Japan – Ōmisoka and Oshogatsu
In order to start the new year fresh in Japan, many people spend the last day of the year, called Ōmisoka, carrying out activities like house cleaning. People often gather one final time to eat toshikoshi soba or udon. This tradition comes from the easily cut noodles which are associated with letting go the hardships of the past year. Crossing into the new year is a three day period called Oshogatsu. Large numbers of Japanese visit a shrine for Hatsumode, the year’s first shrine visit to make a wish in this period. Visitors also often buy a pre-written oracle called an omikuji that tells the buyer how they will do in various aspects of life.
Colombia – Día de las Velitas (Day of the Little Candles)
Started in 2003, La Alborada (The Dawn) is a relatively new winter holiday. This holiday gives December a warm and lively welcome with grand firework shows on Nov. 30. The Colombian city of Medellín is a popular hub of vibrant Christmas lights which is a prominent tourist attraction. Before La Alborada was created, Día de las Velitas was the official start to the holiday season. It gets its name from the tradition of lining roads that the Virgin Mary will travel through with candles and lanterns. The holiday celebrates the eve of the Immaculate Conception on Dec. 7 and parties leak into the next day.
Puerto Rico – Día de los Reyes (Three Kings Day)
In Puerto Rico, Día de los Reyes, or Three Kings Day starts right after Christmas and continues all the way through Jan. 6. The holiday celebrates the biblical story of the three kings who traveled to visit and deliver gifts to Jesus Christ. Children place a box of straw under their bed to feed the three kings’ horses while the kings bring their gifts. Children who behave well will be rewarded in the morning with candies or other small treats in their box. A popular dish enjoyed on this holiday is a wreath-shaped sweet bread called Rosca de Reyes (Kings’ Wreath) that is embellished with candied fruit and contains a figure of a baby inside.
Bulgaria – Baba Marta Day
Towards the end of winter in Bulgaria is Baba Marta Day, held on March 1. On this day, people buy or make martenitsa which are tiny red and white wool dolls given to close friends and loved ones to wear. The wearer takes it off when they spot a stork or swallow returning from migration or until they come across a blossoming tree. The ritual of taking off the adornment varies throughout the country with some tying the dolls onto a tree while others place it under a stone. Stemming from folklore about Baba Marta the final holidays of winter revolve around her with ritual activities to quell her anger.