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://