10 multicultural holiday celebrations you may not be aware of

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

images  by various sources.  CC BY-SA

Read Original Version (CLB5+) You are reading the Simple Version (CLB3-4)

Skip to:

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 started on Oct. 27 in 2019. It will start on November 14 in 2020). 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. 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 was from December 22 to 30 in 2019 (it will be from December 10 to 18 in 2020). 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 considered 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 some winter solstice celebrations:

    • Feast of Juul (Scandinavian) – It is celebrated in December. A log is burned on the hearth to honor Thor. Thor is 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 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)

    To greet a person celebrating this holiday, you say “Habari gani” (Swahili). The person will answer 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 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 carolling 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 (it was on January 25 in 2020). 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 (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!

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.

Back to top

We'd love to hear from you!

Please login to tell us what you think.

Related Learning Activities

Voting in Municipal Elections in Manitoba

Winnipeg City Hall, Manitoba Canada

Voting in any election may seem a little confusing at times. Municipal elections are no exception. Attend this workshop to… Read more »

Voting in Provincial Elections in Manitoba

Golden Boy on top of Manitoba Legislature

Voting in Federal Elections in Canada

red maple leaf with white check mark in the middle

Voting in Canada. Does the thought of this seem overwhelming or complicated? Join this workshop to learn how uncomplicated it… Read more »

Rights and responsibilities of Canadian residents and citizens

Image of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

Attend this workshop to learn everything you need to know as a resident or citizen of Canada!

Back to top

CC BY-NC-SAText of this page is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA, unless otherwise marked. Please attribute to English Online Inc. and link back to this page where possible. For images and videos, check the source for licensing information.