Winter Holiday Traditions from Around the World

Different cultures around the world celebrate winter traditions in some form, regardless of religion. Some date back thousands of years, others are relatively new. Some starts as early as November, others after New Year’s Day. But what they have in common is the sense of community, music, dance, and often light shows.

We don’t usually travel during the winter Holidays. After all, the weather is perfect where we are, and the desert surrounding us showcases its best colors. The city offers plenty of Holiday events, from gorgeous light displays (once a year even I don’t mind them, as much as I wish we could have dark skies instead), to Holiday-themed art, music, and ballet shows.

Over the years, we started our own family traditions in the Sonoran Desert that include outdoors time and baking. When it comes to baking, I follow my Hungarian traditions, even if I changed many others.

But every winter, up until now, we also included some type of travel into our holiday traditions, most of the time to some parts of Mexico, even starting the New Year in Mexico once.

That changed in 2020, when the world became homebound. That brought the idea of virtual travel, and one of the best ways to do this is by learning about different cultures’ traditions. So, I asked the travel community to share their winter Holiday celebrations from the places they live. This way, we can all travel the world virtually during the holidays, experiencing winter traditions around the globe.

Enjoy reading about the winter traditions presented by travel bloggers from different parts of the world.


Diwali, The Festival of Lights

winter tradition contributed by

Nilima Gautam from The Traveling CA

During Diwali, houses are decorated with Kandeels, colored lights and Diyas

Diwali, also known as Deepavali, is one of the most significant of all Hindu festivals, celebrated by Hindus all over the world over a period of five days. Known as the Festival of Lights, the actual translation of the word Deepavali is ‘a row of lights’.

According to mythology, Diwali marks the return of the beloved king Lord Rama from a fourteen-year exile. People in his kingdom lighted Diyas and put up lights everywhere to welcome him.

Today, people still celebrate the occasion. According to the Hindu calendar, it is the 15th day of the month of Kartika. This date usually falls somewhere between the end of October and beginning of November.

During Diwali, people decorate their houses with Kandeels (lanterns), colored lights and Diyas (oil lamps). Shopkeepers also light up the stores, since it is their busiest time.

The holiday also means time for visiting family and friends to spend time together. Everyone is back in their hometown to celebrate, preparing sweets and savory dishes and exchanging gifts. On Diwali day, people wear new clothes and the households get together for ‘Laxmi puja’ in the evening. Families prepare a special meal of Puris, elaborate Sabjis and Kheer and place Diyas around the house.

Diwali is such a popular celebration not only because of the festivities, but also because it symbolises the victory of light over darkness and of good over evil.

According to traditional beliefs, the Goddess of wealth, Laxmi, visits her devotees’ homes to bless them, so no corner of the house is left unlit. Temples are especially lit up and special artis are organised.

The cities glisten offering a spectacular sight – light & sound extravaganza! Diwali is a wonderful festival, filled with love, light and lots of warmth. 

To learn more about India and other Indian festivals, read Nilima’s post about Rann Utsav.

Lohari, the Kite Flying Festival

winter traditions contributed by

Mayuri Patel of Fernwehrahee

During Lohari, people dance around a fire and offer rice and dried fruit to the Fire

Winter in India is celebrated differently than in the rest of the world. Actually, there are many winter holiday traditions in India, but the major Indian festivals of winter are celebrated as part of the harvest season.

Farmers start harvesting the crops after the monsoon, between November and January. It is mainly 2-3 days of festival celebrations and observes holidays in most parts of India. As India is so diverse in terms of culture, the winter holiday traditions and celebrations vary in different States.

In Punjab and North India people celebrate ‘Lohari’, while in Gujarat, they call the same tradition ‘Uttarayan’ – Kite flying festival. Lohari and Uttarayan celebrated to beat the cold after the rain. In Lohari, people dance around the fire and offer beaten rice, dry fruits to Fire and they prepare Teel sweet dishes at home.

On the other hand, we celebrate Uttarayan or Makarsankranti the day after Lohari in Gujarat, to mark the first day of the sun’s transit into the spring months. People fly the kites in the sky and enjoy the day with sweets and vegetable Curry Undhiyu.

Apart from this, Bihu in Northeast India and Pongal in Kerala state are celebrated on the same days, with different traditions.

Visiting India in Winter means Colors, coziness, and devouring winter food items!

The Netherlands

The Feast of Sinterklaas

winter tradition contributed by

Dymphe from Dymabroad

On the “present evening” a large bag of presents from Sinterklaas awaits at the door.

A winter holiday tradition in the Netherlands is the feast of Sinterklaas. These festivities take place at the end of November till the beginning of December. The feast is a great start of Amsterdam in winter as well.

It all starts with Sinterklaas who comes to the Netherlands from Spain. His means of transportation is a steam boat, and the television broadcasts his journey daily for children.

From the moment he is in the Netherlands, he visits schools and other places children gather, and leaves presents in their shoes. Children put their shoes in front of the chimney or door in the evening, they sing a song and when they wake up they find the present in their shoe.

Besides presents, Sinterklaas also brings lots of treats. Pepernoten, delicious tiny biscuits are just one example. Another treat he often brings children is a large chocolate letter, usually the first letter of their name.

The festivities end on December 5th with the ‘present evening’. On this evening Sinterklaas visits every house in the Netherlands and brings presents with him. The whole family gathers and celebrates the festivities. There are treats and at one point there is a knocking sound on the front door. When they open the door, people find a large bag with presents outside.


Outdoors Fun, Mulled Wine and Cookies

Winter traditions contributed by

Maria Stadler of A World of Destinations

Winter in Austria. photo credit: Maria Stadler

Winter in Austria means low temperatures, high chance of snow and lots of comfort food to warm up from inside. When it’s a sunny day, many Austrians love venturing out and spending time in the frosty outdoors. Especially in mountainous areas it’s common to go for a winter hike or even a sleigh ride down the hill.

Snow-capped mountains and the shining snow create a picturesque winter-wonderland. A layer of fog covers the valleys often, which is why people enjoy hiking up a mountain for some sunshine on the peak.

As temperatures can be freezing in winter, Austrians like to warm up with a cup of mulled wine. They use either red or white wine, adding spices and oranges or lemons to it. There are many versions of the traditional hot drink and everyone prepares it differently.

People either visit a Christmas market to have some mulled wine with friends or they prepare it at home in the comfort of their own walls. They often serve mulled wine with traditional Christmas cookies on the side.

Starting in November, people bake all different kinds of cookies until Christmas. Gingerbread and vanilla crescents are some of the most famous ones. These winter traditions certainly make the short and grey days of November and December more enjoyable.

Southern Spain

Zambombas, A Fun Community Celebration

Winter tradition contributed by Patricia from Spanish Nomads

A Zambomba celebration is a community event. photo credit: Javier Ros

A zambomba is a popular Christmas event from the Southern Spanish region of Andalusia. An informal public gathering, it is usually held in an open space, where people sing carols and share traditional pastries and drinks.

Zambombas take place in almost every town of Andalusia. Scheduled throughout December until the 24th, local associations, city councils and bars organize most of them and keep them free to attend. 

Zambombas are my favorite part of Christmas because it’s just like going out to party but with carols. When I attend a zambomba it doesn’t take me long to be fully enveloped by the festive atmosphere. Everybody is in a joyful mood, we sing the typical Spanish Christmas songs while we taste pestiños (local pastries) and wine from the region. We play traditional instruments like tambourines, aniseed liqueur bottles and the zambomba, a very peculiar drum with a reed in its centre.

This instrument is where the name of the celebration originates. Those without an instrument usually hand-clap to the rhythm of our flamenco carols. Zambombas take place in the evenings and they last until  early-morning hours.

The original zambombas are thought to have been born in Jerez during the 18th century.  Neighbors met in their inner courtyards, shared treats and drinks while singing along and making their zambomba drums.

This activity died out as Andalusian patios ceased to exist, but thanks to a cultural boost in the 80´s, Zambombas have made a comeback.  The tradition gained such popularity that it was declared a celebration of cultural interest in 2015. Jerez still hosts the most traditional celebrations and it is one of the best places to enjoy this Spanish tradition


Las Posadas, A Christmas Tradition

Holiday tradition contributed by

Michelle Muncy-Silva of Travel with Intention

Ponche, the traditional drink of Las Posadas celebration in Mexico

Posada means lodging in Spanish and Las Posadas is a nine-night Christmas holiday celebration that highlights the journey of Mary and Joseph as they search for a place for her to give birth.

Beginning on December 16th two crowds of people begin the holiday count down by splitting into groups. One assembly of family and friends takes to the streets with a couple dressed as Joseph and Mary leading the way to knock on the door of a different house each night to ask for shelter.

The second group is waiting inside the house, greeted by carols when they open the door. As Joseph and Mary sing to be let in, the people in the house symbolically reject them. And just as the traditional story goes, Joseph and Mary continue their journey the following night on their quest for shelter before Mary gives birth.

The modern-day celebration is much more accommodating though. Each night, the crowd on the street eventually finds a welcoming house filled with the rich sweet and savory smells of traditional treats.

Buñuelos, hot chocolate, champurrado, ponche, atole, and tamales fill tables while conversation and prayer fill hearts.

Each house can have a piñata with seven points to represent the seven capital sins. The symbolism of breaking it open and having Mexican sweets fall out for children to gather is a cherished moment of the tradition.  At the end of the evening the host hands out aguinaldos, a small bag full of treats or fruits, to each participant.


Christmas on the 24th

tradition contributed by

Victoria Heinz of Guide Your Travel

Christmas market in Germany

Germany is one of the few countries in the world that celebrates Christmas on the 24th of December and not on the 25th. This can cause a lot of confusion when people ask Germans about their Christmas plans.

For most of us, Christmas is an evening affair, taking place on the night of December 24th. This is the day, or rather night, we refer to, when talking about Christmas.

We call the 25th the first day of Christmas and it is traditionally a day to meet with extended family and have a nice meal. Some people even go out to eat at a restaurant on the 25th. We give and receive presents on Christmas Eve, which comes from the idea of baby Jesus bringing them and not Santa.

While Santa or “The Christmas Man” as he is called in Germany has become a wide-spread phenomenon, many German families still follow the far more religiously version of Jesus bringing the presents. Though some pars of these traditions are disappearing with the younger generations, celebrating Christmas on the 24th has remained in Germany and the idea of celebrating it on the 25th is almost absurd to most.

Families come together to celebrate this special time of the year and spend the afternoon and evening together opening presents, having dinner and sitting around the Christmas tree. Opening the presents is an important part of the evening. First, everyone leaves the room and parents set up the gifts under the tree. When a bell rings everyone can come back in and enjoy the Christmas surprise.


Winter Holiday Season in London

Tradition contributed by Annisa Hasan of London Travelers

Winter Holiday Season in London

London gets very festive during the winter seasons. It’s all about Christmas and by December, people go Christmas shopping already. Lately, people put up Christmas decorations earlier, and only wait to set up the Christmas trees til December.

In Central London, there are many places you can see Christmas lights, including Oxford Street, Regent Street, Carnaby Street, Covent Garden and many more. The Christmas lights here aren’t over the top compared to Christmas lights from around the world but expect it to be the same lights all year round. The best Christmas lights you’ll come across is in Kew Gardens where you go through a a dark passage of various Christmas lights in different colors, from butterflies, bunny rabbits, a Christmas tunnel (known for a place to propose to your girlfriend), and laser lights flashing on the exterior of the greenhouse.

You’ll find Christmas Markets scattered around Central London. To make it extra special, London hosts Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park where everyone sings Christmas Carols, eats warm hot dogs, and drinks mulled wine as well as rides on several rollercoasters. It’s great fun for the family.

Like the Americans, we also eat turkey and have Christmas stockings, but we do love our roast dinners which consists of either turkey, roast chicken, roast pork, roast beef or roast lamb with a mix of broccoli, cauliflower and melted cheese, Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes and gravy poured all over the meals.

As for the New Year’s everyone gathers around the London Eye and Big Ben for the fireworks display. Usually, this area is blocked off and people can get rowdy, so be extra careful. And while you are there, check out other things to do in London.


Masked Dancers Bringing In the New Year

Winter tradition contributed by

Raluca Silvia from Travel With A Spin

Masks used in the celebration of bringing in the New Year in Romania.

Masked dances, performed on New Year’s Eve, are probably the most colorful and spectacular traditions related to the winter festivities in Romania. Their origins go back hundreds of years and rely on the strong agrarian roots of the country, as well as Pre-Christian beliefs.

On the last day of the year, groups of young people dressed in costumes go from door to door and perform peculiar theatrical performances. They bring to life characters such as the gipsy, the emperor, the elder, the military or the devil. In the center of it all, an animal usually dies and the power of magic brings it back to life. This symbolizes the death of the old year and beginning of a new and better one.  The ritual is supposed to purify and fertilize the soil for the following year’s crops.

The most common masked dances are The Bear Dance, The Goat, The Little Horses and The Masked Men. The masks used are usually handcrafted from fur, wood, beans, rugs and colorful materials. It’s not uncommon to pass them from one generation to the next.

The dances are usually accompanied by drum beats and loud shouts. It can get very noisy and this is how it should be. It all goes back to an old belief that says that noises will scare away the evil spirits of the year passed. The carolers receive food and money as a reward. Nowadays, with modernization, masked dances are rare in Romania. You can mostly see them in the countryside, remote areas and winter festivals.


Hogmanay, a New Year Celebration

Tradition contributed by

Allan Wilson of It’s Sometimes Sunny in Bangor

Winter Holiday Market in Central Edinburgh.

As someone who has both Scottish and Northern Irish parents, I find that traditions in our household are heightened, in competition almost, as each like to show off their own annual traditions. But when it comes to New Year’s Eve, or Hogmanay as it’s known in Scotland, we will always share the Scottish tradition.

First, on the run-up to the New Year, it is important to ‘Clean the House’ and ‘Clear the Bills’ as it is unlucky to enter the New Year either unclean or disorganized, and it’s important to start the year with a clean sheet.

New Year’s Eve is otherwise not so different from many traditions with family gatherings, watching time-zones ringing in the New Year on the TV, and sharing nibbles of traditional Scottish food and drinks. Then as the bells ring at midnight, it is the rowdy rendition of Auld Lang Syne, a song now famous worldwide, but originally from Scotland written by the revered bard of Scotland, Rabbie Burns.

After reach midnight, it is onto first footing, where there’s a myth in Scotland that the first foot to arrive through your door should be of a dark-haired male. And this is often my job, where, shortly after midnight, we will do a tour of the local relatives, bringing with me symbolic gifts of salt and coal to bring fortune into the year ahead. 


Choucroute Royale: a New Year’s tradition

Winter tradition contributed by

Charity from The On The Goers

The choucroute, the lunch of the first day of the year, when Walloons enjoy it with a coin tucked under the plate they will keep for good luck.

Liège is a very unique region in Wallonia, Belgium. We have our own special waffles, our own alcohol and we use words that no other francophone would understand. So it comes as no surprise that the Liègeois celebrate the New Year in a singular fashion.

After a long sleepless night of chugging beer and celebrating, families gather around a meal of nice, warm choucroute. It is customary to have this meal for lunch on the 1st of January so as to let partygoers rest.

Choucroute is originally from Alsace, France. Although nowadays, Belgians and French tend to tease one another, we share the same roots. Indeed, Belgium used to be part of the French empire and this dish is a vestige of this era. Choucroute is typically composed of cabbage, sausages, and steamed potatoes but Belgians add their own twist to it; they substitute Belgian beer for French wine.

As tradition would have it, us Walloons enjoy this meal with a euro coin tucked under our plate. Once done with the feast, we guard this coin in our wallets for the whole year. This small piece of change is supposed to bring luck and riches throughout the year. For the magic to operate, however, it is imperative that we don’t spend it until the following year.


Reyes, The Kings’ Day

Winter tradition contributed by

Linn Haglund of Andalucia Hiking

The traditional Roscon de Reyes, with a figurine of baby Jesus tucked somewhere inside.

In Spain, Christmas celebrations continue past the new year with the Three Kings Day the 6th of January. Called Reyes, it is traditionally when the three holy kings bring gifts to the baby Jesus.

So opposed to many other countries, it’s not as usual to give presents for Christmas but rather on Reyes. As every other big celebration in Spain, there are large processions in the streets during the evening of the 5th and the 6th of January. Large carriages are showcased around the streets of every city and little town in the country. Including the three holy kings throwing candy to the eager spectators, mainly aiming for the kids. This is also a day where the whole family get together and other than watch the processions, have a big family lunch and give each other presents. 

The typical Reyes sweet bread is called Roscon de Reyes. It is usually made as a ring, traditionally filled with dried fruit and cream. Inside the Roscon de Reyes the baker hides a little plastic figure of the baby Jesus supposed to bring good luck to the person who gets it. This is usually eaten throughout the night of the 5th to the 6th, but you can get it in the bakeries, bars, and supermarkets throughout the whole Christmas period.

Winter Traditions Celebrated Outside Of Their Places Of Origin

Dandia, An Indian Tradition as Celebrated in California

contributed by Jyoti Baid from Story at Every Corner

Celebrating Dandia, an Indian tradition, in California.

The Indian festival of Dandia is celebrated world wide as a social dance festival. It originally stems from Gujarat and Marwar area in Rajasthan. The tradition is part of the rich culture heritage of Rajasthan and Gujarat. It’s performed for the nine nights (ten days) of Navratri festival in autumn. It is celebrated across India for various reasons, most popularly to celebrate a goddess.

During Dandia, the entire community – from toddlers to great-grand-parents – gets together to dance. Groups of tens or even tens of thousands get together in one space and dance in small sub-groups to the same beat.

Broadly speaking, there are two traditional kinds of dances – one with sticks called Dandia and another without sticks called Garba. In both styles dancers go in circles in the same rhythm and same steps. Women, men, girls and boys come out in traditional outfits. The entire event is a huge celebration for the whole community. 

In northern California, Dandia season is a ton of fun. It lasts many weeks as different organizations orchestrate Dandia 2-5 events in various convention centers and school gyms around the San Francisco Bay Area.

We always go for a few SEF Dandia events and a few local school events. SEF organizes Dandia events as fundraisers for eye hospitals in India with the goal of eradicating curable eye diseases. They bring the best bands and the best crowds of a few thousand dancers. A few thousand Indian and non-Indians come in their Dandia dance outfits ready to spin, twirl and dance. We dance from 7pm to midnight or until the convention center has mandatory shutdown. At that point we leave, itching to return for the next Dandia. 

Hungarian Winter Traditions

Winter Traditions Celebrated in Hungarian Communities Around the World

Before the introduction of the decorated pin tree, in Hungarian homes the custom was to bring in and decorate a pine branch.

I’ll leave you with my own culture’s Holiday traditions. I didn’t grow up in Hungary, and never lived there, but my language and culture were always important for me.

In Transylvania (part of Romania), our traditions offered a way to keep our culture, national identity, and language, alive. Hungarian communities in the US and around the world do the same.

We celebrate Mikulás-day on December 6th, when children clean their little boots (probably the only time of the year they do without being asked), and get small gifts in them from Mikulás or Télapó.

On Christmas Eve, the angels bring the already decorated tree, along with the presents.

We also have more unique holidays, like Luca-Day, based of old witch-related beliefs. It is a day when women don’t do any housework, they hide the brooms so witches don’t find them, children stop by at homes for treats while wishing good luck and plentiful crops with poems. It’s the night when girls might see their future husband in their dreams, and it’s the time people can predict the weather for the year to come.

We also have an ancient New Year’s Eve tradition dating back to the Hungarian shamans’ time, called regölés, when young men walk from house to house, wishing good luck and prosperity in the New Year through music and verse.

And later, in early February, we celebrate Farsang, the Hungarian version of Carnival.

Like in some of the other countries, many of the traditions concentrate around food though. We have specific dishes and specific sweets we can’t imagine our holiday without.

Learning About Different Traditions Took Me on a Trip Around the World

Hope you enjoyed learning about all the winter traditions around the world. I am grateful for all the travel writers/bloggers who contributed. I feel like I traveled for this holiday season, reading all the contributions.

Reading through all the traditions from different parts of the world made me notice that they are more similar than different. Some focus on storytelling, others on chasing away bad luck or bringing good luck, some celebrate old legends, others focus on food and music, but all celebrate the season in one way or another.

As different as they our traditions are, as different as our languages are, we fundamentally all celebrate the season with good cheer, lights, gifts, food, and time together with families and friends.

Though this year we might all celebrate only by virtual get-togethers, we can all still make it fun. The silver lining: we can celebrate with people from faraway places, all we need is an internet connection.

Wishing everyone a wonderful holiday season, no matter what, where or how you celebrate!

Happy New Year!
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