The holiday season is a pretty amazing time of year! No matter where you are in the world or what you believe, there’s something to celebrate. In the dark days of winter the company of family and friends, the warmth of lights burning through the night, and the familiar smells and tastes from the places you call home bring you comfort and happiness to see you through the new year. We at Choose a Challenge embrace these holiday traditions the world over and so we figured we’d highlight some of the holiday-time traditions in the places we work to help you better understand the cultures and peoples where you’ll be travelling.
Much of the Peruvian population is Catholic and celebrate Christmas with great fanfare. In Cusco, Christmas Eve brings along the annual Santuranticuy (literally the “selling of saints”), a traditional market in which artisans from across the country sell handcrafted images of the nativity and related religious representations. During the Christmas season, hot chocolate is drunk clear across Peru (which is only fitting as the cocoa bean has been a South American crop for millennia). Modern Peruvian hot chocolate is drunk at home as well as at hot chocolate fairs called chocolotadas. It is often flavored with spices such as cinnamon, cloves, or cayenne. Christmas Eve mass services are widely attended and much of the Quechua population wear their traditional dress (pictured above, consisting of bright colors and full fabrics) to these services and throughout the city of Cusco. A traditional Christmas dinner in Peru often centers around a roast turkey, or, depending on region, lechón (roast suckling pig). Other regional variations exist, such as fish dishes on the coast, a classic Andean pachamanca (lamb roasted with hot stones) in the highlands or gallina silvestre al horno (a roasted wild chicken) in the jungle. The Italian panettone, panetón in spanish, has become a quintessential part of dessert for many Peruvians’ Christmas meals.
An overwhelming majority of Nepali people are Hindu and a few major holidays fall in and around the beginning and end of winter. Two of them, Dashan and Tihar, are the two most celebrated festivals in Nepali Culture.
Dashan consists of a 15-day celebration in worship of the goddess Durga and her victory over the Demons as told in the Ramayana. Houses are cleaned, repainted, and decorated as an invitation to the goddess. Family from far and near reunite to celebrate the occasion. The first ten days are days of worship filled with religious rites. The tenth, known as Dashami, is the a celebration in which elders and parents bless their and others children with well wished, gifts, and traditional food. The last five days are busy with travelling to visit family.
Tihar is the Nepali festival of lights. Lamps are lit in every home to brighten up the night and patterns are made around these lights out of colored rice, flower petals, or sand meant to welcome in the different spirits and gods. Each of the first four days celebrates a different animal, i.e. Kaag Tihar (Crow day), Kukur Tihar (Dog day), Gai Tihar (Cow day), and Laxmi, Goru Tihar (Goddess Laxmi, Ox day). The last day is celebrated as Bhai Tika and is a celebration of the bonds between brothers and sisters. Sisters make a special garland for their brothers of flowers that take a long time to wilt, symbolizing their prayers for a long and happy life. Brothers bring their sisters gifts of sweets or toys if their are younger or something more appropriate if they are older.
In many countries where there is a Muslim majority, Mawlid is celebrated in the winter. It is a celebration of the birth of the Prophet Muhammad. This holiday celebrated by Muslims the world over, including Tanzania. Though you won’t find too much celebration in Moshi, the smaller town wherein our challengers stay before their ascent up Kilimanjaro. People there generally observe this holiday lighting off fireworks, or having a large dinner with family after offering prayers. In cities like Tanzania's capitol Dar al-Salaam, though, you can find processions, parades and gatherings in the streets. Poetry readings, concerts and all kinds of religious services and festivals are meant to celebrate the occasion. People often dress colorfully and celebrate with large meals and fireworks lighting up the night sky.