Religious Commemorations Around the World
Here are just a few of the many religious holidays celebrated around the world.
- Grades: 1–2, 3–5, 6–8
Explore Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa in-depth with the Celebrate Winter Holidays online activity.
Teachers: Looking for more ways to celebrate and teach patriotic holidays? Try this
The Effutu people of Ghana make a special offer to the god Panche Otu each spring with this deer–hunting festival. Two teams of men and boys, dressed in bright costumes, compete to be the first to bring back a live deer to present to the chief. Then everyone dances together. No Weapons Allowed
In Ghana, during the festival of Aboakyere, hunters go out to capture an antelope. But they have to bring it back alive, and they can't use any weapons.
Arapaho Sun Dance
A religious festival centering on the sun dance takes place during summer in Wyoming. Cheyenne, Arapaho, Shoshone, and members of other Plains Indian tribes dance around a pole topped with a buffalo's head. The buffalo is a symbol of plenty, and dancers wish for good fortune in the year ahead.
People celebrate this Christian holiday by going to church, giving gifts, and sharing the day with their families. In some parts of Europe, "star singers" go caroling singing special Christmas songs as they walk behind a huge star on a pole.
Santa Claus got his name from Saint Nicholas, a bishop of the town of Myra, who was known for being especially kind to children. Today, Myra is part of the country of Turkey.
French children know Santa Claus as Père Noël. He usually wears a long red hooded robe with white fur around the edge. He carries presents in a basket on his back instead of a sack. He lives in Lapland. French children do not usually put out a stocking, but instead leave out their shoe.
To learn more about the history and traditions of Christmas, explore the Christmas Scrapbook.
Day of the Dead
On November 1 — called Día de Los Muertos — Mexicans remember their loved ones who have died by visiting them and having a meal right in the graveyard. Stores sell sugar–candy caskets, breads decorated with "bone" shapes, and toy skeletons.
There's a Skeleton in My Bread! On the Day of the Dead, Mexican families have a special meal in which they serve the Bread of the Dead. It's considered good luck to be the one who bites into the plastic toy skeleton that the baker hides in each loaf of this special bread.
Millions of tiny flames light up India during this festival of lights. The festival honors Lakshmi, India's goddess of prosperity. Small clay saucers filled with oil and a cotton wick are placed near houses and along roads at night. Women even float these saucers in the sacred Ganges River, hoping the saucers will reach the other side still lit.
To celebrate the Hindu holiday of Diwali, farmers dress up their cows with decorations and treat them with respect. The farmers show their thanks to the cows for helping the farmers earn a living. See How One Indian City Gets Ready for Diwali.
On Easter, Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. People attend church and also enjoy different Easter customs. In Germany, people make "egg trees" that are decorated like Christmas trees. In Hungary, boys sprinkle girls with perfumed water — and in return, girls prepare a holiday dinner for them.
A Rabbit Egg? Long ago the Easter Bunny was called the "Easter Hare." The Easter egg hunt began because children believed that rabbits laid eggs in the grass.
For eight days each November or December, Jews light candles in a special candleholder called a menorah. They do this to remember an ancient miracle in which one day's worth of oil burned for eight days in their temple. On Hanukkah, many Jews also eat special potato pancakes called latkes, sing songs, and spin a top called a dreidel to win chocolate coins, nuts, or raisins.
To learn more about the history and traditions of Hanukkah, explore the Hanukkah Scrapbook.
In Mexico and many parts of Central America, people celebrate La Posada during the nine days before Christmas. It is a reenactment of the journey Joseph and Mary took to find shelter before the birth of their child, Jesus
Japanese people keep the memory of their ancestors alive with a festival held during the summer called Obon. People put lit candles in lanterns and float them on rivers and seas. They also visit and clean the graves of those who have died. In the ancient city of Kyoto, people light giant bonfires.
A Dancing Reunion: In the Japanese Buddhist tradition, a special dance called the Bon dance is held to guide the souls of dead family members back home.
The highlight of this major Jewish holiday is the Passover seder. During these two special dinners, families read from a book called the Haggadah about the ancient Israelites' exodus — or flight — from Egypt more than 3,000 years ago. While they honor their ancestors, Jews reaffirm the importance of freedom. See a Virtual Seder Plate.
Is It Bread Yet? Jewish people eat matzoh, a flat, unleavened bread made of flour and water, during the Passover holiday. They do this to remember their ancestors who, in order to escape from slavery in Egypt, left in such a hurry that there was no time for their dough to rise.
St. Lucia Day
To honor this third-century saint on December 13, many girls in Sweden dress up as "Lucia brides" in long white gowns with red sashes, and a wreath of burning candles on their heads. They wake up their families by singing songs and bringing them coffee and twisted saffron buns called "Lucia cats."
During this holy time, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar year, Muslims do not eat, drink, or smoke from sunrise to sunset for an entire month. Instead, they spend their days in worship, praying in mosques. At the end of Ramadan, people celebrate with a festival known as Id-ul-Fitr.