Each part of the world has a unique way of celebrating the things that matter to them. From religious celebrations to local cultural events, these unique holiday traditions give us a glimpse into ways of life that might not be familiar to us.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Holiday Traditions from Around Africa
- Holiday Traditions from Asia
- Holiday Traditions from Australia and Oceania
- Caribbean Holiday Traditions
- European Holiday Traditions
- Middle Eastern Holiday Traditions
- North American Holiday Traditions
- South American Holiday Traditions
As we compare the vast world of holiday traditions across the globe, we start to realize that we’re not so different after all. The world is smaller than we think.
Everyone is trying to make the most of each situation, and these holidays prove that meaning is found in everything. Let’s take a trip across the globe to see 30+ different holiday traditions.
Holiday Traditions from Around Africa
Africa’s many holidays focus on the importance of community, family, tradition, and remembering deceased loved ones.
1. Freedom Day, South Africa
In South Africa, freedom and the right to democracy wasn’t always the norm. Apartheid, or legal segregation, ended in the 1990s.
Freedom Day is on April 27 to honor the first non-racial democratic elections in South Africa. On this day, politicians and leaders honor the activists who fought so hard for this freedom.
2. Hockey, Ethiopia
This African country enjoys a very popular game on Christmas. This game appears very similar to North American hockey, only the puck is a wooden ball. Still, this is a fun way to celebrate the birth of Christ.
3. Braai, South Africa
During Christmastime in South Africa, people get out of the cities. Escaping from the hustle and bustle is a big part of this tradition, and people visit gardens and parks to organize a “braai” or barbeque.
Holiday Traditions from Asia
Holidays in Asia date back to ancient times, often having religious undertones. These holiday celebrations are some of the biggest and most well-known in the world.
4. Diwali, India
Diwali is a Hindu celebration in India. It’s a five-day festival observed every year in the fall, and people in India have practiced Diwali since ancient times.
This is a celebration of light, honoring the Hindu deity Lakshmi. By gifting to others, lighting candles, and setting off fireworks, Indian people welcome wealth and happiness into their lives.
5. Dōngzhì Festival, China
In China, the winter solstice is a very important day. This is a celebration known as Dōngzhì Festival, and many families continue this ancient practice to the modern-day. This is a time to remember a family member who passed on.
6. Simbang Gabi, Philippines
Within Asia, the Philippines has one of the largest Christian communities. This is where you’ll find the nine-day Simbang Gabi masses that lead up to Christmas Eve.
Each day, Catholics wake up before the sun rises to join the local mass, and there’s a lot of early morning celebration at this time.
7. Toji, Japan
Like China, Japan also has a tradition that marks the winter solstice. During this special day in December, Japanese people light bonfires on Mt. Fiji and take citrus-scented baths.
Many locals visit the plentiful hot springs (called an onsen). This is a time for cleansing and welcoming the new.
8. Chinese New Year
The Chinese New Year is celebrated across Asia, and it’s also commonly referred to as the Spring Festival. This holiday honors the beginning of the New Year on the Chinese calendar. People exchange gifts, feasts, and visit the graves of their ancestors.
The Chinese New Year represents one of the ways death in different cultures often appears differently.
Holiday Traditions from Australia and Oceania
Australia and the surrounding area have their own unique holiday traditions. The land down under really puts their own spin on things!
9. Beach Christmas, Australia
With summertime in full swing for Christmas, it’s no wonder so many Aussies flock to the gorgeous beaches for yuletide cheer.
Visit any Australian beach on Christmas, and you’ll spot families enjoying all the fun of Christmas only without the snow!
Across Australia and Oceania, Christmas is a time for cooking out on the “barbie.” Families join to cook fresh seafood, seasonal vegetables, and local meats. It’s perfect for a beach Christmas!
11. Pohutukawa Trees, New Zealand
In New Zealand, having a Christmas tree for the holiday isn’t common. These trees aren’t practical for the warmer months.
Instead, the New Zealand Christmas tree is the Pohutukawa. This is a unique coastal species of trees known for its bright red blooms.
Caribbean Holiday Traditions
With a rich cultural history that blends the old with the new, it’s no surprise that there are many one-of-a-kind celebrations in the Caribbean.
12. Junkanoo, Bahamas
This tradition might seem similar to the well-known Carnival parties, Junkanoo is actually a Christian holiday associated with Lent.
This celebration is enjoyed the days after Christmas through the New Year. Historically, these were the days that slaves had off for Christmas. Today, Junkanoo is a time for parades, dancing, and elaborate costumes.
13. La Ribote, Martinique
This French Caribbean island has a holiday just for visiting neighbors. On New Year’s Day, families cook favorite foods like yams and boudin créole to share with neighbors. It’s quite a celebration!
14. Jug Jug, Barbados
Every tradition calls for the right foods. In Barbados, Christmas time means it’s time for Jug Jug. This dish is inspired by the island’s Scottish influence. It’s a combination of pigeon peas, herbs, guinea corn flows, and salt meat.
European Holiday Traditions
Many of these European holiday traditions have ties to our modern practices in North America. These connections might surprise you!
15. Christmas Boat, Greece
You’ve heard of a Christmas tree, but what about a Christmas boat? In Greece, strings of lights climb up wooden boats in both the water and in public.
This homage to Greece’s maritime tradition transforms these vessels into holiday fun.
16. St. Nicholas Day, Czech Republic
Do you know where the story of Santa Claus comes from? The story dates back to the 4th century and follows the tale of a bishop who protected children.
On St. Nicholas day, people in the Czech Republic dress like angels and devils to await St. Nick’s judgment.
17. Winter Solstice, U.K.
This tradition dates back to ancient times, possibly going as far back as the Stone Age.
The Winter Solstice is the shortest day of the year, and it’s celebrated uniquely in the U.K.’s Stonehenge. Druid and Pagan traditions are carried out during sunrise, and it’s quite the spectacular sight to see.
18. Christmas Pudding, U.K.
The U.K. is also home to a unique Christmas tradition known as Christmas pudding. Most British people enjoy plum pudding, a beloved dish with a long history in the U.K., but it’s not a dessert as the name implies.
This is actually a meat-based food made with dried fruit. It’s served on Christmas with a silver coin for good luck.
19. Thirteen Yule Lads, Iceland
In Iceland, you won’t see your usual Santa Claus outfits. The Yule Lads are a type of dwarf who’s shaped similarly to the American rendition of Santa Claus, only he’s a lot more rugged. For the 13 nights before Christmas, the Yule Lads leave gifts in children’s shoes.
Middle Eastern Holiday Traditions
The Middle East’s holiday traditions date back centuries, and they bring the whole family together for special events.
During Ramada, Muslims fast for an entire month from sunrise to sunset. The last ten days of this important month include all-night prayer vigils for some believers. This is the biggest of Muslim holidays.
21. Eid Al-Fitr
Eid Al-Fitr marks the end of Ramada. Families and friends join together for the first meal eaten during the daylight after a month of fasting. The most common foods are korma, sheer khurma, and lamb.
22. Tu B’shevat
Tu B’shevat is a Jewish tradition practiced throughout Jewish communities in the Middle East. Celebrated in either January or February depending on the Hebrew calendar, this is a time for focusing on the care of the earth. People get together to plant trees, feast, and cherish the planet.
North American Holiday Traditions
North America also has its fair share of unique traditions, mostly packed in local communities. Which of these have you experienced?
23. Las Posadas, Mexico
The Spanish missionaries brought Las Posadas (translated to inns) to Mexico long ago.
These are nightly processionals that continue for nine nights prior to Christmas Eve. Each night, this tradition recreates the experience of Mary and Joseph looking for shelter. Children dress as angels, and the night ends with a feast and candy.
24. Mummers Parade, Philadelphia
This New Year’s Day tradition began in 1901. It gets its name from the mimes you performed in plays back in the Middle Ages.
These performers were known as Mummers, and today these mimes create their own day-long parade through the streets of Philadelphia.
25. Radishes, Mexico
Radishes might not seem like a very Christmas food, but they are in Mexico. In Oaxaca, Mexica, December 23 is known as the Night of the Radishes. Oversized radishes are carved into gorgeous displays, welcoming the season of giving in style.
26. Santacon, USA
Across the USA, people gather dressed as Santa Claus. From feasts to pub crawls to conventions, the United States sure does love this jolly man.
With more and more participants each year, Santacon grew to one of the most unique holiday traditions.
27. Ugly Sweaters, USA
During the month of December, you’re bound to see more than your fair share of ugly sweaters. Ugly Christmas sweaters were once something to be laughed at, but now they’ve become a part of the USA’s holiday fashion.
South American Holiday Traditions
With a culture focused on the importance of family and community, South Africa doesn’t hesitate to live it up for their holiday traditions.
28. La Quema del Diablo, Guatemala
Before Christmas in Guatemala, communities come together to bond over a very unique activity: burning the devil.
With hints of pre-Christian Mayan days, this is a time for cleaning away evil spirits and burning a depiction of the devil himself.
29. Roller Skating, Venezuela
In Venezuela, people took a unique approach to getting to mass on time. Because streets close to most traffic, Venezuelans lace up their roller skates to get to mass. See (and hear) hundreds of skaters on Christmas morning in the city of Caracas.
30. Festa Junina, Brazil
At the end of June, Brazil welcomes the harvest season with Festa Junina. Families dress in harvest-themed clothes, build bonfires, and indulge in corn-based meals. In Brazil, June is one of the colder months, so this is a great way to warm up as a family.
A World of Celebration
The world is a big place, but it’s getting smaller. These celebrations above might not all sound familiar to you, but they’re just one of the ways that humans are similar no matter where they live. Since ancient times, humanity has used holidays as a way to honor what’s important to us.
Whether you’re looking for a way to mark the first holiday without a loved one or you’re simply interested in new cultures, welcome more celebration into your own life. We could all use a bit of cheer, no matter the time of year.
- Alleyne, Caleigh. “20 Christmas Traditions Around the World That May Surprise You.” Country Living. 23 September 2019. CountryLiving.com.
- Cummings, Faith. “11 of the Most Interesting Holiday Traditions Around the Globe. Classpass: The Warm Up. Classpass.com.
- “Freedom Day.” South African History Online. SAHistory.org.za.
- Romano, Andrea. “11 Unique Holiday Traditions From Around the World.” Travel + Leisure. 5 November 2019. Travelandleisure.com.
- Rosenberg, Meredith. “Holiday Traditions Around the World.” Travel Channel. TravelChannel.com.
- “Tu B’Shevat” Chabad. 10 February 2020. Chabad.org.