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

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Did you know that people celebrate more than Christmas during the holiday season in Canada? By holiday season I mean the period starting from fall to early January. With so many diverse cultures living together in harmony in this country, it is certainly not surprising that many celebrations – religious, secular, or cultural – are celebrated here.

Well, I say, the more the merrier! Here are other celebrations this season you may want to know more about:

  1. Diwali (Hindu)

    It is a five-day holiday of lights usually celebrated in the fall as dates depend on the moon cycle. In 2019, Diwali started on October 27 (it will be on November 14 in 2020). Diwali celebrates the victory of light over darkness or the triumph of good over evil. Hindus also take advantage of this period to contemplate and dispel the darkness of ignorance. As a symbolic gesture they display diyas which are small clay oil lamps or candle holders.

  2. Bodhi Day (Buddhist)

    This commemorates the exact moment of Buddha’s awakening (under the peepal, now known as Bodhi, tree). The exact date of celebration may vary, but it is a celebration of enlightenment, and a day for remembrance, meditation and chanting. Theravada Buddhists depend on the lunar calendar, Mahayana Buddhists go by the Chinese lunar calendar, while Japan Bodhi Day is set at December 8 (Bodhi Day, Thought Co.). At the start of Bodhi day, people decorate a ficus tree with multi-coloured lights strung with beads. This symbolizes the varied paths to Nirvana (their ultimate state/goal) and signifies that all things are united.

  3. Hanukkah (Jewish)

    Also known as the Festival of Lights, Hanukkah was celebrated from the evening of December 22 to 30 in 2019 (it will be from Dec.10-18 in 2020). It commemorates the rededication and purification of the Temple by the Maccabees after the Jews’ victory over the Greek Syrians in 165 BC. The most well-known symbol of this celebration is the menorah (see photo above), which is a type of candelabra. During the festival, one candle is lighted each day. This represents the miracle during the battle in which the Temple’s candelabrum, which had a limited supply of oil, burned for eight days and nights continuously.

  4. Winter Solstice (various cultures/religions)

    Many cultures all over the world celebrated (and continue to celebrate) winter solstice even before Christmas came to be. In fact, the term Yule, which is now equated with the Christmas season (yuletide), was derived from an old European holiday at the start of the solar year called the celebration of Light and the Rebirth of the Sun. Other winter solstice celebrations include:

    • Feast of Juul (Scandinavian) – A pre-Christian festival celebrated in December. On this day, a yule log is burned on the hearth in honor of the Scandinavian god, Thor.
    • Yalda (Persia/Iran) – Also called Shab –e-Yalda, it marks the last day of the Persian month of Azar during ancient times. It commemorates the victory of light over dark and the birth of the sun god Mithra.
    • Saturnalia (ancient Roman) – Aside from winter solstice, Saturnalia celebrates the end of the planting season. It was marked by games, feasts and gift-giving for several days.
    • St. Lucia’s Day (Scandinavian) – On this day, girls dress up in white gowns with red sashes and wreaths of candles on their heads to honor the saint. It is also called the festival of lights as people light up fires to ward off spirits at night.
    • Dong Zhi (Chinese) – Dong Zhi celebrates the end of harvest and the arrival of winter. In the traditional Chinese celestial calendar, this falls between the 21st and 23rd of December. Families gather together to enjoy a feast in celebration.
    • Gody (Poland) – this is the tradition of showing forgiveness and sharing food. It was part of pre-Christian winter solstice celebrations.
    • Chaomos (Kalasha, Pakistan) – Kalasha or Kalash Kafir people celebrate for at least seven days. It involves 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. However, on this day, Mayan Indians also hold a festival honoring the sun god. It is celebrated with fanfare including colourful parades and the daring flying pole dance in Peru.
  5. Kwanzaa (African)

    Kwanzaa is not a religious holiday but a celebration of African heritage and culture. It is a seven-day celebration from December 26 to January 1 and features the lighting of the kinara each day, similar to the lighting of the menorah during Hanukkah. 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). If you want to greet a person celebrating this holiday, you say “Habari gani” (Swahili) and the person will reply with the principle for that day.

  6. New Year’s (secular)

    New Year’s eve December 31, marks the last day in the Gregorian calendar. It is a night of merry-making marked with fireworks, parties and feasts. Many people also observe rituals that are thought to give them good luck and help them start an auspicious year like serving certain food to bring wealth (black-eyed peas in the southern part of the US or seven round fruits in Asian countries), wearing polka-dots (to attract wealth), and making noise with fireworks to drive off bad spirits.

  7. Three King’s Day (Christian)

    Also known as Epiphany, this marks the day the Three Wise Men visited the Christ child and brought him gifts. Christians celebrate this on the first Sunday after January 1. In Hispanic cultures, this is a day of gift-giving and other festivities.

  8. Orthodox Christmas

    Members of the Orthodox Church celebrate Jesus’ birth a week after all our usual celebrations have died down. They celebrate Christmas on January 7 or near it. Why? It’s a difference in calendars. Those who celebrate Christmas on December 25th are using the Gregorian calendar introduced in 1582. Those who were still using the Julian calendar (much of the Soviet Bloc and the Middle East) celebrated Christmas 13 days later. While most of these orthodox countries now follow the Gregorian calendar, many still observe religious holidays on the Julian dates. Traditionally, Orthodox Christians begin with a 40-day period of fasting before Christmas. After the Christmas eve mass, families celebrate with feasts, joyful carolling and other traditions. Ukrainian and Russian Orthodox faiths prepare 12 traditional dishes representing Christ’s apostles. Ukrainian households throw a spoonful of Kutia (a traditional dish made of wheat, honey and poppy seeds) up in the air to know what the year has in store for them. 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 marks the end of winter and the start of spring. It usually falls between January 21 and February 20 based on the lunar calendar (it was on January 25 in 2020). The first day of celebration starts with the New Moon and ends on the Full Moon 15 days later. People indulge in feasts, dragon and lion dances and parades, fireworks, and giving out luck money in red envelopes to children.

  10. Ramadan (Muslim)

    Ramadan is a month of daily fasting during daylight hours that culminates in Eid-al-Fitr, when they break the fast. The period is determined by the Islamic lunar calendar so it can fall on different dates each year. It was observed from the evening of May 5 to June 4 in 2019 (the next time it will be in December to January will be in 2030). Aside from fasting, Muslims also give up bad habits during the season, pray more, read the Quran and attend services. Eid-al-Fitr is a time of celebration with the family, giving gifts and doing 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.

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