Holiday Celebrations Around the World
Kids are naturally curious about children in other cultures. So take them on a tour of the globe this holiday season... from the comfort of your own home.
El Dia de los Reyes Magos, January 5
Before bed, children in parts of Spain fill their shoes with hay and carrots and set them in doorways and windowsills. It's a traditional part of Epiphany, which culminates on January 6, the day the three Magi reached baby Jesus. The hay and carrots are for the wise men's hungry donkeys, who have been traveling for many days. In turn, the wise men leave gifts behind for the good boys and girls (they are wise, after all, so they know who's been behaving), and leave "coal" (actually black rock candy) for the not-so-good.
Anul Nou, January 1
Romanian kids usher in the New Year (Anul Nou) by lightly brushing the shoulders or heads of family and friends with a sorcova — a flowering fruit-tree branch or a stick decorated with paper flowers. The sorcova symbolizes health and fertility, as well as the hope that family members will "blossom" like a tree, and be just as strong and healthy.
Ano Viejo, December 31
On New Year's eve, many cultures are looking ahead and making resolutions, but Ecuadorians are focused on Ano Viejo, the old year. Kids and parents make a scarecrow representing the old year, tucking firecrackers into his stuffing. Together the family writes up a "will" — a list of the past year's faults (their own wrongdoings as well as any bad things that may have happened to them) that must be left behind.
Children dress up all in black, as the straw man's "widow," and go to neighboring houses collecting money and candy for the "funeral."
At the stroke of midnight, families return to the scarecrow and read the list of wrongdoings aloud; the effigy is then set on fire, ensuring that the old year's mistakes go up in smoke.
Diwali, October 21-25
Candles are practically a universal symbol of holidays — think menorahs, blazing birthday cakes, even old-fashioned Christmas tree lights. But few celebrations use them to such gorgeous effect as Diwali (literally "row of lights"), the most widely observed Hindu holiday. Some 850 million Hindus open their windows, and light painted clay lanterns to welcome Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, into their homes. Villages, towns, and cities all over India flicker and glow.
One story behind the first night of Diwali is that Narakasura, a demon of filth, stole all the wealth in the world (effectively taking all of Lakshmi's power). God Krishna stepped in to set things right, banishing Narakasura from Earth. At that moment, Narakasura realized how terrible he had been, and begged Krishna to mark the day as a time of celebration forevermore.
To show that they're not following in the footsteps of the untidy Narakasura, Hindu families take long, scented baths during the holiday and keep their homes immaculately clean.
Eid al-Fitr, October 24-26
Every year, at the sighting of the new moon of the tenth month, Islamic families sit down to a feast and give thanks. Eid al-Fitr is a three-day holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, a monthlong fast (no food is consumed while the sun is up) dedicated to strengthening spiritual devotion.
It's a time to thank Allah for one's blessings and to honor family and community by sharing meals. After special morning prayers, the streets fill with people decked out in new clothes, on their way to visit with extended family and friends.
Families also donate food or money to local mosques so that everyone can feast after Ramadan.