How Different Cultures Celebrate the Holiday Season

Our friendly staff at Cypress Lawn loves how diverse the Bay Area is. Each year when the holiday season rolls around, our neighbors in San Francisco celebrate in a variety of unique ways. We want to share with you some of the ways different cultures celebrate this oh-so-special time of year.


Most people are familiar with Hanukkah, the eight-day Jewish celebration known as the Festival of Lights that commemorates the rededication of Jerusalem’s Second Temple in the 2nd century BCE. Traditional foods prepared and enjoyed on this holiday are latkes, fried potato pancakes, a sweet treat called sufganiyot (deep-fried, jelly-filled doughnuts), and matzo ball soup. This year, Hanukkah began on the evening of Sunday, Nov. 28, and will end on Monday, Dec. 6.


A combination of elements from a few different harvest festivals, Kwanzaa falls between Sunday, Dec. 26, and Saturday, Jan. 1, this year. The word Kwanzaa translates to “first fruits” in Swahili. Singing, dancing, storytelling, and African drumming are all parts of the week-long celebration. On each day, a candle is lit to symbolize one of seven African principles.

Las Posadas

Each year from Dec. 16-24, people living in countries like Mexico, Guatemala, and Cuba celebrate a religious festival called Las Posadas to honor the biblical journey of Mary and Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem. A small child dressed as an angel leads celebrants from home to home to “seek” lodging for the couple. The child is greeted by candy-filled piñatas and music.

St. Lucia Day

People in Sweden, Norway, Swedish-speaking areas of Finland, and parts of Italy celebrate St. Lucia Day to honor a female Christian martyr killed in 304 A.D. by the Romans. Each year on Dec. 13, a young girl is chosen to represent St. Lucia and leads a procession through town singing traditional Swedish songs in unison.


Not quite as widely celebrated as the Chinese New Year, Omisoka is the Japanese New Year. Like in the U.S., Omisoka is observed on Dec. 31. Throughout Japan, parties are held, and people write cards and send gifts to family and friends in an effort to let go of the past year. Soba or buckwheat noodles are commonly eaten on Omisoka for good luck and long life.

Hopefully, you’ve learned a thing or two about how different cultures celebrate this time of year around the world. We hope we’ve inspired you to make your own family’s celebrations extra special.

At Cypress Lawn, we encourage our neighbors to reach out to us with any questions or concerns.

Happy holidays!