Ten Major Global Celebrations: Traditions, Symbols, Foods & a Book List

Billions of people all over the world celebrate 10 major holidays. Most of the people are engaged as religious participants, while others are happy to share in the festivities.

Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists & Jews make up over 70% of the world’s population. Although some countries have greater concentrations of these religions than others, they each have believers in all parts of the planet. So, their celebrations are huge and occur all over the globe!

For each holiday, I’ve included a short definition of the celebration; traditional symbols associated with each one; special , customary foods prepared in different cultures; and a book list with a variety of fiction & nonfiction writings, page numbers & Grade Levels to share with your family.

Easter

Easter-Brusa12
Easter-Brusa12

Celebrated by millions of Christians around the world, Easter Sunday can fall any time between March 22 & April 20. It follows Good Friday and marks the end of a 40-day Lenten Season, a period of fasting to honor the Crucifixion & Resurrection of Jesus Christ, the founder of the Christian religion. Many go to church for Sunrise Services. Dressed in Easter bonnets and bright Spring colors, children hunt for an Easter basket filled with chocolates, jelly beans, marshmallowy candy,  and, of course, eggs. Some cities hold parades for people to dance in their new Spring fashions.

Symbols

  • Crucifix
  • Palm fronds
  • Easter lily
  • Candles
  • Spring
  • Colored eggs
  • Baskets
  • Lambs, bunnies & chicks
  • Flowers 

Festive Foods

Special rich, eggy sweet breads are baked all over the world to celebrate Easter: Hot cross buns may have been created by the ancient Greeks & later made by Anglican monks. Russians bake Kulich; Ukrainians bake Babka & Greeks bake a braided bread with colored eggs tucked inside called Tsoureki. Vegetables at the Easter dinner table are usually, carrots, asparagus & spring peas. My mother’s Easter Sunday began with an iced cinnamon raisin bread, and, then for a late afternoon dinner~  a baked ham, deviled eggs, potato salad vinaigrette, freshly sauteed green beans or carrots & yeasted, golden, light-as-air rolls. My table is pretty much the same, except I serve a large piece of fish with a lemony, butter sauce.

Book List

  • Rechenka’s Eggs ~ Patricia Polacco 32pgs/GLK-3
  • Miz Fannie Mae’s Fine New Easter Hat ~ Melissa Milich 32pgs/GLK-3
  • The Easter Egg ~ Jan Brett 32pgs/GLK-2
  • Easter ~ Miriam Nerlove 24pgs/GLK-3
  • Easter ~ Gail Gibbons 32pgs/GLK-3
  • The Egg Tree ~ Katherine Milhons 32pgs/GL1-4
  • National Geographic’s Celebrate Easter ~ Deborah Heiligman 32pgs/GL1-4
  • The Story of the Easter Bunny ~ Katherine Tegen 40pgs/GLK-3
  • The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes ~ Dubose Heyward 48pgs/GLK-3
  • The Donkey That No One Could Ride ~ Anthony DeStefano 32pgs/GLPK-2

Christmas

Christmas-Anviere
Christmas-Anviere

Millions of people who traditionally celebrate the Christmas Season  view it as a time of good cheer, gift-giving, and, for many Christians, marking  the birth of Jesus Christ. Christmas Day is on December 25 with, for some , a pre-season of 4 weeks called Advent, to prepare for the big day. Many countries celebrate 12 days of Christmas, beginning on the 25th & ending on January 6th when the Magi brought their gifts to the Christ child. There are always decorations galore~inside & outside the home,  businesses, too.  Gifts of all kinds are handmade & purchased in record numbers with Santa Claus receiving a lot of the attention. Traditional carols can be heard everywhere & snow is usually a heartfelt wish.

Symbols

  • Nativity Scene
  • Carols & ” The Miracle of Christmas”  Stories
  • Decorated evergreen trees, wreaths & garlands
  • Candles & twinkling lights
  • Angels
  • Bells
  • Stockings
  • Santa Claus & his international counterparts
  • Candy canes, sugar plums &  festive cookies

Festive Foods

My mother’s sweet Christmas table was filled with beautifully iced cut-out sugar cookies, ginger snaps, Russian teacakes, pecan “fingers”, creamy fudge, pies & fruited breads. Our noses woke up on Christmas morning to handmade cinnamon, raisin buns. Dinner was either a stuffed turkey or garlic-tucked roast beef served with cheesy mashed potatoes, fresh veggies & her savory salad. Special sweets & breads   are thoughtfully prepared in every Christmas kitchen: Italy~Panettone, Germany~Gingerbread houses, England~Figgy pudding, France~Buche de Noel, Poland~Stollen & Fruitcakes. & Montenegro’s Kutia. Traditional main dishes range from Japan’s Fried Chicken, Mexico & South America’s Tamales, Sweden’s Julbord, Philippines’ Roasted Pig, Greece’s Avgolemono & Australia’s summer fare of Shrimp on the Barbee.

Book List

  • Room for a Little One ~ Martin Waddell 32pgs/GLPK-3
  • How the Grinch Stole Christmas ~ Dr. Seuss 64pgs/GLK-4
  • The Polar Express ~ Chris Van Allsburg 32pgs/GLPK-3
  • Bear Stays Up for Christmas ~ Karma Wilson 40pgs/GLPK-3
  • Christmas Is ~ Gail Gibbons 32pgs/GLPK-3
  • National Geographic’s Celebrate Christmas ~ Deborah Heiligman 32pgs/GL1-4
  • The Wild Christmas Reindeer ~ Jan Brett 32pgs/GLK-3
  • Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree ~ Robert Barry 32pgs/GLPK-2
  • An Orange for Frankie ~ Patricia Polacco 48pgs/GL1-4
  • The Christmas Magic ~ Lauren Thompson 40pgs/GLPK-3

Ramadan

Ramadan-Poster-SMdraw
Ramadan-Poster-SMdraw

For Muslims around the world, Ramadan is the Islamic Holy Month to honor the time when Allah (God) revealed the words of the Koran (the Islamic Bible) to Mohammed, the religion’s founder. It begins on the first crescent moon of their calendar & changes every year. This 30-day period of fasting, which means no eating or drinking during daylight,  begins at dawn each day and ends at sunset with a large meal. Children, pregnant women, the elderly as well as the sick are exceptions from this observance. Increased prayer ~ beyond the usual 5 times a day ~ with frequent acts of kindness are part of this month.

Symbols

  • Crescent moon & star
  • Lanterns
  • Drummer
  • Eight-pointed star
  • Dates (the fruit)
  • Prayer rug
  • Mosques

Festive Foods

Ramadan is not a “festive” time. However, traditional foods are eaten to help believers maintain their fasting. For the pre-dawn meal ~ suhur~ people usually drink lots of water, dates & almonds, eggs, oatmeal or rice with a protein powdered fruit smoothie. The sunset meal~iftar~varies by country and the time of year. It usually begins with dates followed  by fresh fruits & veggies, specially-handled meats, breads & cheese: India’s Lentil dumplings, Middle East’s Mutton stew, Turkey’s Lamb kebabs, North Africa’s Fava bean dip on bread, and China’s Bread & mutton soup. Special sweet dishes include Middle East’s Cheese pastry & Indonesia’s Sweetened fruits & coconut milk.

Book List

  • A Party in Ramadan ~ Asma Mobin-Uddin 32pgs/GL2-4
  • Lailah’s Lunchbox ~ Reem Faruqi 32pgs/GLK-4
  • Fasting and Dates ~ Jonny Zucker 24pgs/GLK-2
  • Night of the Moon ~ Hena Khan 36pgs/GLK-2
  • The Jinni on the Roof ~ Natasha Rafi 40pgs/GLK-3
  • Ramadan Joy ~ Omar Khawaja 32pgs/GLK-2

Eid al-Fitr

Eid-alFitr-Nawalescape
Eid-alFitr-Nawalescape

This Muslim celebration follows Ramadan. Eid al-Fitr means the  Festival of Breaking Fast and is  3 days of visiting friends & family, sharing gifts & giving money to the poor while wearing new, festive clothing & eating festive foods. Women wear mendhi, or henna, designs on their hands & feet.  

Symbols

The symbols of Eid al-Fitr are the same as those listed for Ramadan.

Festive Foods

Many savory & sweet dishes are prepared especially for the Eid al-Fitr table. Savory dishes include: China’s You Xiang, UK’s Biryani, Russia’s Manti, Yemen’s Aseeda,  Afghanistan’s Bolani, Malaysia’s Rendanq as well as Haleem-a meaty lentil stew, Tangri Kebabs- tandoori chicken drumsticks & Shahi Biryani-layers of creamy mutton & saffron rice. Sweets usually include milk, honey & dates, such as Indonesia’s Lapis Legit & Morocco’s Laasida.

Book List

  • Rashad’s Ramadan & Eid al-Fitr ~ Lisa Bullard 24pgs/GLK-2
  • Let’s Celebrate Ramadan & Eid al-Fitr (Maya & Neel series) ~ Ajanta Chakraborty 40pgs/GLK-2
  • National Geographic’s Celebrate Ramadan & Eid al-Fitr ~ Deborah Heiligman 32pgs/GL1-4
  • An Eid for Everybody ~ Hina Islam 24pgs/GLK-2
  • Fantastic Festival of Eid al-Fitr ~ Ilyas & Duck sries 32pgs//GLK-2

Diwali

Diwali-Deshkhanna
Diwali-Deshkhanna

Diwali, or The Festival of Lights, is an ancient  5-day celebration of Indian Hindus, Sikhs & Jains with each day having its own rituals & festivities. This Fall festival begins on the new moon between mid-September & mid-November. Although different countries have different traditional customs, most view this festival as a celebration of “good overpowering evil”.  So, they may clean & decorate their homes by whitewashing & painting designs on their walls, drawing pictures on their doorsteps with rice flour &  hanging paper lanterns, while lighting diya lamps & displaying bouquets of marigolds on the inside of their homes. Some buy new clothes & gold jewelry, dance & play music, give cards & presents, go to the mandir ( a building for worship) and watch the fireworks at night. Lots of special sweets are prepared & eaten, too.

Symbols

  • Diya lamp
  • Candles
  • Fireworks
  • Rangoli floor patterns
  • Marigolds
  • Mandir
  • Sweets

Festive Foods

Many sweets are made with an ingredient called khoya, which is condensed milk, thickened to a solid. Chickpea flour, semolina, dried fruits, carrots & pumpkin are popular ingredients as well. Some regional sweets are: Delhi’s Kheel Batasha, Rajastan’s Mawa Kachoris, Gujarat’s Moti Pak & Punjabi’s Pinni. Savory dishes may be: Aloo Tikki patties, Samosa triangles, Pakora veggies, Choddo Shak greens, Chakli snacks, Bhaji dumplings & Paneer spirals.

Book List

  • The Diwali Gift ~ Shweta Chopra 48pgs/GL1-3
  • Amma, Tell Me About Diwali ~ Bhakti Mathur 28pgs/GLPK-3
  • Lighting A Lamp ~ Jonny Zucker 24pgs/GLPK-2
  • Celebrate the World: Diwali ~ Hannah Eliot 24pgs/GLPK-3
  • Let’s Celebrate 5 Days of Diwali (Maya & Neel series) ~ Ajanta Chakraborty 40pgs/GLK-2
  • National Geographic’s Celebrate Diwali ~ Deborah Heiligman 32pgs/GL1-4
  • Hurray for Diwali ~ Anita R Thapan 36pgs/GLK-2
  • Let’s Celebrate Diwali ~ Anjali Joshe 35pgs/GLK-3
  • Lights, Camera, Diwali ~ Amita R Shah 32pgs/GL2-3
  • Deepak’s Diwali ~ Divya Karwal 32pgs/GLK-3

Holi

Holi-Pexels
Holi-Pexels

This 2-day Spring festival usually falls in March. Known as the Festival of Colors,  it, also, celebrates Krishna, a hero in Hindu mythology & the legend of good  Holika who defeated evil Prahalad. Beginning at night with the lighting of bonfires, singing & dancing to drums are everywhere. As the sun rises, water is poured on the dying embers, people use the ashes to mark a sign of good luck on their foreheads. Then, showers of water or powder colors are thrown around to spray anyone with the bright colors of spring. The colors are: green/new beginnings, blue/power & life, red/love & beauty, pink/joy, and yellow/healing.

Symbols

  • Colorful powders
  • Water
  • Bonfires
  • Drums
  • Dance

Festive Foods

Special snacks, meals & sweets are prepared to join in the gaiety of Holi. Snacks may include popular Papri Chaat ~ crisp wafers served with chickpeas, potatoes, tamarind chutney & yogurt and Dahi-Vada ~ spicy fritters soaked in yogurt & topped with savory herbs.  For dinner Puran Poli, saffron rice and lentils with coconut milk, kale, onions & chilies may be served. Desserts may be Gujiya dumplings, Rasmalai balls, and/or Malpua pancakes.

Book List

  • Let’s Celebrate Holi (Maya & Neel series) ~ Ajanta Chakraborty 38pgs/GLK-2
  • Festival of Colors ~ Surishtha Sehgal 32pgs/GLPK-3
  • Amma, Tell Me About Holi ~ Bhakti Mathur 28pgs/GLPK-3
  • Dev & Ollie: Color Carnival ~ Shwela Aggarwal 32pgs/GLK-3
  • It’s Time for Holi ~ Amita Shah 32pgs/GL2-3
  • Holi, the Festival of Colors ~ Nick Sharma 31pgs/GL1-3
  • Celebrations in My World: Holi ~ Lynn Peppas 32pgs/GLK-2
  • Festivals Around the World: Holi ~ Grace Jones 32pgs/GLK-2
  • Here Comes Holi: The Festival of Colors ~ Meenal Pandya 32pgs/GLK-3

Vesak

Vesak-SadahamYathra
Vesak-SadahamYathra

For hundreds of years, Buddhists all over the world celebrate Buddha’s birthday, usually thought to be the first full moon in May. This festival, also, honors Buddha’s life, enlightenment & death. On the day’s morning, believers gather at their temples to chant & sing prayers with the monks to Buddha, his teachings (Dharma) & his disciples (Sangha). Although rituals may vary in different countries,  candles, incense & flowers are usually  placed at the feet of  a Buddha statue. Some will water a Bodhi tree, the sacred fig tree under which Buddha received his Enlightenment, or 8 Steps of Living.

Symbols

  • The Bodhi tree
  • Lotus flower
  • Golden fish
  • Conch shell
  • Candles
  • Eight-spoke Dharma Wheel

 

Festive Foods

Buddhists are generally vegetarians. Lo Han Jai, or Buddha’s Delight is a vegetable & tofu stew served over bean thread noodles. Other savory dishes prepared to celebrate Vesak are : Fried Meehoon ( veggie lo-mein), Stir-Fried Tapioca Leaves, Tofu & Veggies w/ Peanut Sauce, Bean Curd & Mushroom-Fried Rice, Buddhist Monk Soup (pumpkin, beans, sweet potatoes & noodles), Vegetable Spring Rolls, and Chickpea Curry. Favorite sweets include Steamed Kuih, which are bite-sized cakes, cookies, dumplings, biscuits & pastries.

Book List

  • Buddha at Bedtime ~ Dharmachari Nagaraja 144pgs/GLPK-3
  • The Calm Buddha  at Bedtime~ Dharmachari Nagaraja 128pgs/GLPK-3
  • The Buddha’s Apprentice at Bedtime~ Dharmachari Nagaraja 128pgs/GLPK-3
  • I Once Was A Monkey: Stories Buddha Told ~ Jeanne Lee 40pgs/GLK-4
  • Under the Bodhi Tree ~ Deborah Hopkinson 32pgs/GLK-3
  • Little Sid: The Tiny Prince Who Became Buddha ~ Ian Lendler 40pgs/GLPK-3
  • The Sweeper ~ Rebecca Hazell 32pgs/GLK-4
  • The Three Silver Coins ~ Veronica Leo 32pgs/GLPK-3
  • Where’s Buddha? ~ Marisa A Ware 32pgs/GLPK-2
  • Amida’s ABCs: An Alphabet Book Based on Buddhist Teachings ~ Diane Johnson 60pgs/GLK-3

Obon

Obon-Tehbizz.
Obon-Tehbizz.

Although the Japanese Buddhist custom to honor the spirits of one’s ancestors has been celebrated in Japan for more than 500 years, it is, also, celebrated in countries all over the world. Families gather together  to visit and clean their ancestors’ graves, hoping they will come to their homes’ ancestral altars. The festival of Obon lasts for three days on the 15th day of the 7th month of the lunar year in the heat of the summer, so  people traditionally wear light cotton kimonos, or yukata. Many Obon celebrations include a huge carnival with rides, games, and summer festival food like watermelon. The  traditional dance of ancestral joy, known as Bon-Odori is an important part of this holiday.  At the closing of this 3-4 day festival, families will symbolically send their ancestors’ spirits back to their permanent dwelling place with bonfires or lanterns in a rite known as Okuribi. 

Symbols

  • Bonfires
  • Lanterns
  • Dance
  • Altar offerings : fruit,  rice, tea, saki & lotus-shaped treats
  • Flowers

Festive Foods

Feasting together with family is an important part of the Obon celebration. Special snacks, entrees & desserts are prepared. Snacks include Takoyaki (fried octopus-stuffed dough balls), Futomaki (a sweet, dried fish sushi roll), & Wontons (stuffed dumplings). Main meals may include: several different types of sushi (Chirashi or Inari), Teriyaki chicken, Yakisoba (noodles w/ meat & veggies), Grilled corn & Char-siu Udon (spicy bbq pork). Desserts can be Uji-Kintoki (shaved ice w/ several special toppings) or Mitarashi Dango (rice cake balls).

Book List

  • Grandmother Thorn ~ Katey Howes 44pgs/GLK-3
  • Tanuki’s Gift ~ Tim J Myers 32pgs/GLK-3
  • Bon Odori Dancer ~ Karen McCoy 32pgs/GLK-3
  • Obon ~ Ruth Suyenaga 23pgs/GLK-3
  • Japanese Celebrations ~ Betty Reynolds/GL1-4
  • K is for Kabuki ~ G Whelan & J Nolan 40pgs/GL1-3
  • Grandfather’s Journey ~ Allen Say 32pgs/GLK-3
  • Tea with Milk ~ Allen Say 32pgs/GLK-3
  • Three Strong Women ~ retold by Claus Stamm 32pgs/GLK-3

Passover

Passover-JeffreyPutman
Passover-JeffreyPutman

Between late March & early April, millions of believers in Judaism celebrate the Passover, or Pesach. The Jewish New Year is a 7-8-day festival honoring the Exodus to freedom of the Jews from their slavery in Egypt in 1446 BC.  Each day has its own special ritual with the first night’s seder, or ceremonial meal, as the beginning of the observance. People clean their homes, prepare special dishes/plates for the seder & remove all bread except for matzah, a thin, crisp bread made with only flour & water. A plate of 5 specific, symbolic  foods is placed in the center of the seder table, while the Exodus story is retold with songs & blessings. People may exchange gift baskets of food, wine & seder plates.

Symbols

  • The Star of David
  • The Lamb
  • Matzah
  • The Seder Plate with 5 elements: maror (bitter herbs), karpas (green vegetable), haroset (apple/nut mix), beitzah a boiled egg) & zeroa ( a lamb’s legbone)

Festive Foods

The Passover dinner table may include beef brisket, roasted lamb, Gefilte fish (poached fish dumplings), matzah ball soup, potato kugel, roasted asparagus, tzimme (carrot & prune stew) , and, of course, matzah. For dessert there may be raisin farfel kugel, apple spice cake and/or chocolate-covered matzah bits sprinkled with hazelnuts, cranberries & ginger.

Book List

  • Passover Magic~ Roni Schotter 34pgs/GL1-4
  • The Passover Lamb~ Linda Marshall 32pgs/GL1-4 
  • The Longest Night ~Laurel Snyder 40pgs/GLPK-3
  • The Elijah Door ~ Linda L Strauss 32pgs/GLPK-3
  • Matzo Ball Moon ~Lesléa Newman 32pgs/GLK-3
  • The Matzah That Papa Brought Home ~ Fran Manushkin 32pgs/GLK-2
  • More Than Enough ~ April H Wayland 40pgs/GLPK-2
  • Only Nine Chairs ~ Deborah U Miller 32pgs/GLPK-3
  • Passover Scavenger Hunt ~ Shanna Silva 24pgs/GLPK-3
  • National Geographic’s Celebrate Passover ~ Deborah Heiligman 32pgs/GL1-4

Hanukkah

Hanukkah-s2dent
Hanukkah-s2dent

During the second century B.C. , according to legend, Jews rebelled against the Greek-Syrians in the Maccabean Revolt to gain their religious freedom. This 8-day holiday is celebrated between the end of November & late December. The lighting of a 9-candle (8 plus a helper, or Shamash, candle) menorah ( a special candelabra) each night symbolizes the small amount of oil  that miraculously lasted 8 nights to keep their candles lit. Each night in their home decorated with colors of blue, silver & white,  the family lights another candle, sings songs, plays dreidel & gelt games. and eats fried potato with onion  pancakes called latkes. Exchanging gifts became part of Hanukkah’s holiday during the 1950s.

 

 

Symbols

  • Star of David
  • Blue, white & silver
  • Menorah
  • Nine candles
  • Dreidel
  • Gold coins
  • Latkes
  • Gifts

Festive Foods

Potato pancakes, or latkes, with sour cream & applesauce are the main dish served at the Hanukkah table. Also popular are fried jelly doughnuts called Sufganiyot & Challah, a braided yeast, egg bread. Dinner may include beef brisket, baked lemon & dill salmon or roasted rosemary chicken. Sides can be sauteed green beans with kale & tzimme, a carrot & sweet potato casserole or stew layered with dried fruits. Sugar cookies & lots of gelt (chocolate coins) are eaten as well.

Book List

  • Hanukkah Moon ~ Deborah da Costa 32pgs/GL1-3
  • Latkes and Applesauce ~ Fran Manushkin 32pgs/GL1-3
  • Gracie’s Night ~ Lynn T Gordon 32pgs/GLK-3
  • Mrs. Greenberg’s Messy Hanukkah ~ Linda Glaser 32pgs/GL1-3
  • The Trees of the Dancing Goats ~ Patricis Polacco 32pgs/GLPK-3
  • National Geographic’s Celebrate Hanukkah ~ Deborah Heiligman 32pgs/GL1-4
  • Simon and the Bear ~ Eric Kimmel 32pgs/GLK-2
  • My Two Grandmothers ~ Effin Older 32pgs/GLK-2
  • Latkes, Latkes, Good to Eat ~ Naomi Howland 32pgs/GLK-3
  • Inside-Out Grandma ~Joan Rothenberg 32pgs/GLPK-3

WHEW! I learned a lot during my research of these 10 Major Global Celebrations. Did you discover some useful information as well?

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