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Winter Holidays from Around the World

Cross-Culture Holidays | Graphic By Kelsie Tomlinson

These winter holidays from around the world range from Africa to Mexico and incorporate a multitude of traditions, activities, food and more.

Saint Nicholas Eve

Also referred to as “The Feast of Saint Nicholas,” this holiday is on Dec. 5 or 6 in Western Christian countries and Dec. 19 in Eastern European countries. This holiday honors Saint Nicholas as a bringer of gifts. Celebrations include a Christain festival and the attendance of church services, according to Encyclopedia Britannica. Other traditions vary by country; in countries like the Netherlands, children will put carrots or hay in their shoes for St. Nicholas’s horse.

Winter Solstice

This holiday is not attributed to a single country and is widely celebrated worldwide on Dec. 21 as the longest night and shortest day of the year. This holiday is traditionally celebrated with ceremonies and festivals. In Iranian tradition, solstice (Yaldā) marks the return of longer days. Iranians celebrate the winter solstice by staying up all night with their family.

Three Kings Day

Three Kings Day, also known as Epiphany or Día de Los Reyes, is a Christian feast day on Jan. 6 that celebrates the revelation of God incarnated as Jesus Christ. Three Kings Day is the concluding day of the Twelve Days of Christmas and is primarily celebrated in Latin America and Spain. Observers will often celebrate with a “King’s Cake” with a hidden coin or baby Jesus inside.


Maslenitsa is a Slavic holiday, and the date depends on that year’s Easter holiday, which can greatly differ from a traditional Western Easter date. Traditional marks of this event include an effigy, sleigh rides and other festivities. In Russia, Maslenitsa is also called Pancake Week, where Russians eat blinis, thin pancakes covered in toppings. In Belarus and Ukraine, people may cook pierogi and syrniki.

Las Posadas

Las Posadas is a multi-day winter holiday, traditionally ranging from Dec. 16 to Dec. 24. Hispanics in the United States, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and Cuba mainly celebrate this holiday. A religious holiday, Las Posadas celebrates the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. The celebrations culminate with the Christmas Eve dinner that include dishes such as baked shrimp, fish and roasted turkey.

Saint Lucia Day

Saint Lucia Day is a “festival of lights” honoring Saint Lucia, one of the first Christain martyrs who died defending her religious beliefs, but is said to also incorporate some pagan traditions, according to Encyclopedia Britannica. This holiday, which people in Norway, Sweden and Finland traditionally celebrate on Dec. 13, marks the start of the Christmas season. A notable tradition of St. Lucia day includes having one of the daughters of the family dress in white and serve coffee and baked goods to family and visitors.


Kwanzaa was born as a uniquely American holiday celebrating African family and social values from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1. Even as an American-born holiday, people in the Caribbean and other African countries celebrate as well. Each day represents one of seven principles of Kwanzaa: unity, self-determination, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith. Families will light one of the candles of the kinara (candleholder) to represent one of the values each passing day. 

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