In the Northern Hemisphere, winter falls quite late in the year, usually beginning on the Winter Solstice or around December 21st.

In the months surrounding this time—November, December, and January—people around the world celebrate many festivals. Some commemorate significant religious dates, while others are cultural, with roots in a country’s past.

Let’s take a look at some of the most widely-celebrated winter holidays across the globe.

November Holidays Around the World

In November, there are a few holidays—two of which are traditionally known as the festival of lights.

Diwali

Diwali, which is known as the Festival of Lights, is a five-day celebration of the triumph of light over dark or good over evil. The exact days are determined by the Hindu lunisolar month Kartika.

It is observed primarily in India, Myanmar, Nepal, and Sri Lanka by those practicing Hinduism, Jainism, and Sikhism.

In India, this is usually the biggest holiday of the year. It is celebrated by lighting lamps or colorful lights, and igniting fireworks.

Hanukkah

Hanukkah, which is also called the Festival of Lights, is an eight-day Jewish festival celebrated by lighting an additional candle on the menorah (a candelabrum with eight lights) each night.

The timing depends on the Hebrew calendar. It begins on the 25th day of Kislev in the Hebrew calendar, which is typically sometime between late November and early December.

The word “Hanukkah” means “Dedication” in Hebrew. This festival is to commemorate the rededication of the Second Temple of Jerusalem. It is also spelled Chanukah and is sometimes called the Festival of Rededication. Playing the dreidel game is a common Hanukkah tradition.

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a holiday primarily in Canada, the United States, Grenada, Saint Lucia, and Liberia. In Canada, it is on the second Monday in October, while in the United States, it is on the fourth Thursday of November.

This holiday originated as a fall harvest celebration. In the United States, the story goes that the colonists or Pilgrims and the Native Americans observed a joint fall feast at harvest time, a tradition that led to our modern Thanksgiving. The modern holiday consists of a feast—usually a turkey, many side dishes, and desserts.

December Holidays Around the World

December probably has more different winter holidays than any other month. There is of course Christmas. People in over 160 countries worldwide enjoy the Christmas holidays with their loved ones.

Boxing Day

Boxing Day, December 26th, is a holiday in the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

Originally, this day was one in which gifts were given to the poor, servants, or others of a lower social class. Some say that is the origin of the name—it was a day in which gifts were placed in boxes for this purpose.

In more modern times, however, Boxing Day has evolved into a holiday associated with sports, shopping, and spending time with friends. Outside of the named countries above, there are a few areas, primarily several countries in Europe, that celebrate this day as a second Christmas.

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day

The History Channel tells us “For two millennia, people around the world have been observing it with traditions and practices that are both religious and secular in nature.”

In Christian tradition, people commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ on Christmas Eve (December 24th) and Christmas Day (December 25th).

While Christmas is a Christian holiday, it is also a cultural holiday globally, with traditions that span both religious and secular aspects of the season.

Many pagan traditions have been incorporated into modern Christmas observances to give secular people various ways to enjoy the festive Christmas season.

The traditions of putting up a Christmas tree, gift-giving, and sharing the tale of Santa Claus are some of the common themes.

Krampus Night

People in Germany and Eastern Europe observe Krampusnacht or Krampus Night on December 5th.

Krampus, or Christmas Devil, is typically depicted as a hairy, horned, devil-like creature with a pointed tongue and fangs. Some have described Krampus as half-man (or half-demon) and half goat.

Krampusnacht is the night before St. Nicholas Day and the Krampus figure is meant to scare or punish the bad children while St. Nicholas would reward the good children.

In more recent times, the holiday has evolved to include adult revelries that involve dressing up as Krampus and parading or running through the streets.

Kwanzaa

Kwanzaa is a more recent holiday. Maulana Karenga, professor and chairman of Black Studies at California State University, was the first to create this holiday and observe it in 1966.

This holiday honors African-American culture and its purpose is to bring the African American community together.

It is from December 26th through January 1st. This winter holiday is mainly in the U.S. On the sixth day of Kwanzaa, people hold the Karamu feast. Kwanzaa is meant to honor family, community, and culture. It combines multiple historic harvest celebrations from African culture.

Kwanzaa has seven principles and symbols to follow. To some people, Kwanzaa is an alternative to Christmas, but it does not have to be a religious holiday. Anyone of any faith can appreciate this cultural celebration.

Las Posadas

Las Posadas is a religious holiday that is observed primarily in Spain, Latin American countries such as Mexico, Guatemala, and Cuba, and some areas within the United States with large populations of people from these areas.

“Las Posadas” translates to English as “The Inns,” which references the inn from the Nativity in the Christian faith.

It is a nine-day celebration starting on December 16 and ending on December 24th. The nine days are thought to represent the nine months of Mary’s pregnancy and the traditions associated with these days are meant to represent the hardships faced by Mary and Joseph while seeking shelter on their journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem.

New Year’s Eve

New Year’s Eve, which as the name implies, is the eve of the new year. It is the last calendar day of the year, December 31st. It is also called Old Year’s Day or Saint Sylvester’s Day.

In Japan, people also refer to New Year’s Eve as Ōmisoka. In Japan, families gather together and some visit shrines. This is just one example of how New Year’s Eve is celebrated. There are varying traditions in different parts of the world. Some countries welcome the new year with firework displays.

St. Lucia Day

St. Lucia Day, also known as Lussinatta, the Lussi Night or Feast of Saint Lucy, is primarily celebrated in Sweden, Denmark, and Finland but also in some parts of Italy, Croatia, Hungary, and nearby areas.

It is on December 13th every year, which honors its namesake, St. Lucia (or St. Lucy, Lucia of Syracuse, or Sankta Lucia).

In Scandinavia, St. Lucia Day marks the beginning of the Christmas season and is another festival of lights and feast day. St. Lucia was a Christian girl who was martyred for her religion.

Nowadays, young girls dress in white and wear a candle-lit wreath on their head on St. Lucia day. In-home traditions, sometimes the person depicting St. Lucia will serve food.

St. Nicholas Day

St. Nicholas Day, or feast day of Saint Nicholas, is a winter holiday mostly observed on December 5th or 6th, or on the 19th in Eastern Christian countries.

St. Nicholas was a Christian noted for generosity. He sold off his possessions to give to those who were ill, in need, or otherwise suffering. As such, this holiday is generally honored by giving to others.

It is observed primarily in areas near its Dutch roots: the Netherlands (where St Nicholas is known as Sinterklaas), Belgium, and Luxembourg.

That said, it is recognized in other locations as well—many countries around the world have some form of custom or observance to honor St. Nicholas. With so many countries marking this holiday in some form, the details vary, but often take the form of giving small gifts and food items.

The Twelve Days of Christmas

The Twelve Days of Christmas begin on Christmas Day and end on January 6th (which is Three Kings Day—see description below in January holidays). This timeframe marks the time between the birth of Christ (Christmas Day) and the coming of the Magi (or called Three Wise Men or Three Kings), which occurred 12 days later.

Winter Solstice

Winter Solstice is typically on or around December 21st, which is the season on the longest night of the year.

For example, it is called Toji in Japan, where it is traditional to take a hot bath with citrus fruit. While in China it is called the Dongzhi Festival, where people eat tang yuan (湯圓, which is similar to mochi) with their family.

This time is also referred to as the pagan holiday Yule, Yule Time or Yule Season, which means the time spanning from the Winter Solstice and the 11 days following it. Many ancient Yule traditions have been incorporated into modern Christmas celebrations.

January Holidays Around the World

Ganna

As mentioned above, Christmas is most associated with December 25th, but that’s the date within the Gregorian calendar. In the Julian calendar, however, it is on January 7th.

Thus, in some cultures with Orthodox churches or those utilizing the Julian calendar, like Ethiopia, Egypt, and Russia. This is the day for the religious observance of Christmas.

In Ethiopia, the holiday is called Ganna or Genna. It is observed there with a 43-day fast before the holiday itself. On Ganna, men play a hockey-like game by the same name as a tradition.

Makar Sankranti

A festival to usher in the end of winter and the coming of spring, Makar Sankranti is observed by Hindus across India on January 14th.

There are monthly holidays in India to commemorate the movement of the sun from constellation to constellation. This particular holiday recognizes the transition into Capricorn and honors Surya, the sun god. It is celebrated differently in different parts of the country.

New Year’s Day

New Year’s Day is the first day of the year in the Gregorian and Julian calendars—January 1st. It is observed in cultures that use solar calendars with fixed dates for new years. (For cultures using a lunar calendar, the new year happens based on a day that will vary based on the lunar schedule that year).Billions of people around the world welcome New Year’s Day on January 1st with fireworks, parties, and the creation of New Year’s resolutions as people plan for the year ahead.

Three Kings Day

Three Kings Day, which is also known as the Epiphany or Theophany, is the day the Three Kings (also known as the three wise men) first saw the baby Jesus, January 6th.

It is at the end of the Twelve Days of Christmas. There are some variations of this holiday in other areas around the world.

About Remitly

Remitly makes international money transfers faster, easier, more transparent, and more affordable. Since 2011, over 5 million people have used our secure mobile app to send money with peace of mind.

Visit the homepage, download our app, or check out our Help Center to get started.

You May Also Like

This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover all aspects of the topics discussed herein. This publication is not a substitute for seeking advice from an applicable specialist or professional. The content in this publication does not constitute legal, tax, or other professional advice from Remitly or any of its affiliates and should not be relied upon as such. While we strive to keep our posts up to date and accurate, we cannot represent, warrant or otherwise guarantee that the content is accurate, complete or up to date.