Winter Holidays to Learn About and Celebrate at Home

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One of the things that we have in common as a people is a love of celebrations. Across the globe and throughout time we have found many occasions to come together and revel in numerous and diverse ways.  

Most of us are familiar with Christmas and New Year’s Celebrations, while we may not be as familiar with several of the other Winter Holidays that are celebrated around the world. Take a look at some background and customs to help you get familiar with these diverse celebrations as well as some suggested activities that you can share with your children!  Holidays and celebrations are times to bring us together, no matter our backgrounds. So let’s get started! 

Bodhi Day
Bodhi Day is a Buddhist holiday which commemorates the day in 596BC when Gautami (“the”) Buddha - founder of Buddhism - reached enlightenment (“Nirvana”) while meditating under a Bodhi Tree. Bodhi Day is celebrated on December 8th in Buddhist countries such as China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. In Japan, the Zen Buddhists call it Rōhastu and in China it is celebrated as a festival called Laba. 

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Bodhi Day is traditionally a day of quiet reflection, including meditation and prayer, chanting of Buddhist texts, or performing kind acts towards others. Some fun activities you can do to learn more about Bodhi Day include:

  • Meditation Meditation is an important part of Buddhism. It is a time of calm and focus and a practice that can be fun and interactive for your children. Have them sit quietly while you help guide them through deep breathing, or a brief online meditation session. 

  • Learning The sacred “Bodhi Tree” - officially known as ficus religiosa - is often found in Buddhist homes. The leaves look like elongated hearts. Celebrate with the children by baking cookies in the shape of the tree leaves! Use your heart-shaped cookie cutters from Valentine’s Day or cut the rolled dough by hand.

  • Kindness Help your children learn one of the fundamental concepts of Buddhism: selflessness. Perform acts of kindness in your community. Bring the children to volunteer at a local soup kitchen or animal shelter or even have them share the cookies that you’ve baked with a elderly neighbor.

Diwali - the “Festival of Lights” - is one of the world’s largest festivals, celebrated by over a billion Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and some Buddhist sects. Celebrated for a 5 day period in mid-October to mid-December, Diwali symbolizes the spiritual victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance.  

Traditional celebrations include wearing fine clothes, decorating lamps (diyas) and beautifully detailed works of art (Rangoli) created on table tops or floors using natural or household materials, exchanging gifts, and spending time together. Today, the 3rd day often includes fireworks!

To help your children better understand how Diwali is celebrated, here are a few activities that you can do at home. 

  • Celebrate with Lights Pick up some sparklers and, after dusk, have your children swirl them in the darkness to make patterns of light.   

  • Rangoli: Create Rangoli designs at home! Find some simple rangoli patterns online, print them out, and then place colored sand or salt on top of them to create your own rangoli!

  • Sweets: On the second day of Diwali, find a local Indian Sweets restaurant and bring home some favorites! Some popular treats you can buy and share with your kids are Jelibi (a crispy, crunchy, and syrupy snack), Gulab Jamun (like a donut hole with a sweet syrup), or Rava Laddu (a treat made with coconut, powdered sugar, dry fruits and ghee).

Hanukkah is a Jewish festival that is observed for eight days and nights. Based on the Hebrew calendar, it may take place from late November to late December. Also known as a Festival of Lights, the history of Hanukkah tells of a miraculous event, where the Menorah of a rededicated sacred temple, thought to have only enough oil to burn for one day, burned for eight days and nights. 

Today, Hanukkah is celebrated worldwide and has gained cultural significance in North America because it occurs around the same time as Christmas. During the 8 nights of Hanukkah, celebrants light an additional candle in the menorah each evening until all are lit.  

There are many fun activities that you can share with your children to help them learn about Hanukkah and the Jewish culture:

  • Dreidel: The kids will love spinning the Dreidel (spinning top) to win chocolate coins! Everyone is given an equal number of chocolate coins to start. Everyone spins the Dreidel. Based on how itl lands (which letter is up), you either put a chocolate coin into the center pot, take the whole pot, take half of the pot, or do nothing. The last player to run out of coins wins and gets all the chocolate!

  • Latke: Latke is a potato pancake and staple food amongst those who celebrate Hanukkah. Head to the kitchen and have your kids help you make some latkes!  

  • Gifts: Adults will often give children a small gift for each of the eight nights of Hanukkah. This could be a nice way for you to share the spirit of the holiday with your children. You may also have them choose from our digital Hanukkah cards and send a Hanukkah greeting to someone special. 

Kwanzaa is an annual festival that celebrates African-American culture and brings people together to share a feast. It takes place from December 26th to January 1st. Kwanzaa is a relatively new holiday created in 1966 by Maulana Karenga, who based the holiday on various different African harvest festivals. 

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The most notable observance of the holiday is the lighting of the Kinara - similar to a Menorah, but with seven branches, each representing the principles of Kwanzaa, such as unity, purpose, creativity, faith, etc.  

There are many activities that you can participate in during the week of Kwanzaa:

  • Kinara: Lighting the kinara nightly can be an easy way to learn and connect with the Kwanzaa tradition.  You can teach your children every night about another of the seven principles. 

  • Drumming:  Drums are a traditional part of Kwanzaa. Pull up a video of some traditional Kwanzaa drums and some traditional dances and have your kids play along!

  • Decorate: You can have your children create, cut out, and hang their own Kwanzaa flags. These flags, called Bendera, are black, red, and green (the same color as the Kinara candles).

Celebrate Kwanzaa and send free Kwanzaa ecards.  Your children can send out ecards to spread their new found knowledge. 

Three Kings’ Day
Three Kings’ Day, also known as Epiphany, is a Christian holiday related to Christmas. It commemorates the visit of the Magi (the Three Wise Men), who were guided by a star to visit Christ when he was born. They brought gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh.  
to give the baby whom they knew to be King of the Jewish people.

Countries celebrate Epiphany in different ways. In England, Epiphany is called Twelfth Night and is where the Shakespere play gets its name. To celebrate, the English might play practical jokes on one another similar to April Fools Day in the United States. In France, Epiphany is a day of banquets and celebration. King Cake is traditionally eaten, which is a puff pastry cake that has a small porcelain figure hidden within. Whoever finds the figure gets to wear a paper crown.

If you want to explore the traditions of Three Kings’ Day with your children, cook up some King Cake, read the story of the Three Magi and their journey to find Christ, or have your kids dress up like the Three Wise Men as they do in Germany!

Lunar New Year
Lunar New Year, also known as Chinese New Year, is a festival that is celebrated at the beginning of the traditional lunisolar Chinese calendar.  This calendar is also used in countries that were influenced by or have close relations to China, like Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and Taiwan. 

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The Lunar New Year is one of the biggest celebrations in China and is a holiday in which families come together; this results in a tradition called Chunyun, which is the period of time before the Lunar New Year in which people travel back home. Chunyun is considered the largest human migration in the world; in 2016 it was estimated that there were 2.9 billion passenger journeys during Chunyun that year.

There are many ways that people celebrate the Lunar New Year and many different Lunar New Years traditions.  Some things you might be interested to try with your children could be:

  • Red Envelopes: Red envelopes containing a gift of cash are traditionally given from married couples and the elderly to unmarried people and children. The amount should begin with an even number (but not 4, which is considered an unlucky number!). 

  • Fireworks: Fireworks are a big tradition for the Lunar New Year. If there aren’t any Fireworks celebrations in your area, pick up some sparklers for your children to play with.

  • Lanterns: A fun and visually beautiful tradition is to light and release paper lanterns. These lanterns are typically lit from a candle suspended underneath the paper allowing for the lantern to then take flight.

Winter Solstice
The Winter Solstice occurs every year when the Earth’s poles are at their maximum tilt away from the Sun. It is the shortest day of the year, offering the shortest amount of daylight, and the longest night of the year and has been celebrated throughout history as the rebirth of the Sun - since the days begin to get longer after this day.

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To celebrate solstice with your children, we can follow some ancient traditions that may have existed since pagan times: 

  • Yule Log - today instead of burning the Yule Log, why not bake one and enjoy it with the family.

  • Yule Tree - many of us will have already put up and decorated a Christmas tree indoors, but the Yule Tree was traditionally outdoors. Bring some decorations outside and have the kids decorate a tree, bush, or hedge in your yard.

  • Make a Wreath - In ancient pagan cultures, evergreens were deemed sacred as they were associated with protection, prosperity and renewal. Using winter evergreens like pine, fir, juniper, and cedar to create a wreath to hang in your home or on your door is a lovely way to honor the season while creating with the children.  

Exploring the holidays and festivals of other cultures and people is a wonderful way to expand your worldview while sharing this knowledge with your children. It’s always fun to celebrate - and now you have several more reasons to celebrate during the Winter Season.

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