The traditional American holiday season—beginning in late November and stretching into the Roman calendar New Year—is marked by various recurring events that signal the onset of winter. For many it begins with the inescapable onslaught of Christmas music followed shortly thereafter by the annual telling of Black Friday horror stories. Then come the out-of-control office parties with the really strong eggnog and awkward moments with co-workers we’d rather not discuss. Next up, family visits replete with tense times, plenty of food, and too much television spiced up by drop-ins from long lost uncles, aunts, and other relatives and friends. Finally, all of the festivities begin to wind down with New Years resolutions featuring the swearing off of booze, sweets, and the promise of more exercise and better budgetary restraint.
All of this undoubtedly sounds familiar to most in the States so no need to tread familiar ground. It’s time to take a step back and look at how the rest of the world gets down during the winter (or summer as the case may be). Gathered here are a few traditions from around the world that are celebrated either instead of or in tandem with the traditions we know so well.
In Buddhist tradition December 8th—Bodhi Day—marks the day Siddhartha Guatama, Buddha, was enlightened. Born to a privileged Hindu class, Siddhartha turned down the temptation of possessions (no iPhone for Siddhartha) in search of enlightenment, or Bodhi. He set out on his own to ascend to a plane of higher being at the age of 30. Realizing meditation was the ticket to achieving peace, a mere oh, five years had passed. The day Buddha achieved enlightenment is celebrated by meditation, studying Buddha’s teachings, and sometimes a special meal.
On December 26th and on New Year’s the streets of many Caribbean islands fill with music, merriment, and costumes so massive they resemble floats as residents celebrate Junkanoo. Originating in Africa, Junkanoo or Jonkonnu, dates back to the days of slavery. Although little is known about the etymology or specific region of Africa it came from, Junkanoo is an incredibly popular, longstanding tradition. Similar to New Orleans’ Mardi Gras parade, you can catch glimpses of Junkanoo in films like Jaws The Revenge, James Bond’s Thunder Ball and After the Sunset. But don’t let that American pop culture mish-mash fool you, Junkanoo is one parade not to be missed. And what better way to escape the winter doldrums than running wild in the streets of the Bahamas for a day or two.
Wren day, like Junkanoo, lands on Boxing Day, December 26th, and is a tradition practiced only in a few small pockets of Ireland (including the Dingle Peninsula). The celebration stems from a period in Ireland’s history when myths presented wren as treacherous and cunning creatures. On Wren day men, women, and children take to the streets accompanied by musicians, wearing variegated clothing (think Lady Gaga) hoping to avenge Irish soldiers who were betrayed by wren during Viking invasions by capturing the bird (now a fake version suffices).
Celebrated in Iran as far back as 1700 BCE, Chahārshanbe-Sūri now exists without any affiliation to religion, but remains a nationwide party celebrated by Iranians from all walks of life. Chahārshanbe-Sūri occurs the last Wednesday of the Iranian year. The festival starts at dusk on Tuesday when bonfires are lit and excitement fills the streets. Fires signify light in darkness and a promise of new beginnings devoid of negativity. Men and women jump over flames shouting,“Sorkhi-ye to az man; Zardi-ye man az to” which translates to,
“Give me your beautiful red colour; And take back my sickly pallor.” Subsequently, children run through the streets in costume banging on pans with spoons and receive treats from households they visit—very much like Halloween.
Holidays In Subcultures
Players of the (in)famous game, World of Warcraft, celebrate Feast of Win
ter Veil, a Christmas-like holiday in the virtual world from December 15th to January 2nd where players decorate various worlds with lights.
An interesting holiday started by the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (or Pastafarianism) simply called Holiday takes place sometime in December—whenever it feels right.
Happy holidays to everyone near and far!