Winter around the world
While Christmas might be the most celebrated winter holiday in the U.S., it isn’t the only winter celebration. Here’s a sampling of other holidays and traditions from overseas.
Down under, Christmas comes around during the summer. Kids finish school in mid-December, and people celebrate by having backyard gatherings and picnics in parks, gardens, or at the beach. Christmas Bush, a red flowering plant with contrasting green leaves, is a natural Christmas decoration. On Christmas Eve, tens of thousands of Australians gather in the Sidney Myer Music Bowl in Melbourne for Carols by Candlelight, a televised event where famous singers perform Christmas songs.
The Mourning of Muharram occurs during the first month of the Islamic calendar, which is lunar-based and changes every year. This year it will occur from Dec. 18 to Dec. 28. The holiday commemorates the Battle of Karbala, where Husayn ibn Ali, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, was killed. Pilgrims travel to Husayn’s shrine in Karbala, Iraq, and mourners wear black and read poems. The holiday is 10 days long and culminates in the Day of Ashura, when a parade takes place.
According to Swedish tradition, Saint Lucia, the patron saint of the blind, wore a crown of candles to light her way as she took food to the homeless in the dead of winter. She is celebrated on Dec. 13, which is the winter solstice according to the Julian calendar. Many Swedes celebrate it not for its Christian tradition, but because it’s the shortest and darkest day of the year, and it has become celebrated traditionally with a festival of lights. The festival represents the light in a time of darkness — literal and figurative. Windows are decorated with candles, stars, and other lights, and schools choose a girl to play Saint Lucia in a procession. She wears a white dress with a red sash and a crown of branches and candles.
Chinese New Year occurs from late January to mid-February. According to legend, a thousand years ago there was a monster that tormented a village, but they discovered he was scared of the color red. The color red is believed to ward off bad fortune and evil spirits, so decorating with it is a great way to start off the New Year. An important part of the celebration includes adults giving children lucky money in red envelopes. During the six-day celebration, families gather, light fireworks, and eat.
Because Ethiopians use the Julian calendar, Christmas is celebrated on Jan. 7. After fasting on Christmas Eve, people go to Orthodox Church Mass at 4 a.m. They wear shammas, white toga-like clothing with brightly colored stripes on the end. A similar tradition occurs 12 days later on Timkat, which celebrates the baptism of Jesus. Gifts aren’t generally exchanged, but people play traditional games such as Ganna, a game similar to hockey. Wat, a thick, spicy stew made of meat, lentils, and onions, is enjoyed on a plate of flat bread.
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