Many people of different cultures and faiths around the world celebrate various days of significance, ranging from cultural festivals, religious holy days, important birthdates of world leaders and faith founders to commemorative dates. Each celebration has its unique traditions and they share many common themes including family and friends, light and goodwill, food and drinks, gift-giving, prayers, and respect and understanding. Peace in the world will only be achieved with the understanding that all cultures and faiths have equal value.
January 1 New Year’s Day
New Year’s Day is the first day of the Julian calendar year. Traditionally, many families and friends visit each other to bear good wishes for the new year. Many people make New Year’s resolutions, which they hope to fulfill in the coming year.
January Martin Luther King Jr. Day
Canadians and Americans celebrate the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. on the third Monday of every January. Dr. King brought hope and healing to many people. It commemorates the important values he lived and shared: courage, truth, justice, compassion, dignity, humility and service.
This Hindu harvest festival is celebrated in mostly in South India in the state of Tamil Nadu. The festival has different names depending, on the region of India it is celebrated. For four days, people throw away old clothes; boil rice with fresh milk topped with brown sugar, cashew nuts and raisins; participate in taming a wild bull contest; and visit beaches and theme parks.
January Twelfth Night/Dia de los Reyes
This Christian festival includes many different types of foods and drinks, such as tortell and king cake, which are baked on Twelfth Night.
January/February Lunar New Year
This cultural and religious celebration is celebrated by Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese families. Traditions and customs of this festival include cleaning homes, making amends with family and friends, lighting firecrackers and preparing a family feast. Married couples give children red envelopes called lai si, also known as ‘lucky money,’ to buy new clothes or new shoes.
This Buddhist New Year festival is celebrated for two weeks when people paint their homes and hang strings of colourful prayer flags called ‘Losar bunting,’ which reflect a prayer or a wish. Families also wear new clothes and resolve quarrels and debts.
February Tu B’Shevat
This is the Jewish New Year for trees, also known as Jewish Arbor Day. Jewish people celebrate the coming of spring and the importance of taking care of the environment. The date for Tu B’Shevat (the 15th day of the Hebrew month Shevat) was chosen because it is the day that the almond tree buds—the first tree to bud in the land of Israel. Children in Israel plant trees on this special day, and Jewish people living around the world donate to the Jewish National Fund, which plants trees in Israel all year round.
This celebration is one of the most joyous days in the Jewish religion. It recounts the events in the biblical book of Esther. Esther, a Jewish orphan, becomes the queen of Persia and helps to save the Jewish people from being killed by their enemies. Children deliver special foods and drinks to friends and give to charity. Everyone listens to the story of Esther read in synagogue, and afterwards, there are carnivals, costumed parades and plays performing the story of Esther. Poppyseed cookies, called Hamentashen, are very popular treats.
This popular Hindu spring festival is celebrated for two days. On the first day, a bonfire is lit at night and on the second day, people throw coloured powder and water at each other to welcome spring. They also prepare a special drink called thandai and invite family and friends for feasts and celebrations.
March Naw Ruz
This festival celebrates the first day of spring and the beginning of the Iranian year, as well as the beginning of the Baha’i year. Traditions and customs include women wearing beautiful coloured dresses and spangled head scarves and young men wave flags of green, yellow and red. People also light fire and dance around it during this festival.
This New Year is celebrated by Sikhs and Hindus, who bring flowers and offerings to their place of worship before dawn. For Hindus, it is the start of the harvest season. Families participate in a fair, eat delicious sweets and fruits, and take a ritual bath of renewal.
Sikhs celebrate Vaisakhi to honour the birth of the Khalsa. On this day in 16 , Guru Gobind Singh Ji, the tenth Guru of the Sikhs, initiated a ceremony to form the Khalsa, a ‘community of equals.’ To further abolish the distinctive caste system, males were all given the common last name ‘Singh,’ meaning ‘lion’ to encourage courageousness, and females were given dignity with the title ‘Kaur,’ meaning princess. Sikhs would now be easily identifiable by their 5 K’s, one being the Kesh, long hair, being covered by a turban. These made Sikhs accountable for their actions and ensured they would always stand out in a crowd in a mandate to be aware of their own conduct, as well as protecting the human rights of others.
Many Christians celebrate this day as a reminder both of Jesus’ resurrection and their commitment to living a life of truth, justice and love. Some Christian families attend midnight mass and candlelight vigil, sing hymns to praise their God, and gather together for dinner.
This Jewish celebration, also known as the ‘festival of freedom,’ commemorates the Exodus, when God freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. For seven days, Jewish people eat unleavened bread called matzah, and on the first day, the whole family gathers at home for a festive meal called the Seder. During the Seder, the family reads the story of the Exodus, says special prayers, and eats symbolic foods that remind them of the miracles of Passover.
This is the most important Baha’í festival and one of the most joyous periods in the Baha’i calender. The Festival of Ridvan contains three Holy Days: April 1, , and May . It commemorates the commencement of Bahau’llah’s prophethood. The announcement took place in the garden of Ridvan (‘paradise’) in Baghdad in 1863, just before Baha’u’llah departed for Constantinople, having been exiled by government authorities who felt threatened by his growing influence. It is also known as the ‘Most Great Festival’ and the ‘King of Festivals.’
May Anniversary of the Declaration of the Bab
Baha’is celebrate May 3 as the day when the Bab announced the imminent appearance of ‘He Whom God shall make manifest’ (Baha’u’llah). Both a herald of the Baha’i faith and the bearer of an independent Revelation of God, the Bab is regarded by Baha’is as a distinct Messenger of God.
May Cinco de Mayo
This holiday is celebrated on May 5 in Mexico and the United States. It commemorates the Mexican victory over the French occupational forces in the Battle of Puebla. People observe this holiday by enjoying food and drink accompanied with music and dancing.
May Wesak/Wesah/Visakha Puja
This celebration is the most important religious holiday for Buddhists in Asia. Traditions and customs include distributing gifts in cash and kind to various charities, decorating and illuminating temples, and painting and creating beautiful scenes from Buddha’s life. Buddhist families also prepare vegetarian dishes and light candles and lanterns.
Fifty days after the first day of Passover is the Feast of Shavuot, the Feast of Firsts Fruits. This is a very special feast for Jewish people, especially in Israel. Traditionally, Jewish people from all over the world travel to Israel to celebrate the first fruits of the harvest and God giving the Torah to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai. Special customs include studying the Torah all through the night, and eating dairy foods—especially desserts.
June 1 Peace Tree Day
This international celebration takes place on June 1, and unites families of every culture and faith to celebrate peace and diversity TOGETHER! The festival inspires children to take pride in their heritage and to share it with others, while discovering the vibrant cultures, traditions and festivals around the world with their families. It is also a time to encourage young people to share their talents and develop compassion for others. Students from diverse backgrounds work together, combining elements from different cultures to create new forms of art, which will help raise funds to assist underprivileged children around the world.
June 21 First Nations Day/National Aboriginal Day
This Canadian celebration on June 1 recognizes the diverse cultures and outstanding contributions of the First Nations, Inuit and Métis, collectively known as Aboriginal peoples in Canada.
July AsalaDharma Day
Every July 10, Buddhists celebrate the anniversary of the start of Buddha’s teaching—his first sermon after his enlightenment, known as ‘The Wheel of Truth.’
July Ratha Yatra
This Hindu festival is celebrated all over India. Every year, the deities of Jagannath Mandir—Lord Krishna, Balaram and Subhadra—are traditionally installed on huge chariots, and thousands of devotees pull them in a yatra (procession) through the streets. The local king used to serve by humbly sweeping the road ahead with a golden broom.
This Hindu festival lasts for ten days and is celebrated by people in the state of Kerela in South India. It is both a celebration of past history and a celebration of harvest. Two important aspects about Onam are the onakkodi, the new dress worn on this day, and onam sadhya, an elaborate feast. People create a multi-coloured floral decoration on the ground in front of their home called pookkalam.
August Raksha Bandhan
This Hindu festival celebrates the relationship between brothers and sisters. This festival is marked by the tying of a rakhi, or holy thread, by the sister on the wrist of her brother. The brother offers a gift to his sister and vows to look after her. The siblings traditionally feed each other sweets.
Hindus spend nine days with music, dance and devotion to the Gods in celebrating the Festival of Navarati. They wear colourful traditional clothing, sing traditional songs and participate in activi- ties that focus on learning. Dussera marks the day on which Lord Rama liberated his wife Sita, who had been abducted by Ravana, the King of Lanka.
September New Year/Nayrouz
The Coptics celebrate their New Year by preparing a parade of martyrs and a special feast for family, friends, and community. They wear new clothes, sing hymns, and go to church.
September Rosh Hashanah
Rosh Hashanah is one of the High Holy Days and the beginning of the Ten Days of Awe for Jewish people. It is a joyous and reverent holiday, in which Jewish people celebrate the coming of a new year with festive meals full of sweet foods symbolizing sweetness for the New Year. Jewish people also go to synagogue to worship God and reflect on their lives. They ask forgiveness for the mistakes they have made and ask God to help them do good deeds in the new year.
September/October Yom Kippur
Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, concludes the Ten Days of Awe and is the most sacred of the High Holy Days. It is a very solemn day on which all of the Jewish people fast and pray for an entire day. They ask God for forgiveness for the mistakes that they have made during the year, and they also forgive each other for wrongs they have done. At the end of the day, the rabbi blows the shofar, which is a ram’s horn that sounds like a trumpet, and everyone shares a festive meal.
October 2 Mahatma Gandhi’s Birthday
Gandhi’s birthday on October is a national holiday in India. Gandhi dedicated his life to discovering truth and promoting non-violence in the world. His commitment to peace and justice influenced world leaders such as the Dalai Lama, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela.
October 15 Peace Tree Spirit Festival!
In honour of Mahatma Gandhi, the Peace Tree Spirit Festival is an occasion for families of every culture and faith to unite, interact and celebrate the ‘Festival of Lights’ together, including Diwali, Eid, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and Lunar New Year. The festival is decorated with diyas, menorahs, candles, kinaras and Chinese Lanterns. Children from diverse backgrounds perform dance and music, and share stories and traditions of each celebration, highlighting the commonalities between each festival.
The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize that at the center of the universe dwells the Great Spirit, and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us. Black Elk
October 20 Birthday of Guru Nanak Jayanti (Sikhism)
This Sikh celebration recognizes the birthday of Guru Nanak, who founded the Sikh religion. It emphasizes the importance of his humanitarian ideals and acts. This holiday lasts for three days, during which people sing hymns of praise, read scripture, participate in the bhangra dance, and enjoy the sounds of the dholak (folk drum). Many people illuminate their homes with lamps and candles.
Sukkot is a very joyous festival that Jewish people celebrate for eight days. Traditionally, Jewish people from all over the world travel to Israel to thank God for the fall harvest. They also build decorative booths, where they eat festive meals for all eight days. This is why Sukkot is also called the Feast of Tabernacles or Booths. Light is also an important theme for Sukkot, because of the light of God that filled the Holy Temple. In memory of this, Jewish people create large bonfires, dance, and sing songs to thank God for all their blessings.
The Hindu Festival of Lights is called Diwali. The festival honours the Goddess Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth and prosperity. The ancient Hindu epic Ramayana is an important element of the festival, which celebrates the return of King Rama from his exile of 14 years and also his defeat of the demonic King Ravana of Lanka (today, Sri Lanka). It is therefore known as a festival of ‘good over evil.’ On Diwali, people wear new clothes, present gifts, and watch beautiful fireworks. Families and friends light small clay lamps, called diyas, to welcome the Goddess and create rangoli patterns at their front door.
Thanksgiving is a celebration when families give thanks for their family, friends and health.
November Anniversary of the Birth of Baha’u’llah
Baha’u’llah, the Founder of the Baha’i faith, was born on November 1 , 181 in Persia (now Iran). Regarded as a new and independent Messenger of God, Baha’u’llah espoused teachings whose central message was that of unity. He taught that there is only one God, one human race, and that all of the world’s religions represent stages in the revelation of God’s will to humanity. The observance of this day, like all other Baha’i Holy Days, is open to all people and can take many forms, but is often characterized by a devotional, artistic, and social portion.
November 12 Birth of Bahá’u’lláh
This celebration recognizes the birth of Bahau’llah, who founded the Baha’í faith. People do not go to work that day, and instead, enjoy food, songs, and reading of Baha’í scriptures.
April according to Nanakshahi calendar/November Birthday of Guru Nanak Dev Ji
Guru Nanak Dev Ji founded the Sikh religion and preached the universality of all beings. He was a humanitarian who brought great awareness against the discrimination and prejudices we still face today. Sikhs celebrate his birthday by visiting the Gurudwara.
The Jewish Festival of Lights is called Hanukkah/Chanukah. Hanukkah is also called the Feast of Dedication, in which Jewish people celebrate what it means to be dedicated to God. This celebration is observed by lighting the eight candles on the menorah, one additional candle each night. Latkes, or potato pancakes, are traditionally eaten, and children play the dreidel game.
December 25 Christmas
Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus on December 5, Christmas Day. Traditions and customs include the displaying the Nativity scenes, decorating the Christmas tree, exchanging gifts and cards, and spending time with family and friends. It is a time for family, joy, giving and peace.
December 26 to January 1 Kwanzaa
This festival has seven days of celebration and emphasizes the importance of family, community and culture among African-Canadian and African-American people. It begins on December 6 and lasts until January 1. Families light candles on the kinara, drink from the unity cup, remind each other of the seven principles of Kwanzaa, prepare feasts, sings songs, perform dances and exchange educational or cultural handmade gifts with family and friends.
The fourth of the five pillars of Islam is fasting, which is practised during the month of Ramadan, considered the most spiritually significant month of the Islamic year. A time of spiritual dedication and compassion for others, the month of Ramadan is considered a celebration and a blessing. Prayers, fasting, and self-accountability are especially observed. The fast is intended to raise a Muslim’s level of closeness to God, as well as increase feelings of peace, patience, thankfulness, forgiveness, and charity through self-discipline, sacrifice, and a particular attention to the needs of others. Although fasting is mandatory for Muslims, it is also exempt for those with health issues, children and the elderly. In addition to fasting, Muslims are encouraged to read the entire Qur’an during Ramadan, either in their homes or in the mosque through special prayers, called Tarawih, during which a whole section, Juz, which is 1/30 of the Qur’an, is recited each night until the end of the month.
This festival marks the end of Ramadan. The morning after the final fast of the month, mostly men and boys attend Eid prayers at the mosque. Women sometimes go to the mosque as well or have prayers in their homes. If their circumstances allow, Muslims buy and wear new clothes, and give money to the poor. As in Ramadan, food is also shared with the needy so that there is feasting at all levels of a community. Families visit relatives and friends in a spirit of harmony and unity, and wish them joy and happiness. In some Muslim families—mostly South Asian—children are given eidee, a small gift of money from their family elders as part of the celebration.
This religious festival is celebrated by Muslims worldwide as a commemoration of Prophet Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son for God, for which God provided him a sheep to sacrifice instead. Muslims who can afford to are expected to sacrifice domestic animals such as sheep, cows, goats and camels as a symbol of Prophet Ibrahim’s faith and obedience to God. The meat is shared among families, and a large portio is also set aside to give to the less fortunate. During this three-day celebration, Muslims dress in fine clothing, and morning prayers are followed by a sermon and then by celebrations with family and friends. Eid-ul-Adha is celebrated at the end of the Islamic month of Hajj, when pilgrims descend from Mount Arafat having completed the pilgrimage.