The Ultimate Guide To Holiday Traditions

holiday traditions all over the world

The holiday season is all about connection. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Kwanzaa, or Hannukah, everyone has special holiday traditions that bring friends or family (or both!) together to celebrate what has been, and what there is to come.

Although we all have different beliefs and customs, there is something very special in learning about other cultures on how they celebrate their holiday traditions. In many cases, understanding the cultural values that our friends uphold will ultimately make us feel more connected to each other.

This is why Presently presents (pun intended) our Ultimate Holiday Guide! We understand that this holiday season feels a little different this year, but that doesn’t have to limit the connection that we have to the ones we love. Below we share a little history into each of the big holidays celebrated so that you can feel more connected to and understanding of the neighbors around you.

If you are looking to celebrate someone in your circle who went the extra mile this year, consider setting up a group gift this holiday. Whether it’s the holiday hostess or your awesome manager, gift more meaningfully by gathering all their friends and family to contribute toward a gift that matters.

Without further adieu, here is the ultimate guide to the holiday season, covering everything from tradition to celebration!




Jewish family celebrating and observing holiday traditions

Why it’s celebrated

The word Hanukkah directly translates from the Hebrew word Chanukah which means dedication. The holiday serves as a time to celebrate religious expression. Hanukkah is an 8-day long celebration remembering the rededication of Jerusalem’s Second Temple to the Israelites who had previously faced occupation by their Greek-Syrian oppressors. This turnover event that allowed Jews to freely practice their religion again was led by Judah and the Maccabees, who entered the temple and saw there was enough oil to light one candle for a day of celebration after gaining back ownership of the holy site. However, the tiny amount of oil ended up lighting the space for 8 whole days which was seen to be a miracle. Because of this, Jewish families also lead 8-day long holiday traditions which include lighting a menorah with new flames each day.

How it’s celebrated

The signature symbol of this Jewish holiday is the menorah which is lit every night amidst reciting blessings, a feast of delicious traditional food, exchange of gifts or money, and dreidel games. The customary latkes, sufganiyot, and other treats are all fried in oil to also reflect on the oil that lit up the Israeli temple. Many families also give a small gift to each other each night of celebration.

Ways to celebrate

The whole family can make a favorite traditional recipe together on Zoom! From latkes to rugelach, choose a favorite pick (or multiple), send an ingredient list to the guests, and cook together on Zoom as a family.

Another fun way to celebrate is by playing dreidel virtual-style! Have each family share a dreidel, and pass it around as the turns shift. Whoever wins the game can win the gelt that they have amongst their group at home!

How to gift

On one or even each of the 8 nights, a small, thoughtful gift is the way to go! Lavish, large gifts aren’t traditionally linked to Hannukah and children are mostly the ones who receive items during this celebration. Some appropriate gifts to consider are clothing pieces, books, or jewelry. Also remember that some families do not exchange gifts at all, and may give each other chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil or small amounts of may.



family opening Christmas gifts as part of their holiday traditions

Why it’s celebrated

Christmas is celebrated across a multitude of different belief systems, both religious and secular. Christians use the day to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, a spiritual figure that Christianity is built upon. Across the world, generally, the midpoint of winter has been used as a time of rejoicing as days filled with more sunlight were ahead, and the coldest of days had passed.

During Christmas, various holiday traditions are now celebrated by people around the world, whether they are Christians or not. It’s a time when family and friends come together and remember all the good they have. People of all ages, and especially children, also like Christmas as it’s a time when you go and receive presents!

How it’s celebrated

Everyone’s Christmas celebration is a little different, with each family tradition being a combination of pre-Christian winter celebrations. These holiday traditions and celebrations include decorating the Christmas tree with ornaments and lights, attending church, doing charity work, sharing a meal with family and friends, and of course, the exchange of gifts! Part of this gifting experience comes with the childhood belief of Santa Claus, a fictional character who travels down the chimney and leaves toys at the tree for Christmas morning.

Ways to celebrate

Some fun ways to celebrate virtually this year include making dishes on Zoom together. The possibilities are endless, and you could make anything from cookies for Santa to your favorite side dish that each family needs at their smaller dinner table this year.

Another fun way to include the whole family in the holiday traditions is to sing Christmas carols together. The Christmas carol originates from the Pagan tradition of singing at Winter Solstice celebrations while dancing around stone circles. Carols used to be written and sung during all four seasons, but only the tradition of singing them at Christmas has really survived! Sing with your family over Zoom by printing out your favorite Christmas carols. All singers welcome!

How to gift

Gifting on Christmas starts as a magical experience for children. They rush down the stairs, and find a pile of gifts under the tree from Santa Claus! As the children age and the magic of Santa begins to disappear, the holiday traditions become more of a gift exchange between loved ones. Everyone in the family receives a gift from one another, ranging in price and meaning depending on family preference.



family of seven celebrating Kwanzaa

Why it’s celebrated

Kwanzaa is a seven-day festival that celebrates African and African American culture and history. Kwanzaa takes place from 26th December to 1st January. The seven-day holiday was created by Dr. Maulana Karenga in 1966 as a ritual to welcome the first harvests to the home. Dr. Karenga created this festival for Afro-Americans in response to the commercialism of Christmas. This activities are holiday traditions centered around seven principles. The seven principles are Umoja (unity), Kujichagulia (self-determination), Ujima (collective work and responsibility), Ujamaa (cooperative economics), Nia (purpose), Kuumba (creativity), and Imani (faith). The principles also correlate to a set of symbols. Each of the symbols has a deeper correlation to African heritage.

How it’s celebrated

Kwanzaa is celebrated across seven nights. A combination of songs and dances, African drums, storytelling, poetry reading, and a large traditional meal are included in their holiday traditions. Each of the seven nights, a child within the home lights one of the candles on the Kinara (candleholder), and the family gathers to discuss one of the seven principles. Each of the seven values was established to actively aid in the reinforcement of community amongst African Americans. With these seven values come seven symbols that are a representation of African American culture. The values and symbols are all tied together on the sixth night during a Karamu, which is an African feast.

Ways to celebrate

A way to celebrate as a family is to virtually shop from online small businesses that directly support Ujamaa, which means cooperative economics. NJPAC has created a community marketplace showcasing cultural clothing, jewelry, designer hats, bath & body products, candles, books, art and so much more handcrafted by African artisans.

Looking for a fun way to entertain the kids at the table? Check out Pinterest for a Kwanzaa craft board! There are hundreds of fun and crafty options ranging from coloring sheets to crossword puzzles, sure to make learning about the holiday a creative experience for your child. This activity helps kids practice the 6th value of Kuumba, which means creativity in Swahili.

How to gift

On the seventh day, the holiday traditions include Zawadi (gifts) are given to encourage growth, self-determination, achievement, and success. Gifts that are given on Kwanzaa are typically educational, with a goal to teach the children about the history behind the holiday. Children are the primary recipients of gifts on the holiday, but members of the immediate family, as well as guests, are additional recipients. These gifts are a reflection of one of the seven values practiced in the holiday. The most common gift is an educational book, teaching the child the values of learning and tradition. Some other gifts include artistic gifts like beaded jewelry, baskets, and textiles, which directly reflect the values of Kuumba (creativity) and Nia (purpose).


Giving back this holiday

Part of learning about the holiday traditions and celebrations of other cultures is understanding that not everyone that would like to participate in the holiday season has the resources to do so. A good first step to help support your community this holiday is the check for local food banks or clothing drives in your area to donate food and warm clothes to. There are also a ton of toy drives looking for gifts to surprise children who can’t afford an abundant holiday.

However you may celebrate, Presently wishes you a Happy Holiday and a Happy New Year!


Want more holiday content? Check out our suggestions for the best gifts under $100 for everyone on your list and gift ideas for millennials!


Presently is a group-gifting platform that gives people an easy way to contribute to a single gift, together. Presently enables communities to gift better, choosing quality over quantity. Organize a group gift here.

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Megan Mallozzi