How Do You Celebrate the Holidays?

Jasmin Dimas, Staff Writer

As winter rolls around and the holiday season approaches, here in the United States Christmas and New Year’s take up most of the public’s eye. 

Christmas, although later coming to represent the birth of Jesus Christ, was originally a pagan holiday to celebrate the winter solstice. Most Christmas celebrations stem from the Saturnalia celebrations in Ancient Rome. Starting on the 25th, Saturnalia had feasts, gift giving, and singing. Even tree decoration was originally a pagan tradition, with evergreen trees symbolizing life. Christians later adopted the practice of decorating trees for that exact reason. As Christianity became the official religion of Rome, many of these pagan traditions were applied to Christmas.  

Christmas is generally popular in most countries, though there are many holiday and winter celebrations that happen around the world. Let’s take a look at several countries here and see how other places celebrate holidays.  

Las Posadas 


Image credit: New Mexico History Museum 

In Mexico and other Latin American countries, Las Posadas (The Inns) is a nine day lead up to Christmas Eve or Noche Buena (Holy Night). Focusing more on the non-secular part of Christmas, it is a reenactment of Mary and Joseph’s search for shelter in Bethlehem from Nazareth to give birth to baby Jesus. This reenactment is done with family and friends but can also be done within communities as well.  

Families who host and the people who come to visit must first do a song that is from the perspective of the innkeepers inside and Mary and Joseph outside asking for a place to stay respectively. The song lasts for several minutes, and can be seen on this website in Spanish and English. When the song concludes, guests are invited in to enjoy food and drink, specifically a warm spiked drink called ponche. If you’d like to know how to make ponche, here is a recipe. Piñatas and fireworks are some activities that take place as well. 

Saint Lucia’s Day 


Image credit: Bengt Nyman / Flickr 

In Sweden, Italy, some Slavic countries, and the United States, St. Lucia’s Day is celebrated. Originally a feast, it is celebrated on December 13th. The holiday originated from a story of a young woman from Italy around 310 AD who became a martyr for her faith. She was killed by Roman soldiers for not breaking her faith before marriage, but in a less violent origin she was a young girl who would provide food to persecuted Christians in hiding during Emperor Diocletian’s reign. In order to light her way, she created a wreath of candles to place on her head to keep her hands free to give. This wreath would become a part of the modern iteration of St. Lucia’s Day.  

In modern times, a Lucia is picked within towns and schools, young girls who don the wardrobe of a white dress, red sash around the waist, and the Saint’s wreath of candles on their head. Similar to the pagan origins of Christmas, these wreaths are made of evergreen to symbolize new life. A song is sung, which is shown in a video here and pastries like Pepparkakor, ginger snaps, or Lussekatter, a bun with saffron and raisin, are handed out by the Lucias. In Italy, it is believed that if children leave out food, St. Lucia will bring them gifts on her donkey.  



In the Bahamas, Junkanoo is a parade celebrated the day after Christmas or the morning of New Year’s. The origins of Junkanoo are vague, but the celebration originated around the time of slavery. It is said that Junkanoo is named after a West African tribal chief named John Canoe who wanted to celebrate with his fellow enslaved people. This would be reflected in the original costumes, with enslaved people in the 17th century painting their faces white with flour as a part of the masquerade part of the parade. Later this was replaced with elaborate and colorful wire masks covered in crepe paper, and headdresses to fully complete the look.  

The parade is filled with music, with Goombay drums and a specific Bahamian music called Rake n’ Scrape. Here is a video with the parade in full celebration and an example of Rake n’ Scrape. All of this begins in the early morning with a ‘wake up’ done around 8:00 am, with literal bells and whistles, which is then followed by a contest where winners are crowned for best costume, float/group theme, and music. This parade is an important aspect of Bahamian culture and is even preserved in a museum in Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas, to ensure that future generations do not forget this celebration or its origins.  


Image credit: Emihokumen 

In Japan on the 31st of December, Omisoka is a New Year’s celebration. ‘Misoka’ means the last day of the month and ‘O’ means big. This celebration originated during the Heian period (794-1185).  

Several traditions of Omisoka are Joya-no-kane, Toshikoshi-soba, and Osoji. Joya-no-kane is the ringing of all Shinto temple bells to ring out the New Year. The bells are rung 108 times because it is believed there are 108 worldly desires, and ringing the bell purifies the soul for the New Year by removing them. Toshikoshi-soba is eaten during Omisoka because the soba noodles are long, which symbolizes human life. It is then cut to cut away any of the bad luck and misfortunes of the previous year and needs to be eaten in full to ensure good wealth as well. In West Japan, people eat udon noodles instead, as ‘un’ means luck, so they are seen as luckier than soba. Osoji, a deep cleaning of one’s home to start clean for the new year and to reflect on the previous year, is an essential part of preparation for Omisoka.  

These traditions are all ways to prepare for the new year which is what the celebration is all about. A more modern part of Omisoka is similar to the New Year’s Eve Countdown television specials in the United States. NHK’s Kōhaku Uta Gassen is an Omisoka television special that is done every year to countdown the New Year’s and includes some of Japan’s most popular singers.  

There are many celebrations, traditions, and holidays that are held around the world. Each of them showcases the rich history and culture of their countries. What is something you do to celebrate the holidays?