Learn About the Different Winter Holidays Around the World!Adam Brinkman
Here at Cornhole Worldwide, we love a good excuse to party! Whether it’s something more traditional or a new experience from another culture, we want to share some of our favorite winter holidays from around the world.
St. Nicholas Day
Celebrated in many European countries, St. Nicholas Day celebrates the man whose life inspired the modern tradition of Santa Claus. St. Nicholas of Myra gave all his money to the needy. He was known for his charity and compassion towards the less fortunate, especially children. He is celebrated with parades, feasts, gift exchanges, and festivals.
This five-day Hindu festival celebrates the attainment of nirvana by an Indian Sage called Mahavira. It is also the death anniversary of Hindu religious leader Swami Dayanand.
This winter holiday is named after a word which translates to “row of lamps,” and it is celebrated by lighting small, traditional clay lamps, which symbolize the victory of good over evil. Everyone celebrating wears new clothes, shares sweets with family and friends, and sets off firecrackers.
The youngest holiday on our list, Kwanzaa was created in 1966 by Dr Maulana Karenga after the Watts riots in Los Angeles. Dr Karenga combined different aspects of several African harvest celebrations, and he named the celebration from a Swahili phrase meaning “first fruits.”
Kwanzaa is a seven-day celebration of family and African culture, including storytelling, poetry reading, songs and dances, and African drums. For seven nights, the family gathers to light a candle and discuss one of the seven principles (values of African culture). On the final night of Kwanzaa, a traditional African feast is served.
This eight-day Jewish celebration commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. Families light a candle on the menorah each night to symbolize the miracle of the Second Temple’s menorah candles burning for eight nights, despite the fact that there was only enough oil to keep the menorah lit for a single day.
Celebrations focus on lighting the menorah, reciting blessings, and eating traditional foods fried in oil, like potato pancakes (latkes) and jam-filled donuts (sufganiyot). Other customs include exchanging small gifts and playing games with dreidels.
Occurring around December 21, the Winter Solstice is the shortest day of the year and is celebrated by people around the world. The earliest festivals involved people lighting candles and bonfires in hopes of coaxing the sun back into longer days for the coming Spring.
Celebrated on December 25, Christmas is one of the most widely-celebrated winter holidays. Traditionally, in the Christian faith, this is a religious holiday meant to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.
The secular version of Christmas highlights festive decorations like fairy lights, candy canes, seasonally-appropriate conifers, and snowy landscapes. On Christmas Eve, Santa Claus comes in the night to deliver gifts to children on his nice list. English Christmas traditions are similar to the US version, but children leave mince pies and brandy for Father Christmas instead of milk and cookies.
Australian Christmas is celebrated with a holiday at the beach or camping, because December is Summer for the southern hemisphere. Instead of a Christmas tree, Australians decorate a Christmas bush, which is a native plant with small green leaves that blooms with red flowers.
Iceland turns the capital city of Reykjavik into a winter wonderland, complete with a Christmas market. Children are visited by thirteen Yule Lads on the thirteen days leading up to Christmas. They leave small gifts in the children’s shoes, which are traditionally put on the window sills.
Beginning in the middle ages in the United Kingdom, Boxing Day is celebrated on December 26. It’s named after the day that the alms box, a church collection box for the poor, was opened and the funds distributed to those in need.
Traditionally, servants were also given the day off to celebrate Christmas with their families, after tending to their masters’ houses and families on the holiday proper. The modern incarnation of Boxing Day is celebrated in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Festivities including soccer matches, horse races, and lots of Boxing Day sales at the shops.
New Years Celebrations
Ōmisoka is one of the most important holidays of the year for the Japanese people, as it is symbolic for a new beginning. Japanese families traditionally eat a late dinner on December 31, around 11 PM, before making a midnight visit to a shrine (if they’re Shinto) or a temple (if they’re Buddhist).
This is a time to make plans for the future and engage in practices that are thought to bring good luck for the new year. This includes striking a cast bell 108 times to symbolize the banishment of desires, which is believed to be at the root of human suffering.
Ecuadorian families make a straw man dressed in old clothes on December 31st to represent the old year. They make a will for the straw man listing all of their faults, and then, at midnight, they burn the straw man, symbolically burning their faults with him.
In Russia, people celebrate the new year twice! The first is celebrated with the rest of the world, on December 31. This celebration is similar to a Christmas celebration. It includes a decorated tree, gifts delivered to the children by Grandfather Frost and the Snow Maiden, and more public displays like concerts and fireworks.
The second New Years celebration is on January 14 (the traditional New Year on the Orthodox calendar). It is a quieter, more intimate family gathering that observes folk traditions like telling fortunes, singing carols, and indulging in a large, multi-course meal served with plenty of vodka.
Celebrate with Cornhole!
Whichever winter holidays you celebrate, make sure to include fun games as part of the festivities! One game that’s perfect for any party—from large gatherings to solo celebration—is, of course, Cornhole! Choose one of our gorgeous winter-themed Cornhole boards or go all out and commission a fully customized, bespoke board with the phrasing and/or image of your choice!