Halloween is just around the corner, meaning it’s time to carve pumpkins, meander through a corn maze, and host a spooky movie marathon. Who else is excited?
But did you know that not everyone celebrates Halloween? It’s true! In fact, the United States is one of the only countries that rings in autumn by dressing in funky costumes and trick-or-treating. However, while other countries may not celebrate Halloween, there’s no shortage of holiday traditions that your child may not know about.
Introducing children to the traditions of different countries is a brilliant way to get them excited about other cultures and, in the process, teach them that diverse cultures are worthy of respect. So, without further ado, here is a list of 20 of the most interesting holidays around the world.
Diwali, also known as the Festival of Lights, is a major holiday observed by Hindu, Jain, Sikh, and some Buddhist cultures to celebrate the beginning of a new year. Diwali means row of lights in Sanskrit, the ancient language of India. The name is pretty appropriate, seeing as people celebrate this holiday by filling their homes with oil lamps and lights called diyas. Different religions have different reasons for celebrating Diwali, but no matter the tradition, lighting the lamps always symbolizes good fortune and the power within us all to overcome evil.
The holiday lasts for five fun-filled days, during which time people feast, exchange cards, shoot off fireworks, pray, and spend time with family and friends. These dates change every year depending on the moon phase, but Diwali is always celebrated during mid-autumn. In 2022, Diwali celebrations begin on October 23 and continue until October 27.
Here’s a holiday that your kids likely know and love: Halloween. Observed in most English-speaking countries like Canada and the United States on October 31, celebrating Halloween means dressing up in a crazy costume, running around the neighborhood collecting candy, and waking up the next day wishing you hadn’t devoured all those KitKats.
Halloween promises excitement for all ages. While the kids are busy trick-or-treating, teens and adults can celebrate spooky season by heading to a haunted house, hitting up a Halloween party, or staying at home to hand out candy to ghoulish ghosts and goblins that knock on the door.
3. Día De Los Muertos
While Americans celebrate Halloween, our neighbors down south in Mexico make time to remember their ancestors who have passed away on the aptly named Dia de los Muertos—the Day of the Dead.
This joyful holiday is celebrated annually on November 1 and 2, during which time it’s believed that the souls of the dead can return to visit their families. In observance of the holiday, people clean their homes and the graves of their loved ones. Then, they cover altars with offerings to their ancestors: flowers, photos, food, and calaveras de azúcar—decorative candy skulls. As night begins, many revelers travel to the cemetery where they share a feast and celebrate the togetherness of family.
4. Canadian Thanksgiving
Until I moved out of the United States, I thought that Thanksgiving was a totally American holiday. You can imagine my surprise, then, when I befriended a few Canadians and found out that our neighbors up north celebrate Thanksgiving as well! There is a catch, though: while Americans celebrate Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November, Canadians celebrate on the second Monday in October.
Aside from the date change, Canadian Thanksgiving is a lot like its American equivalent: full of fall leaves, football, and feasting. The cuisine changes a bit depending on where you are in Canada, so if you’re in Newfoundland on Thanksgiving, you might be served a traditional Jiggs dinner!
5. Sinterklaas Day
If you ever find yourself in the Netherlands on December 5, don’t be surprised to find shops closed and streets empty—everyone’s too busy celebrating Sinterklaas!
Sinterklaas is a Dutch figure much like our own Santa Claus (that’s why the names sound so similar). Legend has it that Sinterklaas travels from Spain to the Netherlands every November via steamboat. Upon his arrival, he parades through the streets on a tall, white horse, letting children know that the holidays have come.
Every night following, children leave a single shoe or slipper next to their fireplace with a small treat for Sinterklaas’ horse inside. If Sinterklaas enjoys their gift, he’ll place some candy in the shoe. Then, on the evening of December 5, Sinterklaas rides his horse atop the houses of every city and sends his assistant Piet down the chimney to deliver a bag full of candy and gifts. The next day, Sinterklaas disappears back to Spain so he can prepare for the next year’s festivities.
Hanukkah is one of the oldest holidays celebrated, as it commemorates an event that happened over 2,000 years ago! Way back then, people living in Jerusalem were recovering from an awful invasion which destroyed one of their holy temples. When the Jewish people went to rededicate the temple, they found enough oil to light the menorah for only one day—but it miraculously burned for eight.
Now, Jewish families all over the world observe Hanukkah by gathering around the menorah and lighting a candle every night for eight days. They recite prayers, play with the dreidel, exchange cards and gifts, and eat tasty treats like latkes and braided bread.
A list of holidays wouldn’t be complete without a winter favorite—Christmas. This holiday is celebrated all over the world on December 25, and Christmas traditions vary pretty widely depending on where in the world you are.
In the United States, children leave a plate of milk and cookies for Santa Claus on the evening before Christmas, only to wake up the next day to a pile of presents waiting beneath the Christmas tree. Venezuelan revelers go roller skating, Australians hit up the beach for a barbecue, and families in Japan feast on a big bucket of KFC fried chicken. Not all Christmas traditions are so nice, however. Take Iceland, for example: during Jól, Icelandic kids are frightened into being nice by the witch Grýla and her trouble making sons, the Yule Lads.
Kwanzaa, a six-day celebration of African-American culture, takes place annually from December 26 to January 1. It was first celebrated by Maulana Karenga in 1966, and centers around seven principles: unity (umoja), self-determination (kujichagulia), collective work and responsibility (ujima), cooperative economics (ujamaa), purpose (nia), creativity (kuumba), and faith (imani). Observers commemorate these principles by lighting candles on the kinara, dancing to African-inspired music, giving gifts, and throwing a delicious karamu feast on New Year’s Eve!
9. New Years
New Years is both the final and first holiday of the year. Between shimmering fireworks, celebratory parties, and the excitement kids feel when they get to stay up past their bedtime, New Years has a little something for everyone.
Like Christmas, New Years is celebrated a little differently in every country. While Americans bang pots and pans and make purposeful resolutions, Spaniards begin their year by eating twelve symbolic grapes, Colombians place three potatoes under the bed, and Brazilians head to the beach to jump seven waves while making seven wishes. Don’t worry; they don’t freeze—New Years takes place during summer in the Southern Hemisphere.
10. Lunar New Year
Unlike New Year’s Eve, Lunar New Year doesn’t take place on December 31. Instead, the Chinese lunar calendar decrees that the new year starts on the second new moon after the winter solstice.
In Asia and beyond, people commemorate Lunar New Year and the beginning of spring with fireworks, food, and festivals. Dragon floats parade through busy streets, families gather for delicious home-cooked meals, and parents and grandparents help children start the year on a lucky note by giving them bright red envelopes packed with money. The festivities don’t end after one day, though—some Lunar New Year festivals go on for fifteen whole days!
Winters are long in Russia, so it makes sense that one of the country’s biggest holidays celebrates the arrival of spring. As the sun comes out and winter begins to fade, Russian people gather to celebrate Maslenitsa by dancing, singing, and eating traditional pancakes called blini. These delicious crepes can be filled with all sorts of goodies, from sweet raspberry jam to savory caviar and sour cream.
12. St. Patrick’s Day
Legend has it that back in the 5th century, an Irish priest named Patrick drove every single snake out of Ireland. Because of his efforts, the Irish Catholic church made him a saint and declared that March 17 would be forever known as St. Patrick’s Day.
What began as a holiday honoring the saint himself has morphed into a celebration of everything Irish, including shamrocks, leprechauns, and the color green. People in Ireland and around the world celebrate St. Patrick’s day by eating Irish food, hunting for leprechauns at the end of a rainbow, and even dyeing the Chicago river green. Just make sure you wear something green, otherwise you might get a little pinch!
Love, life, and springtime abound on Holi, the Hindu holiday known as the Festival of Colors.
Celebrations begin the night before Holi, when people gather to honor the Hindu god Vishnu by lighting bonfires, roasting grain, and spending time with loved ones. The famous festival of colors takes place the next morning, as people celebrate springtime by hurling colorful chalk into the air—and at each other. Anyone and everyone is invited to participate in the fun, regardless of gender, race, or social status. At the end of the festival (and after a good shower), people dress up and visit friends and family for one last feast.
14. Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr
Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, is marked by spiritual reflection, self-improvement, and a fast from dawn to dusk. Muslim people all over the world commemorate the thirty days of Ramadan by abstaining from food while the sun is in the sky and praciting zakat, or charitable giving. Then, once the sun sets, families feast on a huge meal called iftar.
Eid mubarak! Once Ramadan ends, it’s time for Eid al-Fitr, also known as the “festival of breaking the fast.” On this day, Muslims decorate their homes, put on their best clothes, and eat delicious food like maamoul, sheer khurma, and tajine. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, Eid al-Fitr is “a time of official receptions and private visits, when friends greet one another, presents are given, new clothes are worn, and the graves of relatives are visited.”
15. Eid al-Adha
Don’t be surprised if you hear someone say “eid mubarak” more than once a year—because there are actually two Eids! While Muslim people celebrate Eid al-Fitr at the end of Ramadan, Eid al-Adha is celebrated a few months later, on the tenth day of the Islamic month Dhu al-Hijjah. This holiday commemorates both the prophet Ibrahim (or Abraham) and the end of the Hajj, a five-day pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. People celebrate Eid al-Adha by praying, eating with family, and donating food to those in need.
16. Earth Day
April 22 is my favorite day of the year: Earth Day. First celebrated in 1970, Earth Day is all about slowing down and appreciating the world around us. We owe nearly everything to the earth, from the air we breathe to the water we drink, so it makes sense that Earth Day is one of the most widely celebrated holidays around the world.
People in over 190 countries commemorate Earth Day by stepping outside and enjoying a day in nature. Earth Day is the perfect day to take your kids on a hike, explore the park near your house, or volunteer with an environmental organization. As inhabitants and wardens of the Earth, it’s our job to keep the planet happy and healthy—and celebrating Earth Day is the perfect reminder of that mission.
17. Norwegian Constitution Day
Many countries have national days (Fourth of July, anyone?), but few are as exciting or original as Norway’s Constitution Day. Observed annually on May 17, Constitution Day commemorates the day that Norway gained independence from Denmark and became its own country. Norwegian people all around the world celebrate this day by eating Scandinavian food like lutefisk, dressing in their national costume the bunad, and parading around the city waving the Norwegian flag.
18. Festa Junina
If you ever travel to Brazil during June, you might find people dressed as farmers square dancing in the streets. Festa Junina, meaning June Festival, is a month-long celebration of the rainy season that waters crops across the arid Brazilian landscape. Festivities take place all over the country and center around the quadrilha, a traditional square dance accompanied by accordions and triangles. Festa Junina is especially fun for children, since many schools put on exciting performances and hold festivals complete with three-legged races, ring toss, and the traditional fogueira bonfire.
Sweden is known worldwide for three things: IKEA, ABBA, and Midsummer. While one could argue that shopping at IKEA and dancing to ABBA are pretty holiday-adjacent activities, nothing compares to celebrating a Swedish Midsummer.
Every year, on the Friday closest to the summer solstice, Swedes put on their finest clothing, don a freshly-woven flower crown, and celebrate the endless nights of summer by joining with family and friends to dance around the maypole. There’s a ton about Midsummer that kids can enjoy, like eating strawberry cake, playing Midsummer games like the sack race, and dancing like frogs with their families. I’m not kidding about that last one; check it out here.
20. Melon Day
If you ask people from Turkmenistan, no holiday would be complete without fresh fruit—especially the second Sunday of August, officially known in Turkmenistan as Melon Day. This day is dedicated to the muskmelon, a popular fruit grown throughout the Central Asian country. People celebrate by attending fruit festivals, entering melon-related competitions, and devouring dishes made from the melon. Here’s a fun fact: the world owes nearly 400 of its melon varieties to Turkmenistan!
Technology Helps Kids Become International Citizens
Teaching kids about different cultures and holidays around the world helps them become members of the international community, and technology like the Internet makes this easier than ever before. Kids can use tools like a smartphone from Troomi Wireless to find answers to difficult questions, learn how to cook international recipes, and connect with friends across the globe. Click here to learn a little bit more about what else Troomi can do for your child.
And don’t forget to swing back by the Troomi blog for more fun and informative articles in the future!