Your Guide to a Multi-Cultural Holiday Season

In Toronto, we live in one of the most culturally and ethnically diverse cities in the world. And as such, while it is easy to get caught up in the Christmas fervour, it is important to remember that there is actually a wide range of cultural, religious and ethnic holidays being celebrated around this time.

Here’s a list of some winter-time celebrations you will find being celebrated this holiday season:


Krampusnacht/ St. Nicholas Day: December 5th / December 6th

Krampus is a horned, “half-goat, half-demon” folkloric figure originating from the Alpine regions of southern Germany (Bavaria), Austria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia and Northern Italy. Krampus comes out the night of December 5th to punish naughty children. He is the foil to St. Nicholas who arrives the following the night on December 6th, to leave small presents for the well-behaved, traditionally in their boots or stockings. Today, Krampusnacht celebrations are more humorous than fearful. It is often celebrated in major international cities—including a number in North America—with street festivals, parades and costume balls.


Bodhi Day: December 8th

Bodhi Day is a Buddhist holiday that celebrates the day the historical Buddha Siddhartha Gautama achieved Nirvana, or enlightenment. It is observed by many mainstream Mahayana traditions including the traditional Zen Buddhist schools of China, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam. The day is also known as Rohatsu in Japan. Temple services are often held to commemorate the occasion and individuals may mark the day with additional meditation, small acts of kindness and a traditional meal of tea, cake, and readings.


Winter Solstice: December 21st

Astrologically, winter solstice marks the longest night of the year—and more optimistically, the promise of longer, brighter days to come. Today, it is often associated with Pagan traditions, and may be commemorated both spiritually or secularly with games, festivities, and feasts.


Hanukkah: December 24th to January 1st

Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday that commemorates the re-dedication of the Holy Temple following the successful revolt of the Maccabees against the occupying Greek Seleucid Empire in 160 BC. Known also as the “Festival of Lights,” it is celebrated for eight days and nights and is observed primarily through the lighting of a nine-branched candelabrum known as a menorah and the recitation of blessings. Festivities also often include playing dreidel and eating oil-based foods including doughnuts and latkes.


Kwanzaa: December 26th to January 1st

Deriving from the Swahili phrase matunda ya kwanza, or “first fruits of the harvest,” Kwanzaa is a seven-day celebration commemorating the influence of African heritage within the African-American culture. It was created by Maulana Karenga in 1966. Kwanzaa may be celebrated in a number of ways, but it often includes: the decoration of the home with specific Kwanzaa symbols, the use of specific Kwanzaa greetings, the lighting of a six-branched candelabrum known as a Kinara, a large Kwanzaa Karamu feast, and the giving of gifts associated with Kuumba, the spirit of creativity, education and self-satisfaction.

In Toronto, the Harriet Tubman Community Organization holds their annual Kwanzaa celebration on December 29th. Click here to register.


Orthodox Christmas: January 7th 

Unlike the Catholic and Protestant Churches, Orthodox Christians still follow the Julian calendar, which means that the birth of Christ—most commonly celebrated on December 25th—falls on January 7th. Orthodox Christians may choose to recognize the occasion by attending special liturgies and participating in festivities at orthodox churches or cultural centres. In Ottawa, our nation’s capital, the Christmas lights at Parliament Hill have remained on until January 8th, in order to account for the difference between the two calendars.


Chinese New Year: January 28th 

Celebrated around the world in countries with a significant Chinese diaspora, Chinese New Years marks the turning over of the traditional lunisolar Chinese calendar. It falls on the first new moon between January 21 and February 20: this year, on January 28th.

Traditionally, Chinese New Years has been occasion to celebrate the deities and honour the ancestors. Today, Chinese families often mark the occasion by gathering for a large meal the evening before. Windows and doors may be decorated with red paper cut-outs and the occasion may be marked with the giving of money in red envelopes.


Did we miss a winter holiday? What are your favourite holiday traditions? Let us know! Leave us a comment or write to us at We would love to hear from you!

©Kaila Simoneau for Loretta Murphy Translations. All Rights Reserved. 2016

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