Exploring winter traditions globally and at home

Gain knowledge and awareness by exploring the story, meaning, “how” and “why” of certain winter traditions.

Does your family do a special winter time tradition? Do you cut, put up and decorate a pine tree? Do you hang stockings by the fireplace? Do you hide a pickle ornament deep in the branches of your Christmas tree? Is the hiding of the ornament a German tradition or a new tradition that has been borrowed from two or more cultures? Have you ever wondered where these traditions or others came from? Individuals can gain knowledge and awareness by exploring winter traditions across the globe and at home. The story, meaning, “how” and “why” of certain winter traditions can be very educational for youth, working to broaden their perspectives.     

The shortest day of the year that occurs around December 21 is called the “Winter Solstice” and people all over the world participate in festivals and celebrations on this day.  Long ago, for example, people celebrated by lighting bonfires and candles to coax back the sun. In the United States, Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ and it also brings together many customs from other countries and cultures. Hanukkah is a holiday honoring the Maccabees victory over King Antiochus, who forbid the Jews to practice their religion. To commemorate African heritage, Kwanzaa is celebrated on December 26. The Chinese New Year (Spring Festival) is an important social and economic traditional Chinese holiday. Youth will find it interesting to research this holiday tied to the lunar-solar Chinese calendar and its importance. Furthermore, youth may want to explore the evolution of the Spring Festival.

Researching winter celebrations or traditions and the history of them may provide an informative look into one’s own personal heritage or that of others. If finding a trusted resource is a challenge, explore your own community for people that continue traditional customs from their heritage. A study by Illinois State University’s Lisa A. Schuck and Jayne E. Bucy shows that rituals provide family with a sense of stability, identity and a means for socialization. From the knowledge gained through talking about winter traditions, youth may form their own new family traditions or rituals to pass on from generation to generation.