International Holidays



The last few posts about Korean holidays got me thinking:

When I talk to people from the US, they are often surprised that holidays are different elsewhere. This always confuses me. Obviously Thanksgiving is a North American holiday and everyone knows that, right? Christmas is a Christian holiday and everyone knows that, right?


Moving overseas has opened me up to the vast ignorance that some US citizens have, because I get to hear about it all the time.

People say things like:

“It sure is nice of you to work in a third world country teaching kids.”

And I am horrified because South Korea is far more advanced than the USA. I am trading up, not suffering through some volunteer mission to the third world.

However, I never get more ignorance than when it comes to holidays. I have actually been asked:

“How do they celebrate Thanksgiving over there?”

How do South Koreans celebrate the Native Americans and the Pilgrims having dinner before a massacre (we hush up the massacre part)?

Well, obviously they don’t. In fact, they don’t even know that Thanksgiving is a thing. And why would they?

Because of this, I want to talk about my favorite holidays so far in the world, and remind you that every country celebrates their own things.

Lamp of Diwali
Lamp of Diwali

First: Diwali in India is the festival of lights, and it is held in autumn (based on the Hindu calendar.)

It’s a festival celebrating the victory of good over evil, and it is all about fireworks, lights, and food. Of course there is also dancing, because I challenge you to find a time when Indians don’t want to dance. I doubt such a time exists.

Diwali has a very vibrant and hopeful feel to it, and there are fireworks and lanterns and every kind of light imaginable. It is worth checking out.



Second: Dia de los Muertos, or in English, the Day of the Dead. This was traditionally the Mexican equivalent of South Korea’s Lunar New Year, in that it was the day to clean the graves of your ancestors and to celebrate their lives. However, there was an added twist: it was believed that the barrier between life and death was thinner on the Day of the Dead, and that the spirits of your family might sometimes come back on that day to visit.

The modern holiday is more of a festival than anything. There is less hanging out in cemeteries, and more eating sugar skulls and dressing up. And that is why you should go to Mexico on November 1st and see a Day of the Dead. The festival is a lot of fun, and everyone likes dressing up, right?

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Carnival in Brazil is probably the most famous festival on Earth. Although, if you are from the US, you are probably more familiar with the holiday as “Fat Tuesday.”

Carnival is the celebration before the start of the Catholic ritual of Lent, in which you are supposed to give things up to recognize the sacrifices of Jesus.

Obviously, before you give things up, you need to enjoy them properly. Carnival is a holiday entirely devoted to indulgence in every form. Much like Las Vegas in the US, it is a temple to the idea of sin. And of course, anything based entirely on sin is bound to be fun.

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For those non-US readers, Halloween is a holiday in the US celebrated on October 31st. Pagens like to claim that it is rooted in traditions from Europe, but actually it emerged in the 1950’s (yes, everything in our country is new.) It was created by candy companies, but has actually grown into an amazing holiday.

On Halloween you are meant to dress up in a costume of your choosing (everyone doesn’t wear the same thing like at Dia de los Muertos or Carnival- they all wear their own things that they make up.) Then, you go “trick or treat.”

This is the part my Korean students insist that I am making up, and they give me two reasons:

1. It’s not okay to take candy from strangers and kids all over the world all know that.

2. There would never be a thing where you knocked on random people’s doors and they gave you things, because people only care about their own families and don’t do nice things for strangers unless it’s through a charity.

Well, in spite of their very valid objections, I really am telling the truth. You go up to stranger’s homes, knock on the door, and then yell “Trick or Treat!” The strangers then give you candy, and you eat it.

It’s actually a wonderful night when neighborhoods come together. It’s also a nice excuse to watch horror movies, decorate your house like a cemetery, and tell ghost stories. It is the very best of all the US holidays.


Next up: Christmas in Germany.

Christmas has a sordid past, as it was originally the Pagan holiday of Winter Solstice, and it was a festival to raise spirits in the darkest part of winter.

When Catholics began trying to convert people, they adopted the holiday and its traditions and claimed that it was the day their savior Jesus was born. This was blatant cultural appropriation, but a thousand years later, who cares?

Germany does Christmas the way it is in story books. Huge Cathedrals, giant trees decorated to the hilt, and all the trimmings of gifts and candles and nutcrackers. If you want to experience Christmas in its purest form, no one does it better than Germany.

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The festival of Holi (or the color festival) originated in India. Indians really know how to party, and that is why they start and end this list.

Originally Holi was a religious holiday, and for some in India it still is. However, it has spread all over Southeast Asia and other parts of the world now, and is seen more as a celebration to welcome spring.

Holi includes water balloons, throwing colorful power on others, gossiping, and eating food. It is a holiday in which class and other divisions are forgotten, and everyone celebrates together.

In Thailand they hold “full moon parties” for the tourists, and these are based on various aspects on Holi, but are held every month instead of only in the spring.

There are even some color festivals in the US, though no one there knows the origin of the tradition. They just use it as an excuse to throw colors at one another.


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