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Sassy Mama’s Guide To Festivities Around The Globe

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Your cheat sheet to understanding Eid al-Fitr, Diwali, Hanukkah, Christmas and Lunar New Year.

Living in a multi-cultural city like Hong Kong means that your kids are sure to have classmates from all over the world. While your family may be getting ready for Christmas, another is celebrating Hanukkah. Maybe you’ve noticed hallways awash with lights for Diwali, or more mandarin trees as you go out and about in January. It’s always a good time to talk to kids about festivities around the world. One of the (many!) great things about raising children in a city like this is their exposure to such a variety of religions and cultures. Help them become true global citizens with this handy guide.

Read more: How Hong Kong Parents Are Tackling Issues Of Diversity And Inclusion

festivities around the world ramadan

Ramadan And Eid al-Fitr

What is it?

Ramadan is the ninth month on the Islamic calendar and is observed by Muslims around the world. Most will know that during this time Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, but it is also a time for prayer and reflection. At the end of the month, families come together for Eid al-Fitr (which fell on Monday, 2 May 2022), and is a three-day celebration and feast to break the fast.

How is it celebrated?

The most important part of Ramadan is fasting. While young children don’t have to observe the fast (and neither do the elderly, sick or pregnant), your kids should be aware that some of their classmates may be participating (some for the first time!) and could be a bit hangry for a few weeks.

At the end of Ramadan, it’s time to celebrate! After a morning prayer service, families will visit friends and relatives, dressed in new clothes. Gifts are given to kids (and gladly received!). It’s also a time for charity and giving back to the poor.

No festival (especially one that involves fasting!) would be complete without special food. Each Muslim country will have its own speciality, like baklava in Turkey, dates in Iraq and Saudi Arabia or a honey cake in Yemen so you might want to check in with your Muslim friends what their favourite is!

Learn more

There are some great YouTube clips out there that you might like to watch with your kids. We especially like the clips “Kids Explain Ramadan” and “My First Fast and Eid” which explain the holiday simply and easily for young minds.

For little ones who love storytime, try introducing books like “Lailah’s Lunchbox: A Ramadan Story(perfect for 5 to 8-year-olds) or “It’s Ramadan, Curious George“, a board book for younger kids.

Read more: Podcasts Your Kids Should Be Listening To

buddhism hong kong festivities around the world

Buddha’s Birthday

What is it?

Buddha’s Birthday is a day to celebrate Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism. It’s a holiday that’s widely recognised throughout Asia, but particularly in places like Thailand, Sri Lanka, Nepal, India and, of course, Hong Kong and China. The date varies on the Gregorian calendar each year but usually falls in late April or May. In 2022, the holiday falls on Sunday, 8 May.

How is it celebrated?

While celebrations are likely to be more subdued this year, you can normally expect the cities’ temples and monasteries to be hives of activities. Places like the Big Buddha and Po Lin Monastery on Lantau Island as well as the Chi Lin Nunnery in Diamond Hill and 10,000 Buddhas Monastery in Sha Tin are sure to be frequented by worshippers. Water is an integral part of the worship and you’re likely to see ladles of water being poured over Buddha statues. Most years there is a big carnival held in Victoria Park by the Buddha’s Light International Association.

Learn more

If you’d like your kids to learn more about Buddhism and Buddha’s Birthday celebrations, you can check out this YouTube clip or the book Buddhism For Kids which comes complete with meditations, activities and stories.

Read more: Mandarin Lessons For Kids In Hong Kong: Chinese Classes, Playgroups And Tutors

festivities around the world diwali


What is it?

Diwali is known as the festival of lights and celebrates the triumph of good over evil. Legend has it that Lord Rama, who was an incarnation of the God Vishnu, returned home to Ayodhya after defeating the demon-king Ravana (who had kidnapped his wife, Sita). His return also marked the end of a long period of exile imposed on him by his evil stepmother.

How is it celebrated?

The Diwali celebration lasts five days, starting from Thursday, 4 November until Monday, 8 November this year. The first day is Dhanteras, when businesses in India mark the first day of their financial year. The second day is Chotti Diwali (small Diwali) that’s a lead up to the big celebration the following day. The next day is Diwali, the big day of celebrations. On this day, families worship Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth and have a pooja (prayer ceremony) in her honour. The fourth day has more low-key celebrations and is celebrated in different ways in various parts of India – it’s also considered the first day of the Indian New Year. The last day is Bhai Dooj, which is about the special brother-sister relationship.

Learn more

If you want to teach your kids more about Diwali, read them “Amma, tell me about Diwali” from the “Amma, Tell Me” series by Hong Kong-based author, Bhakti Mathur. These books are part of the library in almost all international schools in the city and narrate the stories of Indian mythology very easily to young learners.

If you don’t mind giving your kids a bit of screen time, the short animated film “Ramayana: The Story of Diwali” explains Diwali well, but it does have demons and blood (part of the Hindu myths), so it isn’t for the squeamish!

If you would like to celebrate with your kids, get them to paint and light diyas (clay lamps) that are easily available in many Indian stores across the 852. It is traditional to burst noisy firecrackers, but many Indian cities have banned these because they are polluting. While many options are available in Indian stores across the city, make sure your kids choose the safest ones.

Read more: The Sassy Mama Guide To Celebrating Diwali In Hong Kong

whats on festivities guide Hanukkah


What is it?

Many moons ago, the Holy Land was ruled by the Greeks, who sought to convert the Jews. However, a small group of devoted Jews known as the “Maccabees” banded together to beat the Greeks and reclaim their Holy Temple. After they liberated the Holy Temple, they went to light the Menorah (a seven-branched candelabra) which was an important part of the religious service. Unfortunately, they could only find a single sliver of olive oil to light it. Not only that, but it would take a whole eight days to produce new pure oil with which to light the Menorah. Still, they went ahead and lit the menorah and lo and behold, that tiny sliver of oil burned for eight days and eight nights. A miracle!

How is it celebrated?

Hanukkah runs for eight days, starting on Sunday, 28 November and finishing on Monday, 6 December this year. Celebrations commence with lighting the Menorah and a new candle is lit every night until all are shining brightly. It has become a tradition to give presents at Hanukkah, with kids receiving a small gift every night for eight nights. One gift that’s often handed out is a dreidel – a four-sided spinning top.

Jewish people love to eat and the miracle of the temple’s limited oil supply is reflected by the eating of fried foods (hurrah!). This means doughnuts are on the menu, as are latkes, an amazing fried potato dish. If you’re looking to make a latke with a twist, try Nigella Lawson’s recipe for apple latkes! It is also customary to hand out chocolate money to kids, known as Chanukah Gelt.

Learn more

Jewish Kids Club by Chabad of Hong Kong has a great online library of resources including games, stories and videos. For some family-friendly Jewish viewing, look out for Adam Sandler’s cartoon Eight Crazy Nights. There are also some great kids storybooks out there, such as The Story Of Hanukkah by David A. Adler or the board book My First Chanukah for younger kids.

Read more: How To Raise Multicultural Kids In Hong Kong

whats on festivities guide christmas


What is it?

Celebrated by Christians the world over, Christmas (25 December) is the day to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the son of God. That’s when Joseph and the Virgin Mary travelled to Bethlehem and the baby Jesus was born and placed in a manger. Wise men followed a shining star to bring the baby gifts and many came to adore him.

How is it celebrated?

There are many Christmas traditions around the world and many families will have their own variations. Families will decorate a Christmas tree with ornaments, lights, tinsel and a star (to represent the star the wise men followed) or an angel on top. They’ll leave out stockings to receive gifts from Santa and gifts are given between friends and family members, as well as Christmas cards. Of course, this celebration wouldn’t be possible without good food! Families indulge in a hearty Christmas roast of turkey or ham along with a fruit pudding or cake for dessert.

No Christmas story would be complete without a mention of Santa Claus. The origins go back several hundred years ago to the legend of Saint Nicholas, a man dressed in red or green robes with fur lining who would bring peace, joy and good food. Nowadays, the story goes that Santa Claus lives in the North Pole and, with the help of his elves, makes a list of all the naughty and nice children around the world. On Christmas Eve he delivers gifts to all the nice children in a sleigh pulled by reindeer. You’d better be good for goodness sake!

Learn more

Walking around Hong Kong you’ll definitely know Christmas is coming. Shopping malls and buildings are elaborately decorated and your kids will love visiting the different displays.

At home, there’s also no shortage of Christmas movies to get you in the spirit. Miracle On 34th Street is a classic favourite, The Santa Clause never disappoints and newer releases like The Christmas Chronicles are sure to get the family feeling festive! Some of these great films are available on Netflix or HBO all year round.

Read more: Where To Buy Your Christmas Tree In Hong Kong

whats on festivities guide Chinese new year

Lunar New Year

What is it?

Lunar New Year is also known as Chinese New Year or simply CNY in Hong Kong but is also celebrated by the Vietnamese (known as Tet), Koreans and other Asian nations as the Spring Festival. The festival celebrates the start of the new year and begins with the first new moon to appear. It next falls on 1, February 2022 (and it will be the year of the tiger!). Celebrations follow for the next 15 days and culminate in the lantern festival on day 15.

How is it celebrated?

The most important part of the celebration is the family coming together and CNY sparks the largest annual human migration in the world! Families enjoy a traditional meal with dishes all having symbolic meanings. Noodles represent long life, dumplings symbolise wealth and fish for surplus.

Kids will be excited to receive endless red packets or lai see! These red envelopes are filled with money (or sometimes chocolate gold coins) and are given from elders to juniors.

There are countless traditions and superstitions to go along with CNY. Fireworks are let off to send away evil spirits and you should clean your house before the New Year (and not sweep during or you’ll lose your good luck!). Wear red or gold to symbolise wealth and luck and definitely DO NOT wear black or white!

Learn more

Living in Hong Kong there’s no doubt your kids will learn more about Chinese New Year at school, in their playgroups or from friends. But if you want to get into the spirit at home you could read Sarah Brennan’s Chinese Calendar Tales, with a book for each character of the Chinese zodiac or A New Year’s Reunion: A Chinese Story by Li Qiong Yu.

Read more: A Beginner’s Guide To Chinese New Year In Hong Kong

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in October 2019 and updated in April 2022. 

Featured image courtesy of Sassy Media Group, image 1 courtesy of Abdullah Ghatasheh via Pexels, image 2 courtesy of Jason Cooper on Unsplash, image 3 courtesy of Getty Images, image 4 courtesy of Element5 Digital on Unsplash, image 5 courtesy of Andrew Neel on Unsplash, image 6 courtesy of Carl Ibale on Unsplash.

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