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In honor of the holiday season, let’s take a look at a handful of unique celebrations from around the world—some you might not know about.

This holiday season will be unlike any other. According to a survey from Morning Consult, 71% of Americans say their holiday traditions will change. Still, despite cutting back on travel and spending, most plan to celebrate in one way or another. Although they might look different this year, the holidays will remain a time for togetherness, gratitude, and reflection, even if they take place virtually.

We may not be able to travel across the globe this year, but we can certainly experience different cultures through photographs. Join us for a journey across the United States, Mexico, Iran, Israel, Ukraine, and beyond.


Kwanzaa

Melvin Deal, serving as the Elder at a ceremony on the fourth day of Kwanzaa, leads the call “Harambee” (let’s pull together) during festivities, at the Lincoln Theater in Washington. Image via Karin Cooper/​AP/​Shutterstock.
First Night of Kwanzaa
Tina Solomon, 88, gets help lighting a candle for the first night of Kwanzaa in Brockton, Massachusetts. Image via Angela Rowlings/​AP/​Shutterstock.

In 1966, Dr. Maulana Karenga started this African American and Pan-African holiday to celebrate the values and culture of the African continent. It starts the day after Christmas and continues through January 1st, with the seven days relating to the seven principles, or Nguzo Saba: Umoja (unity), Kujichagulia (self-determination), Ujima (collective work and responsibility), Ujamaa (cooperative economics), Nia (purpose), Kuumba (creativity), and Imani (faith).

Sounds of Brazil Nightclub in New York
Kwanzaa dancers invite school children to dance at the Sounds of Brazil nightclub in New York. Image via Hakim Mutlaq/​AP/​Shutterstock.
18th Annual Kwanzaa Candle Lighting Ceremony
Nine-year-old Asaad Muhammad and his mother Connie watch festivities during the 18th Annual Kwanzaa Candle Lighting Ceremony at the Baldwin Crenshaw Mall in the Crenshaw section of Los Angeles. Image via Rene Macura/​AP/​Shutterstock.

These principles are represented by seven candles in black, red, and green, with the colors symbolizing the people, the struggle, and the future, respectively. The holiday originated in the United States, yet is celebrated in many parts of the African Diaspora today. In 2009, the African American Cultural Center reported that thirty million people of African descent celebrated Kwanzaa.

The Tonel LaKay Drum and Dance Ensemble
The Tonel LaKay Drum and Dance ensemble honoring the cultural heritage of Haiti, performs during the annual Kwanzaa celebration at the Museum of Natural History in New York. Image via Jennifer Szymaszek/​AP/​Shutterstock.

Kwanzaa celebrations can include dancing, singing, drumming, along with performances, a feast (Karamu), and more. The celebration at the American Museum of Natural History in New York is the largest Kwanzaa celebration in the country, drawing thousands of people annually. “What’s wonderful about Kwanzaa is that it gives everyone the opportunity to learn a little more about African American history, which is American history,” the educator Dr. Linda Humes told Inside Edition last year.

Kwanzaa Celebration Regeneration Night
A performance by Forces of Nature Dance Theater for the Kwanzaa Celebration Regeneration Night at the Apollo Theater in New York. Image via Shahar Azran/​Shutterstock.
Kwanzaa Celebration Regeneration Night
Kwanzaa Celebration Regeneration Night at the Apollo Theater in New York. Image via Shahar Azran/​Shutterstock.

Yalda Night

Ancient Feast of Yalda
Musicians from the Kurdish western region of Iran play the Daf, a hand-held Persian drum, in a public celebration of the ancient feast of Yalda, at the Saadabad Palace in northern Tehran, Iran. Image via Vahid Salemi/​AP/​Shutterstock.
Ancient Feast of Yalda
A woman carries a basket of pomegranates above her head as musicians from the Kurdish western region of Iran play the Daf, a hand-held Persian drum, in a public celebration of the ancient feast of Yalda, at the Saadabad Palace in northern Tehran, Iran. Image via Vahid Salemi/​AP/​Shutterstock.

Dating back to ancient times, this Iranian festival celebrates the winter solstice—the longest night of the year—on December 20th or 21st. Today, families still come together to mark Shab-e Yalda through storytelling and poetry, staying up past midnight to witness the arrival of winter and the eventual triumph of the sun as the days grow longer.

Iranian Fruit Vendor
An Iranian fruit vendor collects dry fruits for his customers to mark the ancient feast of Yalda, in Tehran, Iran. Image via Vahid Salemi/​AP/​Shutterstock.
Iranian Fruit Vendor
An Iranian customer buys watermelons for the Yalda feast, an all-night celebration of the longest night of the year, at a market in eastern Tehran, Iran. Image via Str/​AP/​Shutterstock.
Iranian Fruit Vendor
Iranians prepare themselves to celebrate the Yalda Feast, an ancient tradition marking the onset of winter and the longest night of the year. Image via Abedin Taherkenareh/​EPA/​Shutterstock.

Traditional foods on Yalda Night include sweets, nuts, dried fruit, and symbolic fresh fruits like pomegranate and watermelon, with the red hue representing the rising sun at dawn. Summer fruits like watermelon are believed to protect against illness during the upcoming winter, while pomegranate represents rebirth and the glow of life.

Yalda Feast Celebration
Iranians seen celebrating Yalda, the longest night of the year, in Tehran. Iranians recite poetry and share stories and food in this all-night celebration. Image via Hasan Sarbakhshian/​AP/​Shutterstock.

Many celebrate by reading from the Persian poet Hafez. You can ask a question or make a wish before turning to a passage from his work for guidance and wisdom. Celebrations often take place at the household of the eldest family member. It’s a time for togetherness, family, gratitude for the blessings of the previous year, and prayers for the next. It’s been part of Iran’s List of National Treasures since 2008.


Tu BiShvat

Planting a Tree for Tu BiShvat
Two immigrants, one from Kiev, Russia and the other from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, plant a tree together south of Tel Aviv, Israel during a ceremony marking Tu BiShvat. Image via Max Nash/​AP/​Shutterstock.

Sometimes spelled Tu B’Shevat, this “New Year for Trees” is one of the four Jewish New Years, or Rosh Hashanahs. As the Torah forbids the eating of fruit from new trees for three years after planting, the holiday originated as a birthday for trees and a way of calculating their age. Over time, it’s evolved into an ecological holiday and a reminder of the importance of preserving the natural world.

Jewish Arbor Day
Tu BiShvat, the Jewish Arbor Day, was marked in Gush Katif by planting saplings. Image via Miri Tzachi/​Shutterstock.
Jewish Arbor Day
A family plants a sapling for Tu BiShvat, the Jewish Arbor Day. Image via Miri Tzachi/​Shutterstock.

In Israel, many celebrate by planting trees, either on their own property or as part of a volunteer group. If you can’t plant your own trees, you can still mark the occasion by tree-sitting or spending time in nature, or by taking smaller steps through composting, cutting out meat products for the day, and other sustainable practices.

Tu BiShvat
On Tu BiShvat, the Jewish Arbor Day, volunteers convene to planting saplings. Image via Miri Tzachi/​Shutterstock.
Tu BiShvat
Youngsters from the West Bank settlements revisit the demolished houses in Amona, north of Ramallah. They planted saplings next to the ruins to commemorate Tu BiShvat, the Jewish “New Year for Trees” festival. Image via Tzachi/​Israel Sun/​Shutterstock.

Tu BiShvat can also be celebrated by eating fruits associated with Israel, including the seven species mentioned in the Torah (wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates), along with the reciting of blessings. Ideally, the fruits should be locally and sustainably grown.

Some host a seder meal or picnic among the trees, and many celebrate by trying a new fruit. The holiday falls on the 15th of Shevat in the Hebrew calendar or late January to early February.

The Jewish Feast of Tu BiShvat
Ultra-Orthodox Jews of the Nadvorna Hasidic dynasty celebrate the Jewish feast of Tu BiShvat, as they sit with their rabbis around a long table filled with all kinds of fruits, in the town of Bnei Brak, Israel. Image via Oded Balilty/​AP/​Shutterstock.

Night of the Radishes

Night of the Radishes
Noche de los Rabanos (Night of the Radishes) is celebrated every 23rd of December with amazing figures carved from radishes, then displayed in competition in the main square of Oaxaca, Mexico. Image via James Mccauley/​Shutterstock.

Also known as Noche de Rábanos, this annual event takes place on December 23rd in Oaxaca, Mexico. It dates back more than a hundred years to the city’s Christmas markets, where merchants and farmers carved radishes to attract and delight shoppers, with many bringing them home as Christmas centerpieces.

Night of the Radishes
A man sculpts a long radish before the upcoming December 23rd celebration of the Night of the Radishes in Oaxaca, Mexico. Image via Olga Rosario Avendano/​EPA/​Shutterstock.
Night of the Radishes
Artisans carve and mold figures made with tubers for the traditional Night of the Radishes celebration. Image via Mario Arturo Martínez/​EPA-EFE/​Shutterstock.

Night of the Radishes was made official in 1897, and is still celebrated today with a much-anticipated radish-carving competition. Common themes include nativity scenes, the Virgin of Guadalupe, mythical imagery, and local wildlife. Participants can compete in a traditional category or a free category, depending on their chosen subject, with a talented winner receiving a prize of 30,000 pesos.

Radish Figurine
Artisans carve and mold figures made with radishes in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico. Image via Mario Arturo Martínez/​EPA-EFE/​Shutterstock.

Today, the radishes are grown specifically for the occasion and not suitable for human consumption. More than one hundred artisans and amateurs of all ages participate in the contest, with thousands of visitors lining up to see the creations every year. Unfortunately, the radishes wilt quickly, making for a precious, but brief, window for viewing. Many families participate for decades, passing the tradition on from one generation to the next.

Radish Christmas Display
The craftsmen take advantage of the different forms that the radishes adopt to create pieces that represent Christmas scenes, illustrious personages, dances, and a varied type of representation dictated by the imagination. Image via Mario Arturo Martínez/​EPA-EFE/​Shutterstock.

Malanka

Malanka Carolers
Ukrainians wearing traditional attire sing carols as they celebrate the winter holiday Malanka in Pirogovo Village near Kiev, Ukraine. Image via Sergey Dolzhenko/​EPA/​Shutterstock.

This Ukrainian holiday takes place on January 13th, or New Year’s Eve on the Julian calendar, marking the dawn of a new year and the anticipation of spring. It derives its name from ancient folklore and the story of Malanka, the daughter of Mother Earth, who, according to legend, was kidnapped by the Devil. As the story goes, the Earth became barren during her absence and only became fruitful once she returned.

Traditional Costumes of Malanka
Locals wearing costumes celebrate the winter festival of Malanka in the Village of Krasnoilsk, western Ukraine. Image via Roman Pilipey/​EPA/​Shutterstock.
Malanka Holiday Costumes
Ukrainians wearing masks and carnival costumes celebrate the winter holiday Malanka in Vashkivtsi Village near Chernivtsi, western Ukraine. Image via Pavlo Palamarchuk/​EPA-EFE/​Shutterstock.

According to locals who spoke to the writer Melody Rowell, who covered Malanka for National Geographic, people could go to prison for celebrating the holiday during Soviet times. However, many still did, making the occasion a symbol of Ukrainian identity and togetherness. For many, it marks the end of the Christmas holiday and a final opportunity for revelry before the start of Lent.

Malanka Holiday Costumes
A local man wearing a costume made of hay and reed attends the celebrations of the winter festival of Malanka in the Village of Krasnoilsk, western Ukraine. Image via Roman Pilipey/​EPA/​Shutterstock.
Malanka Carolers
Locals wearing costumes sing as they walk from house to house and perform short plays during the celebrations of the winter holiday Malanka in the village of Krasnoilsk, western Ukraine. Image via Oleg Petrasyuk/​EPA/​Shutterstock.

Traditions vary from city to city, but people often celebrate with masquerades and short plays, dressing up as bears, goats, characters from folk stories, and more. In the village of Krasnoilsk, revelers go house-to-house singing carols. The costumes are homemade and can be massive. Although many are fragile and don’t survive from year-to-year, parts and elements are often saved and reused.

Traditional Malanka Celebrations
During these two days of celebration, locals (young and old) wear traditional masks and carnival costumes and stroll from house to house singing carols, wishing households good luck, while at the same time playing pranks or performing short plays. Image via Oleg Petrasyuk/​EPA-EFE/​Shutterstock.

Learn even more about people, cultures, and events from around the world:

Cover image via Shahar Azran/​Shutterstock.



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Global Holiday Celebrations You May Not Know About