The winter season is celebrated in every culture. The dark winter days give us time to relax, stay warm, and spend time with friends and family. We are familiar with many winter celebration traditions, and others are just a little more unique.
The Jewish celebration of Hanukkah honors a victory over King Antiochus, who persecuted Jews, leading to the Maccabean Revolt in 167–160 BC. The revolt was an uprising against foreign oppression that freed the Jewish people to practice their religion without fear of reprisals. For eight nights, the menorah is lit, candle by candle, with special prayers are recited. Games, songs, and gifts are all part of Hanukkah, and special foods eaten, such as latkes (potato pancakes), brisket, kugel, and sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts), marking a joyous celebration.
The winter festival of Yalda is celebrated in Iran, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, and Armenia. It falls on the winter solstice, the darkest day of the year, with family gatherings, traditional foods, poetry, songs, and laughter. Persians arrange a platter with pomegranates, watermelons, persimmons, dried fruit, and nuts. Persimmons are not the most common fruit in the USA, but a ripe persimmon is a luscious, sweet treat. Another hard-to-find fruit eaten by Persians during Yalda, the medlar, may appear unappetizing to the American eye, but has a unique sweet flavor. Rosewater infused, starchy candy called “baslogh” flavored with cardamom and saffron, and topped with pistachios, almonds, and rose petals are created specifically for the special night.
Up Helly Aa
A Scottish festival celebrated in the Shetland Islands, Up Helly Aa is a major holiday in the city of Lerwick, the main city. Called the “fire festival,” the festival has traditions harkening back to the Viking conquerors in the 8th and 9th centuries. Attendees come in the thousands to the event dressed in skins, furs, horned helmets, and armed with ancient weapons. A procession of more than thousand men led by the Viking Jarls Squad, led by the “Guizer Jarl” (“guizer” means a person in disguise in the Scots language) march around Lerwick with flaming torches The festival culminates with the burning of a mockup of a Viking ship, and the celebration typically continues until the wee hours, with the people drinking and dancing until sunrise.
Harbin Ice Festival
Harbin is a city in northern China, the location of a two-month-long event with thousands of ice sculptures, with meticulously carved palaces, figures, and pyramids, illuminated by LED lights. Many of the creations include ice slides, which you can slide down at will, making it easier to move from display to display. Foods associated with the event include dumplings, sweet and sour pork, and Dis An Xian, a rustic stir-fried dish of potato, eggplant, and green pepper, flash fired in a wok to create a crust on the veggies, covered with a flavorful sauce of garlic, Shaoxing wine, soy sauce, and a dash of sugar.
Quebec Winter Carnival
This popular Canadian 10-day Winter Carnival is in historic Quebec City. Also called the “Bonhomme Festival,” referring to the mascot, a snowman. The city keys are handed to the snowman by the mayor, entrusting him to manage Quebec during the festival. Over a million people visit the celebration each year, making it the largest winter festival in the world. It is typically very cold during the festival, which doesn’t stop anyone from visiting, with night parades, dog sledding, masquerades, ice slides, and parties throughout the event. Some of the flavors of Quebec include maple taffy, a “beavertail,” which is a hot fried dough topped with sugar, hazelnut spread, and other additions, and mulled wine consumed hot or cold.
Some History About Christmas in America
Christmas is the most celebrated winter holiday in the west. When New England was first settled by Europeans, celebrating Christmas was in contention. The Puritans banned any celebration and imposed fines on any person who refused to work on Christmas day, or who were caught feasting or celebrating in any way – also banning Easter and other holidays, but the people prevailed, with caroling, feasting, plays, hunts, balls, and decorating homes with evergreen and holly continued, and the Puritan way of life fell out of favor, with Christmas becoming a national holiday in 1870.
Winter, spring, summer or fall there really can never be too many celebrations!