Cultural Holidays

We live in a wonderfully diverse region that is constantly growing and ever-changing. Our neighborhoods are widely diverse as well, represented by people of many different nations and races, languages, traditions, and religions.

Many of our new neighbors may celebrate religious and cultural holidays that are unfamiliar to us. They are observing sacred and family traditions from their native countries that may have been passed down from one generation to the next.

Here is a list of cultural holidays from around the world, some of which are currently observed throughout the Washington, D.C. region – perhaps even in your own neighborhood.


A period of four weeks, including four Sundays in which Christians prepare to commemorate the Incarnation of God in the infant Jesus at Christmas. Observed on the 4th Sunday before Christmas.

All Hallows Eve

A festival now broadly celebrated as Halloween, but originally adapted by northern Europeans from more ancient Celtic rituals. Its original purpose was to banish the lingering souls of those who had died in the past year in order to greet a new year. Observed annually on October 31.

All Saints Day

A Christian celebration of the lives of all saints, especially those who are not observed on a special day. The Eastern Orthodox tradition observes a similar day in mid-summer.

Ash Wednesday

The Christian period of Lent, a forty-day period of fasting and preparation for Easter. Its name derives from the symbolic use of ashes to signify penitence. Observed 46 days before Easter. Visit

Baha’ullah’s Birthday

The commemoration of the birth of one of the founders of the Bahai faith.


The celebration of the Hindu New Year.

Birth of the Bab

The anniversary of the birth of one of the twin prophet founders of the Bahai faith in 1817. Bahai is a relatively modern syncretistic religion seeking to build a new religion on the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Visit 

Bodhi Day

The Buddhist celebration of the Enlightenment of Buddha. Usually observed on December 8, or the Sunday immediately preceeding this date. 

Chanukah or Hanukkah

The eight-day Jewish festival of lights commemorating the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 165 B.C.


The Christian holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus of Nazareth in Bethlehem. Observed annually on December 25.


The Hindu festival of lights which is one of four seasonal celebrations in India. Celebrated for a period of 5 days, the last being the 15 of Ashwin on the Hindu Calendar. 


The celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead on the third day after his crucifixion. This is the most important Christian holiday. Observed the 1st Sunday after the full moon that occurs after the Vernal Equinox. Visit

Feast of Id al Fitre

The Islamic festival breaking the fast of Ramadan, a time of family and community celebration. 

Good Friday

Christian solemn remembrance of the day of Jesus’ crucifixion. It is observed by solemn services and vigils in many Christian churches. Always observed the Friday before Easter.

Krishna Janmashtami

A Hindu celebration of Krishna – an early and important giver of wisdom and understanding and thus revered. Observed on the Ashtami Day of the Shravan month of the Hindu Calendar. 


A seven-day celebration of African-American values and traditions. Kwanzaa means “first fruits of the harvest.” Observed annually beginning on December 26.

Maundy Thursday

Commemorates the Last Supper when Jesus instituted the Holy Eucharist of Lord’s Supper (Communion). As its origins are rooted in the Jewish Passover Seder (meal) it often falls on the first night of Passover. Always observed the Thursday before Easter.

Orthodox Lent

The Eastern Orthodox Christian traditions retain the use of a more ancient Julian (lunar) Calendar, and thus the dates for Lent and Easter are different from western (Latin) traditions.

Palm Sunday

The observance of Christian “Holy Week” – the period commemorating Jesus’ final teaching, gathering with the disciples, arrest and crucifixion. The use of palms recalls Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem at Passover. Always observed one week before Easter.


An eight-day celebration marking the deliverance of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. The “seder” ceremonies emphasize freedom and Jews abstain from eating any leavened products for a period of eight days. Observed on the 15th night of Nissan on the Jewish Calendar


Celebrates the empowerment of the early church and its members by the Holy Spirit following Jesus’ ascension. Observed 50 days after Easter.

Rakhi (Raksha Bandhan)

A Hindu and Janist holiday celebrating love and friendship. Traditionally women tied a “rakhi” or amulet to sisters, brothers and friends to ward off evil. Observed during the full moon of late August. Visit


Muslim thirty-day period of fasting from sun-up to sun-down in honor of the first revelations of the Prophet Mohammed. During this time Muslims empathize with those in need and experience the importance of charity and compassion. Observed in the 9th month of the Islamic Calendar; begins with the sighting of the new moon.

Rosh Hashanah

The Jewish “New Year” which begins a period of ten days of penitence and preparation culminating in Yom Kippur. Observed on the 1st and 2nd days of Tishri.

St. Patrick’s Day

A festival now broadly celebrated but first encouraged by Irish Christians commemorating the person who brought Christianity to Ireland and is perceived as the ancient founder of Irish culture, language and identity. Observed annually on March 17.

St. Valentine’s Day

A European holiday first credited to an early saint who fell in love with his jailer’s daughter and, upon his execution, wrote her a love note signed “Your Valentine”. Romantic and gift-giving traditions date back to the Roman festival of Lupercalia. Now universally celebrated as a secular holiday of love, romance and friendship. Observed annually on February 14.


The Jewish festival of Booths (or tabernacles) used by Israelites during their desert wanderings. It is also an observance of the fall harvest. 


A civil holiday built on the religious tradition of the Pilgrims, and later the colonial governors, who frequently declared days of prayer and celebration in thanksgiving for safety and abundance. Observed on the 4th Thursday of November.

Yom Kippur

The Jewish Day of Atonement – a solemn day of fasting, prayer and repentance. This the most important and serious of all Jewish holy days.

About WF Staff

Washington FAMILY Staff

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.