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News | Nov. 20, 2017

Celebrations and Traditions

By Dana Thornbury DLA Land and Maritime

DLA Locations

DLA Land and Maritime provides global military logistics support throughout the year.

As the holiday season approaches, DLA Land and Maritime’s Special Emphasis Programs provide insight on how those around the globe celebrate the holiday seasons.

Holiday Celebrations & Traditions


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.


For eight days each November or December, Jewish tradition calls for candles to be lit in a special candleholder called a menorah. This is done to remember an ancient miracle in which one day's worth of oil burned for eight days in the temple. On Hanukkah, many of the Jewish faith eat special potato pancakes called latkes, sing songs and spin a top called a dreidel to win chocolate coins, nuts or raisins.


Kwanzaa, which means “First Fruits,” is based on ancient African harvest festivals and celebrates ideals such as family life and unity. During this spiritual holiday celebrated from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1, millions of African-Americans dress in special clothes, decorate their homes with fruits and vegetables, and light a candleholder called a kinara. Kwanzaa is not celebrated in Africa beacuse it’s an African-American holiday.


Mawlid, which means birth of the prophet, is observed during the third month on the Islamic calendar known as Rabi' al-awwal and celebrates the prophet Muhammad. This year, the celebration corresponds to Dec. 1. Mawlid is recognized as a national holiday in most of the Muslim-majority countries.

St. Lucia Day

To honor this third-century saint on Dec. 13, many girls in Sweden dress up as “Lucia brides” in long white gowns with red sashes and wear 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.”

Chinese New Year

Many Chinese children dress in new clothes to celebrate the Lunar New Year. People carry lanterns and join in a huge parade led by a silk dragon, the Chinese symbol of strength. According to legend, the dragon hibernates most of the year so people throw firecrackers to keep the dragon awake.

New Year

In many places around the world, people stay up late to see the old year out and the new year in. Almost everywhere in the world church bells ring, horns toot, whistles blow and sirens shriek. London's Trafalgar Square and New York City's Times Square swarm with crowds of happy, noisy people. The hullabaloo expresses people's high spirits during the holiday time.

More New Year Traditions

Indonesia has two New Year celebrations — the official one on Jan. 1 and another on the Islamic New Year, which date varies from year to year.

The Russian Orthodox Church observes the New Year according to the Julian calendar on Jan. 14.

In Vietnam, the new year usually begins in February.

Iran celebrates New Year's Day on March 21.

Each of the religious groups in India has its own date for the beginning of the year. The Hindu New Year, Baisakhi, comes sometime in April or May.

The people in Morocco observe the beginning of the year on the tenth day of Muharram, the first month of the Islamic year.

The Koreans celebrate their new year the first three days in January.

Christmas Around the World


Christmas is celebrated throughout the African continent by Christian communities. On Christmas day, carols are sung from Ghana to South Africa. Meats are roasted, gifts are exchanged and family visits are made. The Coptic Christians in Ethiopia and Egypt celebrate Christmas day on Dec. 25 in their calendar which is Jan. 7 for most of the world. People decorate the community. The holiday is more focused on the religious aspect of celebrating the birth of Jesus and singing in church than it’s on gift giving. The most common gift is a new set of clothes to be worn to the church service. 


Dec. 25 falls during summer vacation, so many of the country's Christmas festivities take place outdoors. The most popular event of the Christmas season is called Carols by Candlelight. People come together at night to light candles and sing Christmas carols outside. The stars shining above add to the sights and sounds of this outdoor concert.


The little town where Jesus is said to have been born is the site of the Church of the Nativity, which is ablaze with flags and decorations every Christmas. On Christmas Eve, natives and visitors alike crowd the church's doorways and stand on the roof to watch for the annual procession. Galloping horsemen and police mounted on Arabian horses lead the parade. They are followed by solitary horseman carrying a cross and sitting astride a coal-black steed. Then come the churchmen and government officials. The procession enters the doors and places an ancient effigy of the Holy Child in the church. Deep winding stairs lead to a grotto where visitors find a silver star marking the site of the birth of Jesus.


The small number of Christians in China call Christmas Sheng Dan Jieh, which means Holy Birth Festival. They decorate their homes with evergreens, posters and bright paper chains. Families put up a Christmas tree, called a "tree of light," and decorate it with beautiful lanterns, flowers and red paper chains that symbolize happiness. They cut out red pagodas to paste on the windows and they light their houses with paper lanterns.


It’s cold, wet and foggy in England at Christmastime. The day before Christmas is very busy for families in England. They wrap presents, bake cookies and hang stockings over the fireplace. Children write a letter to Father Christmas with their wishes and toss their letter into the fire so their wishes can go up the chimney. After the children fall asleep on Christmas Eve, Father Christmas comes to visit.


Ethiopia flagEthiopia

Ethiopia follows the ancient Julian calendar and celebrates Christmas on Jan. 7. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church's celebration of Christ's birth is called Ganna. It’s a day when families attend church. Everyone dresses in white. Most Ethiopians don a traditional shamma, a thin, white cotton wrap with brightly colored stripes across the ends. Twelve days after Ganna, on January 19, Ethiopians begin the three-day celebration called Timkat, commemorating the baptism of Christ.

Romania FlagRomania

In Romania, Christmas is known as Craciun and Santa Claus is called Mos Craciun. The Christmas tree is decorated on Christmas Eve with nuts, candies, apples and chocolates wrapped in colored paper. The children go caroling from house to house and are given traditional treats in return. After Midnight Mass, children clean and polish their best pair of boots and place them at the front door for Santa Claus to find. It's there that he'll leave presents for the youngest children who have already gone to bed.


France flagFrance

Christmas celebrations begin on December 5, St. Nicholas Eve. On Christmas Eve, church bells ring and people sing French carols, called noels. On Christmas Day, families go to church and then enjoy an abundant feast of wonderful dishes, ending with the traditional buche de Noel, a rich buttercream-filled cake shaped and frosted to look like a Yule log.



German FlagGermany

German families prepare for Christmas throughout December. Four Sundays before Christmas, they make an Advent wreath of fir or pine branches that has four colored candles. They light a candle on the wreath each Sunday, sing Christmas songs and eat Christmas cookies. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, homes are filled with the delightful smells of baking loaves of sweet bread, cakes filled with candied fruits and spicy cookies called lebkuchen.

Hawaii State FlagHawaii

Hawaiians celebrate the holiday season a bit different than the mainland (United States). The temperature is around 75 degrees year-round. Many dress up in Muumuu’s and aloha shirts for Christmas church services. Santa wears an aloha shirt and palaka shorts. He arrives by surfboard or canoe, leaving the reindeer and sleigh on the mainland. Christmas trees are often traditional evergreen conifers, although some people use palm trees and other native trees. Most families are found at the beach for Christmas and New Years with family and friends. They gather around imus, surf and play ukuleles.

Holland FlagHolland

Dutch children in Holland, or the Netherlands, eagerly await the arrival of Sinterklaas on St. Nicholas Day, December 6. Sinterklaas is a kindly bishop. He wears red robes and a tall, pointed mitre on his head. Sinterklaas travels by ship from Spain to Amsterdam's harbor every winter. He brings his white horse and a huge sack full of gifts for the children. Families celebrate St. Nicholas Eve at home with lots of good food, hot chocolate and a letterbanket. A letterbanket is a cake made in the shape of the first letter of the family's last name.


Italian FlagItaly

The Christmas season in Italy begins on the first Sunday of Advent, which is four Sundays before Christmas. Christmas fairs feature fireworks and bonfires along with holiday music. Families go to the Christmas markets to shop for gifts and new figures for the manger scene. Some families decorate a Christmas tree. Families set up their presepio, or manger scene, on the first day of the novena. They gather before the presepio each morning or evening of novena to light candles and pray.


Iraq FlagIraq

On Christmas Eve, Iraqi Christian families gather together and one of the children read about the birth of Jesus while other family members hold lighted candles. After the reading, a bonfire of thorn bushes is lit and everyone sings. If the thorns burn to ashes, good luck will be granted for the coming year. When the fire dies, each person jumps over the ashes three times and makes a wish. On Christmas Day, another bonfire is lit in the churchyard. The bishop, carrying a figure of the baby Jesus leads the service. Afterwards he blesses one person with a touch. That person touches the person next to him or her and the touch is passed around until all present have felt the "touch of peace."


Jamaican flagJamaica

Christmas is a special time of year where radio stations play carols and people decorate their homes. Most families spend Christmas Day at home with family and friends. The Christmas meal is usually prepared on Christmas Eve and includes fresh fruit, sorrel and rum punch and meat. Christmas breakfast includes ackee and saltfish, breadfruit, fried plantains, boiled bananas, freshly squeezed fruit juice and tea.

Mexican FlagMexico

The weather is warm and mild in Mexico during the Christmas season. Families shop for gifts, ornaments and good things to eat in the market stalls, called puestos. They decorate their homes with lilies and evergreens. Family members cut intricate designs in brown paper bags to make lanterns, or farolitos. They place a candle inside and then set the farolitos along sidewalks, windowsills, rooftops, and outdoor walls to illuminate the community with the spirit of Christmas.

Spain FlagSpain

The Christmas season begins in Spain on December 8, with a weeklong observance of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Evergreens decorate the churches and outdoor markets throughout the Christmas season. Tambourines, gourd rattles, castanets and miniature guitars are offered for sale to enliven the singing and dancing in the streets. Children go from house to house reciting verses or singing carols for sweets, toys or small instruments. How to say Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays in different languages

How to say Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays in different languages


Afrikaans (South Africa): Geseënde Kersfees
Akan (Ghana): Afishapa
Aleut: Kamgan Ukudigaa
Alutiiq Alaska: Spraasnikam! [Happy Holidays]
Amharic (Ethiopia): Melkam Yelidet Beaal
Apalachicola Creek: Nettv-Cako-Rakko
Aymara: Sooma Nawira-ra
Blackfoot: I'Taamomohkatoyiiksistsikomi
Central Ahtna: C'ehwggelnen Dzaen
Cherokee: Danistayohihv &Aliheli'sdi Itse Udetiyvasadisv
Cheyenne: Hoesenestotse & Aa'eEmona'e
Choctaw: Yukpa, Nitak Hollo Chito
Cree: Mitho Makosi Kesikansi
Creek: Afvcke Nettvcakorakko
Dine/Navajo: Ya'at'eeh Keshmish
Eqyptian (Egypt): Colo san wintom tiebeen
French: Joyeux Noel
German: Fröhliche Weihnachten
Gitksan: Hisgusgitxwsim Ha'niisgats Christ ganhl Ama Sii K'uuhl!
Greek: Kala Christouyenna
Guaraní Ñandeva: Avyaitete ahï ko Tupa ray árape qyraï Yy Kapyryin rira
Guarayu: Imboeteipri tasecoi Tupa i vave
Gwich'in: Drin tsal zhit shoh ohlii & Drin Choo zhit zhoh ohli
Hawaiian: Mele Kalikimaka (Merry Christmas)
Hawaiian: Hau’oli Makahiki Hou (Happy New Year)
Hebrew: Mo'adim Lesimkha. Chena tova
Inupiaq: annaurri Aniruq & Paglaun Ukiutchiaq
Inupiatun: Quvianaq Agaayuniqpak
Inupik: Jutdlime pivdluarit ukiortame pivdluaritlo
Iraqi Idah Saidan Wa Sanah Jadidah
Iroquois: Ojenyunyat Sungwiyadeson homungradon nagwutut & Ojenyunyat osrasay
Italian: Buon Natale
Japanese: Meri Kurisumasu メリークリスマス
Kaqchikel: Dios tik'ujie' avik'in
Korean: Sung Tan Chuk Ha Hamnida
Koyukon: Denaahuto' Hoolaahn Dedzaahn Sodeelts'eeyh
Kutchin: Drin Tsal Neenjit Goozu'
Lakota: Wanikiya tonpi wowiyuskin & Omaka teca oiyokipi
Maya/Yucateco: Utzul mank'inal
Metis/Michif: Gayayr Nwel
Mexico, Spain: Feliz Navidad / Felices
Naskapi miywaaitaakun mikusaanor
Ojibwe (Chippewa): Niibaa' anami'egiizhigad & Aabita Biboo
Oneida: Wanto'wan amp; Hoyan
Philippines – Cibuano: Malipayung Pasco
Philippines – Tagalog: Maligayung Pasco
Polish: Wesolych Swiat Bozego Narodzenia or Boze Narodzenie
Portuguese: Feliz Natal
Q'anjob'al: chi woche swatx'ilal hak'ul yet jun yalji Komami'
Quechua: Sumaj kausay kachun Navidad ch'sisipi & Mosoi Watapi sumaj kausay kachun
Retvara: Mamaka wejejerãka
Romanian: Craciun Fericit
Russian: Pozdrevlyayu s prazdnikom Rozhdestva is Novim Godom
Salcha: Dzeen chox teedle 'aay nayilkaa
Seneca: a:o'-e:sad yos-ha:-se:'
Slovene: Vesele Bozicne Praznike Srecno Novo Leto
Sotho (Lesthoto): Matswalo a Morena a Mabotse
Swahili (Tanzania, Kenya): Kuwa na Krismasi njema
Swedish: God Jul and (Och) Ett Gott Nytt År
Tanaina: Natukda Nuuphaa
Tewa: Hihchandi Núuphaa
Thai: Sawadee Pee Mai or souksan wan Christmas
Tlingit: Xristos Khuwdziti kax sh kaxtoolxetl
Trukeese (Micronesian): Neekiriisimas annim oo iyer seefe feyiyeech
Turkish: Noeliniz Ve Yeni Yiliniz Kutlu Olsun
Tutchone/Northern: t'ohudinch'i Hulin Dzenu & Eyum nan ek'an nenatth'at danji te yesohuthin ch'e hadaatle
Ukrainian: Srozhdestvom Kristovym or Z RIZDVOM HRYSTOVYM
Urda: Naya Saai Mubaraj Go (Good Year)
Vietnamese: Chuc Mung Giang Sinh
Welsh: Nadolig Llawen
Western Apache: Gozhqq Keshmish
Yoruba: E ku odun, e ku iye'dun
Yoruba (Nigeria): E ku odun, e hu iye' dun
Yupik Eskimo, Alaska: Alussistuaqegtaarmek Piamceci!
Yupik/Siberian: Quyanalghii Kuusma & Quyangalleq Nutaghamun Aymiqulleq Zimbabwe
Zulu (South Africa): Sinifisela Ukhisimusi Omuhle

A special thank you to the DLA Land and Maritime’s Special Emphasis Programs for providing insight on how those around the globe celebrate the holiday seasons.

For more information, visit the Special Emphasis Programs site.