Winter Holidays and Celebrations

This month, we asked our 2020-2021 Global UGRAD finalists to share a bit about winter celebrations in their home countries. While the holidays throughout this year have been very different, read on to learn more about how this time of year is traditionally celebrated across the world.

Davao City Clock Tower adorned with lights for the holidays (Photo: City Government of Davao)

Virgilio Roi C. Adaptar, Philippines

Dubbed as the longest yuletide celebration in the world, Christmas festivities in the Philippines begin as early as September, peak in the month of December, and conclude in January the following year. As soon as the “-ber” months open with September, stunning lights and aesthetic displays already adorn streets, parks, malls, and homes. The sight of the iconic traditional Christmas lantern called “parol” alone could bring a smile on one’s face! Fast forward to December, and communities come together as one for the series of Holy Masses called called “Simbang Gabi,” which are held over nine nights until Christmas Eve. For the rest of the days of December, parties and family gatherings take place almost every night, with the “Noche Buena” or Christmas Eve meal as the main event! Traditional party horns called “torotot,” joy, bliss, and high hopes then welcome the New Year. However, the pandemic has largely changed how Filipinos are celebrating Christmas this year. Events, parties, and gatherings have been cancelled, the number of people allowed inside churches has been reduced, and the losses that we have encountered have somehow dimmed the merry and bright celebration. Amid everything, I was able to pause and reflect on what truly defines these festivities and on what really matters the most beyond the lights, gifts, food, and parties during this holiday season: the strength of our communities, the bonds of friendship, and the warmth of our families.

Daniela Lopez, Guatemala

Traditional Tamales and Paches

Lots of lights, delicious food, a nativity scene, and families reunited – Christmas is definitely my favorite holiday of the year. These holidays are very special because we can share time with our families and remember how important our traditions and celebrations are in our country of origin. In Guatemala, most families cook a typical Guatemalan recipe, the delicious and famous “tamales and paches.” They’re an exquisite meal, made with rice and a combination of vegetables wrapped in a large leaf. Making tamales and paches is a tradition, when a party is taking place, and their preparation requires a traditional recipe. In most Guatemalan families there is a “birth of the baby Jesus,” where everyone shows their creativity and originality by making these beautiful works of art with materials from nature and porcelain ornaments. In Guatemala the Catholic religion is practiced, so this is part of our customs and traditions. Definitely, if you are in Guatemala, you cannot have a sad Christmas. We all celebrate and enjoy the company of our families, which is the most important thing.

Sakrain Kite Festival in Bangladesh

Mahmuda Kona, Bangladesh
We spend our holidays with various festivals. Our holiday starts with winter season. It starts from early December, and winter comes for the whole of December through the end of January. Bangladesh is a country of six seasons. Among all of these, winter is the most vibrant season for the peoples of Bangladesh. The peoples who live in the city or town area, they come to their villages to meet their parents and share their happiness. During this time the “National Pitha Festival” begins. People in Bangladesh make different pitha and paias (sweets), and travel from all different countries to attend this festival. The National Pitha Festival is celebrated in different places with stalls and good decorations, but in every house, we make different sweets and celebrate this with our grandparents. Sometimes, it is called the “Nobanno Pitha Festivals” in the rural areas. Another festival called “Sakrain” is also celebrated during this time. This is a kite festival where thousands of colorful kites are followed by fireworks and the releasing of sky lanterns in the evening. During this time, all the houses of Puran Dhaka (capital and oldest city of Bangladesh) are decorated with lights and all the rooftops are crowded with people, preparing for the show of fireworks and sky lanterns.

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