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Winter Celebrations Around the World

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Have fun discovering seasonal customs from an array of cultures

Every culture has its own unique set of customs and beliefs that reflect its history and identity. When winter rolls around, many people around the world celebrate the season in one way or another. Learning about these customs provides interesting insights into the lifestyles of global neighbors, and you'll even discover some fun facts that are great for breaking the ice at holiday parties, too.

A Croatian Christmas involves a tree, paper chains, lights and colored thread or tinsel. In addition, fruits, nuts, heart-shaped cookies and other sweets typically adorn the evergreens in this Eastern European country. Other traditions vary throughout the country, and lucky children might get presents as many as three times during the month of December; Saint Nicholas delivers presents on the eve of December 6 while St. Lucy is said to arrive with gifts on December 13. In some parts of Croatia, Santa Claus has also become an increasingly popular guest in many homes on Christmas Eve.

December below the equator comes in the summer, and this means that Christmas celebrations in South Africa are more likely to take place at the beach than around a blazing Yule Log. Family and friends get together to share the spirit of the season, often going for a swim or finding other outdoor ways to celebrate. Mince pie and plum pudding are very popular holiday foods. Boxing Day, on December 26, is a public holiday during which people relax and enjoy the outdoors.

Toward the other end of the globe, in Finland, every town has a formal celebration with a candle-crowned young girl on December 13, the day of Saint Lucia. Christmas Eve festivities consist of singing traditional carols and enjoying a large holiday meal. In rural areas, no one eats until the birds have finished with the specially-erected feeder filled with grain, nuts and seeds - maybe because it's bad luck, or maybe because it's simply impolite, but most important, because it's tradition.

The Hindu festival of Pancha Ganapati runs from December 21 through the 25 and celebrates Lord Ganesha, the Patron of the Arts and Guardian of Culture. A shrine dedicated to Lord Ganesha is erected in every family's home and is often decorated with tinsel, colored lights and delicate ornaments. Children leave sweet offerings in the shrine, just as milk and cookies might be left out for Santa.

December celebrations are hardly consistent from culture to culture, and part of the magic of the season is the diversity it brings and the window it provides into other ways of life.

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