December 12, 2012

If you live in the United States you have probably just celebrated Thanksgiving with friends and family. You are likely thinking ahead to the next event. Whether that inspires you or strikes terror into your heart, it might help to know that many cultures around the world are entering the Holiday Season.

I wrote my last post during Canadian Thanksgiving and I was interested to learn that the Canadian celebration is more closely connected to European harvest festivals than the American. That small difference meant that early Canadian settlers brought their Thanksgiving traditions to North America 43 years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth, Massachusetts.

Our rituals and traditions follow us as we move and adapt to new locations. Different celebrations can evolve into something similar, or vice versa. We live in a global economy that impacts us for better or for worse. To learn about other cultures has become important if we wish to be global citizens.

When kids learn about other cultures, it helps them understand and feel engaged in the world.  It helps them see beauty in the differences and similarities. Perhaps we can engage their interest and even enrich our own lives by including some elements from the rituals of other cultures into our own.

Teapot set and floral placemat on a white background

Here at we blend cultures daily: it shows in how we decorate our homes and how we select our products. Whether it is a celadon tea set from Northern Thailand or a Nito placemat from the Western Islands of the Philippines, we source our unique products from many different crafts and traditions.

Here are seven holiday traditions from around the world. Perhaps they will inspire you to add some elements to your own celebrations.     

Black metal menorah.

Hanukkah in Israel

Hannukah is observed by Jews all over the world. The eight-day holiday, which lands on different dates in December every year, commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. The focal point of the celebration is the menorah, a branched candelabrum. Each night, one candle is lit, gifts are often given to children, games are played and food is enjoyed. Children in Israel are given a week off from school.    

Four colorful dreidels.     

The children sing a song: I have a little dreidel / I made it out of clay / And when it’s dry and ready / Then dreidel I shall play.A dreidel is a four-sided spinning top with a Hebrew letter on each side. It is used during Hanukkah to play a popular children's game that involves spinning the dreidel and betting on which Hebrew letter will be showing when the dreidel stops spinning.

Chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil



Children usually play for a pot of gelt, which are chocolate coins covered in gold colored tin foil, but they can also play for almost anything. During Chanukah it is customary to give gelt (money) to children, to teach them to increase in charity and good deeds, and to add to the festive holiday spirit.


Smiling woman with a green wreath on her head


St. Lucia Day in Sweden

St. Lucia Day honors a third-century saint on Dec. 13, when girls dress up as "Lucia brides" and wear long white gowns and red sashes — a tradition that dates back to the 18th century. The attire is accompanied with a wreath of burning candles on their heads. The girls wake up their families by singing songs and offering coffee, and a traditional bun, called St. Lucia's bun and made from saffron, is commonly eaten on this day.

Christmas in France

In France, Christmas is called Noel. A figure called Pere Noel, father of Christmas, makes home visits with gifts. On Christmas Eve, children leave their shoes by a fireplace that will be filled with the gifts. In the morning, they awake to find fruits, nuts and small toys. Nearly every home has a Nativity Scene, which serves as the focal point of decoration and celebration, just as the Christmas tree does in U.S. homes.

Kwanzaa in the United States

Kwanzaa is a a week long celebration honoring African-American culture. It was first celebrated in 1966 and is one of the fastest growing holidays. A Kwanzaa celebration often includes singing, drumming and a selection of readings such as the African Pledge or parts of African history.

Traditional large bell at Japanese Omisoka celebration.

Omisoka in Japan

In Japan, Omisoka, or New Year's Eve, is the second most important holiday of the year, following New Year's Day, the start of a new beginning. Japanese families gather for a late dinner around 11 p.m., and at midnight, many make visits to a shrine or temple. In many homes, there is a cast bell that is struck 108 times, symbolizing desires believed to cause human suffering.

New Year's Eve in Ecuador

In this South American country, a family dresses up a straw man representing the old year. Family members make a will for the straw man that lists all of their faults. At midnight, they burn the straw man in hopes their own faults disappear, too.

Ta Chiu in Hong Kong

Those in Hong Kong pray to the gods and ghosts of their ancestors asking that they will fulfill wishes for the next year. Priests read aloud the names of every person living at the celebration and attach a list of names to a paper horse and set it on fire. The smoke carries the names up to the Gods and the living will be remembered.

Whether you choose to fold some of the beautiful rituals from other cultures into your own, or not, we wish you a rich and inspiring Holiday Season.

Written by Catherine Holliss

Interior Design Blog Writer,, LLC

Director of Interior Design,Sander Architects LLC.  

(Note that sources for this post include: wikipedia and

Photographs © Catherine Holliss unless otherwise noted. 

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