Celebrating Holidays Around the World
One of the things we miss most when traveling is celebrating holidays at home, yet one of the things we love most is celebrating holidays around the world . While we’ve had amazing experiences celebrating all kinds of new and exotic holidays around the world, it’s not quite the same as sharing traditions with friends and family back home. After missing America’s Independence Day for 4 years, we’re excited to be BBQing and setting off fireworks with family this 4th of July.
While traveling, we’ve had the opportunity to experience some fun holidays on 6 different continents. Some had crazy traditions while others very much reminded American holidays. So, now that we’re finally stateside and missing all the awesome holidays abroad, we thought this would be a great time to share some of our favorite experiences celebrating holidays around the world.
Australia Day takes place annually on January 26. It commemorates the arrival of the first British fleets to arrive in Australia in 1788. It’s celebrations are very similar to those of July 4th in the US. It falls in the midst of the Australian summer, just like the 4th of July. There are parades, fireworks, carnivals, concerts, BBQs and picnics. It’s a holiday spent outside with family and friends in your community.
We celebrated Australia Day at an Australian Lawn Bowling Club. Often called a bowlo, it’s a place where communities gather to partake in lawn bowling leagues and open bowling nights. Australian lawn bowling is similar to bocce. The Australian version of the game features a small ball called “the jack” which players roll down the “rink”. Once the ball settles, players roll their “bowl” (ball designed with a weight bias to one side to promote curve) trying to come closest to the jack.
We had a great day enjoying Toohey’s beers rolling bowls with some locals, and listening to another Australia Day Tradition – Triple J’s Hottest 100. A countdown of the top 100 songs of the year. The top hit on Australia day 2013 was Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop”.
Sound fun? You too can experience Australia Day while on an Australian Working Holiday Visa.
Unique to Thailand, Songkran is a new year’s festival taking place on the days leading up to April 13th, and it is a wet one! “Songkran” when translated from Sanskrit means astrological passage. The spiritual part of this holiday usually involves temple visits to pour water over statues of Buddha. This represents a cleansing and the washing away of bad luck or sins from the previous year.
The more exciting method of celebration is the epic water fights that take place during Songkran. It’s essentially the same idea as pouring water over Buddha statues to wash sins and bad luck away, but way more fun. Epic water fights involving buckets, high powered squirt guns and hoses take place all over Thailand during Songkran celebrations.
We spent Songkran on a couple of small islands in Thailand, Koh Chang and Koh Kut. As we explored, there was no hiding from locals dousing us with water. As is local custom, we returned fire to help everyone start the new year cleansed. The water exchange is quite refreshing in the extreme tropical heat, but more importantly, you simply can’t help but feel like the happiest and biggest kid alive.
Lunar New Year
The Lunar New Year, or Chinese New Year, takes place throughout the Asian continent. The dates of this holiday vary from year to year based on the lunar cycle. On the lunar calendar, the new year takes place on the first new moon of the Gregorian Calendar. It usually falls between January 21st and February 20th. This wide date range means the celebrations last for weeks. Parades, lantern festivals, and other events make this a special time of year in many Asian countries.
Lunar New Year: Taiwan
We spent one Lunar New Year in Taiwan. While we thought visiting Taipei during this time would be a busy one, turns out it’s not the best time for a tourist to be in Taipei. While the festival around Lunar New Year takes place for weeks, the actual New Year’s day is similar to Christmas in The West…meaning families gather at home, leaving most shops, restaurants and attractions closed. Temples are busy with worshippers and night markets are still thriving though.
Lunar New Year: Vietnam
We found a similar scenario during another Lunar New Year in Vietnam. The holiday is known as Tết is Vietnamese. We found ourselves in Phong Nha, Vietnam (home to the world’s largest cave) when the holiday took place. Again, we found a very low key vibe in the town. Due to the holiday, many shops close and locals unite with family.
One of our favorite experiences celebrating holidays around the world was Tết. Children would run after us screaming Chuc Mung Nam Moi (aka Happy New Year) as we rode past on our motorbikes. What made this holiday extra special for us though was new friends. We drank copious amounts of homemade Vietnamese rice liquor and chowed down on delicious traditional foods amongst other travelers (including Jarryd and Alesha from NOMADasaurus) with the entire family from Jungle Boss Homestay.
As if that wasn’t cool enough, the surrounding valley would sporadically rumble as the night’s sky would glow from the detonation of artillery left over from the Vietnam War. It made for a fun experience as we stood outside the homestay watching and listening as bombs were being detonated and lit up the night sky around us. Not quite as pretty as a July 4th Fireworks display, but magical nonetheless. It was a surreal experience to be in the Vietnamese Jungle with bombs bursting in the distance. Definitely a holiday celebration we’ll never forget.
Ethiopian New Year
Definitely a lesser known holiday because of it’s origin, the Ethiopian New Year is an interesting one. Ethiopia is one of the only Christian nations on the African continent. A very devout sect of Christianity still resides in Ethiopia and has since the birth of the religion. Which is exactly the reason it’s only 2009 on the Ethiopian Calendar. Very long and confusing story made short, the Ethiopian calendar is 7 to 8 years behind the Gregorian Calendar because Ethiopia doesn’t start their calendar until the “Annunciation” of Christ reached Ethiopia which was somewhere between 7 to 8 year after the actual birth. Ethiopian New Year usually takes place on September 11th.
Our Ethiopian New Year Experience
Contemporary celebrations find families gathering to celebrate. On our trip to Ethiopia, we were hosted by the family members of an Ethiopian friend. That meant for New Year’s, we became part of the family. On “New Year’s Eve” we took in a traditional Ethiopian dance show at a club with traditional food and drink. Ethiopian food, alcohol and dancing are all incredibly unique and well worth a post unto itself.
After a fun night at the dance club, the next morning our hosts took us to their grandmother’s house for a day of feasting and drinking. Arriving to “grandma’s house, we were greeted by freshly slaughtered sheep and goats, and a fresh cup of homemade beer called, Tella. We sat and chatted with the family while an endless supply of delicious homecooked food was passed and tella flowed.
Side Note: Later that night, after many glasses of tella, Kari and I were practicing our Ethiopian dance moves in the checkout line of a supermarket while our host and a crowd of Ethiopians clapped and recorded video with their phones. I’d love to see some of that video!
“Sun Festival” in Quechua means the celebration of the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year and New Year’s Day on the Inca Calendar. The main Inti Raymi celebration takes place on June 24 in the modern city of Cusco. Festivities take place in the region starting on June 15th. On the 24th, the climax of the celebration, traditionally includes scenes of human and animal sacrifice. While sacrifice no longer takes place in the public arena, recreations do. The first scene takes place in the Cusco city center where the rainbow Inca Flag is raised. Some more scenes take place before a procession hikes 5 kilometers from the center of Cusco to the top of the hill. Here the final scene plays out featuring many flags and formations in the center of the Fortress of Sacsahuaman, high above Cusco in the remains of the ancient fortress.
Our First Holiday Abroad
This was the first time Kari and I celebrated a foreign festival together. As we walked out onto the streets of Cusco we found ourselves in the thick of the ceremonies. We watched and enjoyed the music and dancing. Soon we found ourselves swept up in the crowd partaking in the 5 KM hike to the Fortress of Sacsahuaman. Along the way we talked with locals toting baby llamas and alpacas. Once in the fortress, locals and travelers alike sprawled across a massive lawn and watched ritual reenactments. Still to this day we’ve never seen so much vibrant color in one place.
Celebrating Holidays at Home
Celebrating holidays around the world is quite an experience, but his year, we happen to be home in the US for the 4th of July for first time since 2012. July 4th is the celebration of the nation declaring independence from England in 1776. Celebrations feature firework displays, parades, and backyard barbecues. The 4th is a holiday that is usually spent at or around home rather than a travel holiday. Often times people will take to the outdoors for recreation or camping. It’s a holiday bursting with Red, White & Blue and everything that is America. Hopefully this year, Americans can reflect on what America truly means and find acceptance for all those who come here seeking a better life for themselves and their families.
For us, it’s great to be back because we can celebrate where we come from surrounded by family and friends. We plan to spend the holiday weekend enjoying a few beers and a feast of barbecued meats, surrounded by family as fireworks burst overhead. It’ll be a typical American 4th of July. It may not seems as exciting as celebrating holidays around the world. However, for us, it’s the comfort of tradition and family that make it special.