10 multicultural holiday celebrations you may not know about

Christmas bell ornament on a tree, Chinese New Year dragon parade, and a lighted Menorah

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There are many celebrations in Canada during the holiday season. Holiday season is from fall to early January. Here are other celebrations besides Christmas you may want to know more about:

  1. Diwali (Hindu)

    It is a five-day holiday of lights. It is usually celebrated in the fall (it will start on November 4 in 2021). Diwali celebrates the victory of light over darkness or the triumph of good over evil. Hindus celebrate by displaying diyas. These are small clay oil lamps or candle holders.

  2. Bodhi Day (Buddhist)

    This celebrates Buddha’s awakening under the Bodhi tree. The date of celebration is different for different types of Buddhists. Theravada Buddhists depend on the lunar calendar, Mahayana Buddhists go by the Chinese lunar calendar and Japanese Buddhists celebrate it on December 8 every year. It is a day of remembrance, meditation and chanting. They also decorate a ficus tree with multi-coloured lights and beads. This is a symbol of unity. It shows that there are different ways to reach Nirvana (their final state/goal).

  3. Hanukkah (Jewish)

    Hanukkah is the Festival of Lights. It will be celebrated from November 28 to December 6 in 2021. It remembers the Jews’ victory over the Greek Syrians in 165 BC. During the battle, the lamp in the Temple burned continuously for eight days and nights. It was a miracle. This is why Hanukkah’s most well-known symbol is the menorah (see photo above with the candles). One candle is lighted each day during the festival.

  4. Winter Solstice (various cultures/religions)

    Many cultures celebrated the winter solstice before there was Christmas. Here are examples:

    • Feast of Juul (Scandinavian) – It is celebrated in December. A log is burned on the hearth to honor Thor, a Scandinavian god.
    • Yalda (Persia/Iran) – It is the birth of the sun god Mithra. They celebrate the victory of light over dark.
    • Saturnalia (ancient Roman) – It celebrates the end of the planting season. They held games, feasts and gift-giving for several days.
    • St. Lucia’s Day (Scandinavian) – Girls dress up in white gowns with red sashes. They also put wreaths with candles on their heads to honor St. Lucia. They made fires to fight off spirits at night.
    • Dong Zhi (Chinese) – It marks the end of harvest and the arrival of winter. It is held between the 21st and 23rd of December in the Chinese celestial calendar. Families enjoy a feast to celebrate.
    • Gody (Poland) – This is the tradition of showing forgiveness and sharing food.
    • Chaomos (Kalasha, Pakistan) – People celebrate for at least seven days. They held ritual baths for purification, singing and chanting, a torchlight procession, dancing, bonfires, and feasts.
    • St. Thomas Day/Sun God festival (Guatemala) – December 21 is the feast day of St. Thomas the Apostle. This is celebrated by Christians. For Mayan Indians, it is a festival honoring the sun god. They have colourful parades and show the flying pole dance in Peru.
  5. Kwanzaa (African)

    Kwanzaa is a celebration of African heritage and culture. It is from December 26 to January 1. They light the kinara each day during the celebration. Each day is represented by a principle of Kwanzaa:

    • 1st – Umoja (unity)
    • 2nd – kujichagulia (self-determination)
    • 3rd – ujima (collective work and responsibility)
    • 4th – ujamaa (cooperative economics)
    • 5th – nia (purpose)
    • 6th – kuumba (creativity), and
    • 7th – imani (faith)

    You say “Habari gani” (Swahili) to greet a person celebrating this holiday. They will answer your greeting with the principle for that day.

  6. New Year’s (secular)

    People celebrate with fireworks, parties and feasts on December 31, New Year’s eve. Some have customs for good luck. They serve certain food thought to bring wealth like black-eyed peas in the southern part of the US or seven round fruits in Asian countries. Others wear polka-dots to symbolize money. Some also make noise and burn fireworks to drive off bad spirits.

  7. Three King’s Day (Christian)

    It celebrates the day the Three Wise Men visited the Christ child and brought gifts. Christians celebrate this on the first Sunday after January 1. This is a day of gift-giving and other festivities in Hispanic cultures.

  8. Orthodox Christmas

    The Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas on January 7 or near it. This is because their dates are based on the Julian calendar. Orthodox Christians begin by fasting for 40 days before Christmas. It ends with a mass on Christmas eve. Families have feasts, joyful caroling and other traditions. Ukrainian and Russian Orthodox faiths prepare 12 traditional dishes representing Christ’s apostles. Ukrainians throw a spoonful of Kutia (a dish made of wheat, honey and poppy seeds) in the air to see their luck for the coming year. The more Kutia is stuck to the walls or ceiling, the more prosperous the year would be.

  9. Chinese New Year (Chinese)

    Chinese New Year is the end of winter and the start of spring. It is between January 21 and February 20 on the lunar calendar (February 12 in 2021 and February 1 in 2022). They celebrate at the start of the New Moon and ends on the Full Moon 15 days later. They have feasts, dragon and lion dances, parades and fireworks. They also give money in red envelopes to children for good luck.

  10. Ramadan (Muslim)

    Ramadan is a month of daily fasting during daylight hours. The starting date is based on the Islamic lunar calendar. It was celebrated from the evening of April 12 to May 11 in 2021. The next time it will be in December to January will be 2030. Muslims also give up bad habits during the period, pray more, read the Quran and attend services. It ends in Eid-al-Fitr when they celebrate with the family, give gifts and do charitable works.

Did we miss any other winter holidays? Let us know!

Happy holidays!
Article updated July 22, 2021.
Sources: Time to celebrate! Holidays in Canada, Ashton College; Multicultural winter holiday celebrations, Jenn Savedge, Mother Nature Network; Holidays and traditions around the December solstice, Time and Date.com; Kwanzaa, Why Christmas.com; 7 winter celebrations from around the world, Alison Eldridge, Encyclopedia Britannica; Why do Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas Day on January 7 and how does the date vary around the world, Josie Griffiths, The Sun; and Eastern Orthodox Faith Community prepares to celebrate Christmas on Sunday, Jenna Cocullo, Edmonton Journal. All accessed December 7, 2017.

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