Winter Festivals Around the World: Europe

The second installment of our Winter Festivals Around the World blog posts!

Click here to check out Asia.

Fete des Lumieres

December 7th to 10th

While Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus, Fete des Lumieres or The Festival of festival-1696329_1280Lights in Lyon, France is a celebration of the Virgin Mary, Jesus’ mother.The festival originated in the 1600s, when the black plague swept over the town. The citizens promised to honor the Virgin Mary if she spared them and on December 8th, 1643 they lit candles and made offerings in her name. Although this is how the holiday started, it wouldn’t become the Festival of Lights until some time later, in 1852 when the city had a statue of the Virgin Mary erected next to the Basilica. The statue’s inauguration was planned to take place during Fete des Lumieres and a large celebration was planned around it. Sadly, due to an unprecedented storm the festivities had to be canceled last minute. This didn’t stop the revelers and after the rain subsided, the citizens lit candles in their windows and gathered around the new statue illuminating it with flares and singing songs. Today, lit candles in stained glass containers illuminate windows all over Lyon and the festival has expanded into a three day event that features amazing light shows that draw in revelers from all over the world!


December 30th to January 1st

Hogmanay is the traditional Scottish New Year’s celebration.Customs vary throughout Scotland, although they usually include gift-giving and visiting the homes of friends and neighbors. The first guest, or “first-foot” of the New Year is particularly important. After midnight, the first guest to cross a friend or neighbor’s threshold with a symbolic gift such as fruitcake or whiskey is supposed to set the luck for the homeowner for the new year. Tall, dark men are traditionally the preferred “first foot”. Different regions of 767px-EdinburghNYEScotland also have their own local traditions. In Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire, for example, swinging fireballs made of chicken wire and flammable material down the main street is a Hogmanay tradition. In St. Andrews, Hogmanay is also known as “Cake Day” and bakers prepare special cakes for the local children. Large cities hold all-night celebrations and Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebration is one of the largest. In 1996/1997, it was actually documented by the Guinness Book of World Records as being the largest New Year’s celebration in the world! It is still a popular venue for locals and tourists alike and now consists of a three day long celebration full of fireworks, concerts, a parade, and a street party.

Winter Solstice at Stonehenge

Winter Solstice (between December 21st to 23rd)

Stonehenge is a prehistoric landmark in England that has long been a source of wonder and awe. It is still up for debate how it was built and for what purpose, as it was built by a peoples that kept no written records. During the winter solstice people flock to the site, which is temporarily open to the public, to see the stones up close and celebrate the 800px-Summer_Solstice_Sunrise_over_Stonehenge_2005beginning of the shortest day of the year. Neo-pagans and curious tourists alike wait to watch the sun rise above the ancient stones, cheering and singing. The revelers will be free to celebrate on site, playing music, dancing, and even kissing and hugging the monument, until about 10 a.m., after which the site is cleared out. The reason Stonehenge is such a popular site for this celebration actually comes at the end of the day, however, when the sun casts a line of sunlight that will align the ancient stones. This phenomenon only happens during the winter and summer solstice and, although you may watch this from a distance, the English Historical Society has deemed it unsafe for crowds to be amongst the stones while it is so dark.


4th Saturday of January to Ash Wednesday (February)

Carnival is an annual festival celebrated just before the catholic holiday Lent. Lent is a solemn event lasting until Easter Sunday meant to be for prayer and personal reflection. Parties are off-limits, and traditionally so is fat, sugar, and meat. Therefore, Carnival is veniceessentially a large party full of these things just before the party-goers have to give them all up. It is one of the largest celebrations in Italy, starting on January 27th and lasting until Fat Tuesday in February (followed by Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent). Italy’s Carnival is known for its intricate Venetian masks, traditionally worn by performance artists or people trying to hide their identities (like those that were playing pranks or being particularly rowdy during the festivities). Today, masks are still worn by many revelers for fun as they take to the streets in the large celebration to watch parades, live music, and partake in some of the many parties and events around the country.

If visiting any of these festivals are of interest, contact us ! We’d love to help you find your destination.

Image Sources

Summer Solstice Sunrise over Stonehenge 2005.jpg :



Fete del lumineres.jpg- htrtps://


Winter Festivals Around the World: Asia

Depending on where you reside, you’ve probably noticed a pleasant crispness in the air, a new presence looming and constantly nipping at your nose whenever you step outside. Leaves may be falling off trees, you find yourself pulling out the thicker coats and sweaters you haven’t worn in months, and everything in the store is switching from pumpkin spice to peppermint. Winter is here.

Whether or not you particularly enjoy winter, it is hard not to call it the “holiday season”. Thanksgiving and Christmas are almost upon us and although Christmas can be seen as one of the more popular winter holidays, countries all over the world have their own winter celebrations. Over the next few weeks we’ll be highlighting some of these interesting holidays around the world.


15th day of Kartik on the Hindu lunar calendar

Diwali, the festival of lights in India, is celebrated over the course of five days. It has Diwali_Festivalmany different connotations; it celebrates the autumn harvest and the blessings various gods and goddesses, who bring and help us to maintain both physical and spiritual wealth. It also coincides with the last day of Lord Rama’s 14 year exile from his home in the North Indian kingdom Avadha. Its citizens, who had long awaited their prince’s arrival, lit thousands of lamps to help guide him back to his ancestral home. The main rituals of the festival include lighting oil lamps and candles around one’s home, worshiping Lord Ganesha and the goddess Laxmi to summon health and wealth, and lighting firecrackers. However, exchanging gifts with loved ones and having large feasts are also becoming customary.

Dongzhi Festival

Winter Solstice (between December 21st to 23rd)

The Dongzhi Festival, or Winter Solstice Festival, in China literally translates to “the extreme of winter” and is a celebration of the return of longer days and a consequential 23788459972_69da8b00e3_oincrease of positive energy. Based on the philosophy of Yin and Yang, the day of the Dongzhi Festival is when Yin (negative energy) has hit its peak and will slowly decrease while Yang (positive energy) will now begin to increase. Families traditionally get together for a large meal where dumplings or tangyuan (rice balls with different fillings) are served. Dumplings are supposed to drive away frostbite while the tangyuan drive away ghosts and evil spirits!

New Year (in Japan)

January 1st

New Year is the most important holiday in Japan. As well as being a time to relax and 3657210894_c755cfc578_ospend time with family, each year is seen as being completely separate from each other, providing a fresh start. This also means that tasks meant to be completed by the end of the year shouldn’t be extended into the next and people even throw bonenkai parties (“year forgetting parties”) to leave the worries and troubles of last year in the past where they belong. Houses are cleaned, businesses shut down, and families get together to celebrate. Traditionally, front entrances are decorated with pine and bamboo and on New Year’s Eve toshikoshi soba (buckwheat noodles), symbolizing longevity, are served. January 1st is said to set the mood for the rest of the year, so people typically relax and have a cheerful day devoid of anger and stress (hence the cleaning beforehand). It is also traditional to visit a temple within the first few days of the new year, where bells are being rung until midnight.

Loi Krathong

Held on the full moon of the 12fth lunar month (Varying Dates in November)

Loi Krathong is a festival in Thailand that is held on the full moon of a year’s twelfth lunar month. The main tradition of the festival can be found in its name, literally translated as “to float a basket” or “to float a krathong”. Traditional Krathong are made from slices of banana tree trunk and decorated with banana leaves, incense, and a 7455424224_d0094ccd29_kcandle, although bread and styrofoam are also becoming popular options. The small vessel is meant to carry your bad luck into the distance and ensure a better start to the new year. If you want to really ensure your good luck, you can put something personal on the krathong, like a few strands of hair. Loi Krathong has become so popular, businesses create large elaborate krathongs and the festival features krathong-making contests, a beauty pageant, local games, and performances. The city Chiang Mai is a popular place to celebrate Loi Krathong, as it mixed with/preceded by the city’s own festival of Yi Peng, where people launch lanterns into the sky to let go of their bad luck and make wishes (though they will only come true if you do good deeds in the following year).

If visiting any of these festivals are of interest, contact us ! We’d love to help you find your destination.

Image Sources

Diwali Festival by  Khokarahman

Dōngzhì Festival Image by Reedz Malik

Kimono by themonnie

Thai Lanterns by Mark Fischer