Integral to understanding any culture’s roots and motivations is at least a basic understanding of their major religious traditions. The most visual display of any culture’s religious practices can be seen on the major religious holidays and the festivals, ceremonies, and public celebrations that accompany them. This photo essay gives you a glimpse of major religious holidays you can experience around the globe, and some of the sights and sounds you can expect to encounter at these holy, and fun, gatherings.
#1 Dia de la Virgen de Guadalupe - Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico
December 12—One of the most important Mexican festivals, this dia is dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe, who serves as the harbinger of the Christmas season. On this day, thousands of Mexicans make the pilgrimage to the capital, Mexico City, in order to visit the monumental image of the Virgen Morena at the Basílica de Guadalupe. These faithful men and women make the journey to honor their beloved saint with prayer throughout the night. For those who do not make the pilgrimage, fiestas are held in every corner of the country.
#2 Hanukkah in Israel
Hanukkah, or the Jewish Festival of Lights, commemorates the 2nd century BC reclamation of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Occurring in the winter season—the 25th day of Kislev according to the Hebrew calendar—it lasts eight days and eight nights. In memory of the ancient days of religious persecution, followers light one candle per night; in total, the traditional menorah holds nine, the center one elevated above the rest to light the others.
#3 Diwali in India
Known as the “Festival of Lights,” Diwali is one of the most important and beautiful holidays in the Hindu religion. It is practiced throughout South East Asia, in countries like Nepal and Sri Lanka, but it is most widely practiced in India. It usually occurs for four days between mid-October to December, but fluctuates based on the Hindu calendar. Clay diyas are lit throughout the house to welcome the goddess Lakshmi and vanquish demons. The streets of India and many Hindu countries come alive with parades, lights, and food stands, so don’t miss out!
Photo Credit: Diya
#4 Christmas in Germany
Although Christmas is celebrated worldwide, it is exceptionally joyous in Germany. Christmas celebrations begin on December 6th, also known as St. Nicholas Day. The country is filled with magnificent trees, ornaments, love of life, and Christmas cheer. In addition, each year a Christmas market, called the Stuttgarter Weihnachtsmarkt, is held in Stuttgart’s center plaza. It is also known as a children’s wonderland, so if you ever plan a family trip to Germany during Christmas, definitely check this place out.
#5 Dia de los Muertos - Day of the Dead in Mexico
Dia de Los Muertos is one of the most important holidays in Mexico. It is celebrated by honoring loved ones that have passed. Every home hosts a beautiful altar, decorated with pictures of the deceased, marigolds, intricate sugar skulls, and traditional Mexican food presented as offerings to the dead. The celebrations last from November 1 to 2, in accordance with the Catholic holidays All Saints Day (November 1) and All Souls Day (November 2).
#6 Winter's Solstice in Scandinavia
Winter Solstice, also known as Yule or Yuletide, is a pagan holiday traditionally celebrated in late December or early January. Though the date is determined by the Germanic calendar, the later adoption of the Julian calendar has equated the festival with Christmas—however, the holiday has become increasingly non-religious. Particularly in Scandinavian cultures, like Norway’s, Yule is celebrated as a homage to winter season and as such supersedes Christmas as the most cherished holiday.
#7 Eid-ul-Fitr in India
Marking the end of the most religious holiday in the Muslim practice—Ramadan—Eid al-Fitr is a time for families to break their fasts and join together in festivities. Families become especially hospitable and friendly, rejoicing in the conclusion of their month-long fast. Families gather around amazing food, stimulating conversation, and fun parties.
#8 St. Patrick's Day in Ireland
St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland has been celebrated since the Middle Ages, but has more recently become a national day of festivities with parades in Dublin, and cities and villages around England. The biggest celebrations take place in Downpatrick, just outside of Dublin, believed by many to be where St. Patrick was buried. Thousands of people gather to watch the bright musical performances. If you find yourself in Ireland this spring, be sure to check out Ireland’s most celebrated holiday!
#9 Visakha Bucha - Vesak Day in Thailand
Vesak Day, or more loosely called “Buddha’s Birthday” is a celebration of the birth, enlightenment, and death of Bhudda, and coincides with the full moon. In Thailand, and much of Southeast Asia, Vesak Day falls in May or June. In the morning people congregate in Buddhist temples all over Thailand to pray and listen to sermons. The ceremonies are followed by candlelight processions at night. As a tourist, you are welcome to join in on the celebrations, or simply watch the peaceful worshipers.
#10 Semana Santa - Holy Week in Spain
Although Holy Week is celebrated throughout Latin America, Asia, and Europe; celebrations are especially notable in Andalucia. In Seville, floats are decorated with life-like painted wooden sculptures, showing various events leading from Jesus’s entrance into Jerusalem to his burial. The vibrant celebrations in Andalucia contrast with more somber processions elsewhere in Spain, such as in Castile.