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 many 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.
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 increase 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)
New Year is the most important holiday in Japan. As well as being a time to relax and spend 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.
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 candle, 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.
Diwali Festival by Khokarahman
Dōngzhì Festival Image by Reedz Malik
Kimono by themonnie
Thai Lanterns by Mark Fischer