaca, pan de jamon, and tall glasses of ponche crema

Hanukkah in Yemen

a family gathers to light the candles of a menorah for hanukkah celebrations in yemen

The seventh night of Hanukkah falls on Rosh Chodesh Tevet (the first day of the month of Tevet), which is also celebrated as Hag haBanot, or the Festival of the Daughters in Yemen, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Morroco. The new moon is the perfect time to commemorate Judith and Hannah, two heroines who stood up to oppression to protect their faith. On this night, many families will pray for their mothers and daughters, dance together, or include symbolic elements of Judith’s story (like salty cheese) in their dinners.

No Hungry Holidays at Flight Centre Stores Across Canada

a woman with mittens on holds a cup of hot soup

No Hungry Holidays is a new tradition, but it’s a good one! Help us spread good cheer by donating non-perishable food items at any Flight Centre location across Canada during the month of December and we’ll donate them to the nearest Food Banks Canada location on your behalf. Flight Centre will also donate $2 to Food Banks Canada for every Captain’s Package we book this month*.

Each year, about 860,000 Canadians will rely on a food bank for their next meal in December, and one out of every three will be a child. But together, we can help to make this a truly wonderful time of year for everyone.