Cultural Holiday Traditions

By Terrie Jorgenson, RD, LD, Center Director

The Winter holiday season is a magical time of year where communities and families come together to celebrate. What we celebrate and the way we celebrate may be different depending on our culture or our religion so let’s explore a few of the ones celebrated in the United States.

Chinese New Year

  • Chinese New Year is the festival celebrating the beginning of a new year on the traditional Chinese Calendar. Each year is marked by a different Chinese Zodiac animal. This coming year, celebrated on February 1st, 2022, will be the year of the Tiger. The holiday is usually a 15-day celebration to commemorate a new year of happiness and good luck. Families come together to honor their ancestors, celebrate with fireworks, dragon dances, lantern festivals, cleaning, decorating and traditional dishes.
  • Traditional foods include:
    • Long noodles for happiness and longevity
    • Round dumplings and spring rolls for wealth
    • Fish for prosperity
    • Tangyuan (sweet rice balls) for family togetherness
    • Niango (glutinous rice cakes) for a higher income/position


  • Christmas is traditionally a Christian celebration commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ but is also a secular family holiday celebrated all over the world. Christmas is celebrated on December 24th (Christmas Eve) and December 25th (Christmas Day). Traditional celebrations include decorating trees, hanging stockings, and waiting for Santa Claus to bring toys to children, baking cookies, hanging lights, exchanging gifts and eating traditional foods.
  • Traditional Foods include:
    • Roasted ham, turkey, and beef
    • Decorated sugar cookies, gingerbread cookies & houses, spritz cookies, and fruit cake
    • Cranberry sauce
    • Mashed potatoes & gravy
    • Egg nog


  • Diwali is the festival of lights celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs, and Jains across the globe.  It is a 5-day religious festival celebrating new beginnings, light over dark, and good over evil. Festivities include gathering with relatives, gift giving, feasting, fireworks, decorating with colored paper and sand, and lighting up the home inside and out with candles and lamps.
  • Traditional foods include:
    • Bhaji-vegetables mixed with chickpea flour; spices fried into small pieces
    • Samosas-small pastries filled with vegetables, like potatoes & peas
    • Halwa-pudding mixed with fruit, nuts, ghee, sugar & spices
    • Luddo-shere shaped sweets of deep-fried flour, nuts & spices soaked in syrup
    • Puri-flatbread fried in ghee


  • Hanukkah is the 8-day Jewish festival of lights, commemorating the recovery of Jerusalem and the Second Temple by lighting a candle each day. The main tradition is the lighting of the menorah (Hanukkah lamp), a candelabra with eight branches and a holder for the shammash (servant) candle.  Each night of the festival a candle is lit, and a blessing is offered. Festivities include festive meals, prayers, songs, games, and gift giving.
  • Traditional foods include:
    • Roasted Brisket
    • Latkes-potato pancakes
    • Kugel-egg noodle casserole
    • Sufganiyot-round deep-fried dough, filled with jam and sprinkled with powdered sugar
    • Hannukah gelt-chocolate coins


  • Kwanzaa is a seven-day African American festival celebrated from December 26th to January 1st. There are 7 principles representing the values of African culture; each day a different principle is represented. The 7 Principles include: Umaja (Unity), Kujichagulia (Self-determination), Ujima (Collective work & responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperative economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity), and Imani (Faith). The seven-day celebration is full of time with friends, family and community spent singing songs, dancing, storytelling, African drums, and a big feast of December 31st, known as Karamu.
  • Many people celebrate both Kwanzaa and Christmas. Though often thought of as an alternative to Christmas, many people actually celebrate both. “Kwanzaa is not a religious holiday, but a cultural one with an inherent spiritual quality,” Karenga writes. “Thus, Africans of all faiths can and do celebrate Kwanzaa, i.e., Muslims, Christians, Black Hebrews, Jews, Buddhists, Baha’i, and Hindus, as well as those who follow the ancient traditions of Maat, Yoruba, Ashanti, Dogon, etc.
  • Traditional foods include
    • African Creole
    • Cajun Catfish
    • Jerk Chicken
    • Muhindi (Ears of corn that represents the remaining children at home)
    • Collard greens

Los Posadas

  • Los Posada means “the inns” or “the lodgings,” which symbolizes the journey that Mary and Joseph had while searching for shelter in Bethlehem before Jesus. At the beginning of a posada, people are divided into two groups, one representing Mary and Joseph, and the others representing innkeepers. Everyone comes together to sing and reenact Mary and Josephs journey. After mass, people would gather to hit a piñata to represent their faith defeating the temptation with the help of virtue.
  • Traditional foods include:
    • Romeritos (baked shrimp)
    • Bacalao (dried cod fish)
    • Roast turkey
    • Mounds of sweet and sugary buñuelos
    • Tamales
    • Ponche navideño (Mexican fruit punch)

Three Kings Day

  • The Three Kings Day is celebrated on the 12th day of Christmas, January 6th, which marks the glorification of baby Jesus by the Three Wise Men. A tradition for children is to fill a box with freshly cut grass and place it under their bed. A wish list is then placed on top for the Three Wise Men to fulfill. Rosca de Reyes, a circle cake, is the highlight of this day.  Typically, it’s studded with candied fruit and nuts to represent jewels in the Magi’s crown. A baby Jesus is hidden within the cake and whoever is served that piece will host February’s Candlemas celebration.
  • Traditional foods include:
    • Rosca de Reyes
    • Marinated pork roast
    • Tamales
    • Black beans with rice
    • Soups and salads featured with yucca, nopales, and plantains.

Holiday celebrations are a time when families and communities come together and share in festivities, food, and fun. Many Holidays, festivals, and parties usually have a traditional food or menu represented and they might not always be what you would consider to be “healthy, balanced or even on your Livea plan, “but that doesn’t mean you cannot partake and celebrate. Below are tips to help you successfully navigate these events while maintaining your weight.

Ways to maintain your waistline while enjoying the Holidays:

  • Portion control
    • Fill your plate with nutrient dense choices first, then other choices
    • Take small bites of things you want to try, if you like it, you can always go back and get more.
  • Stay hydrated
    • Drinking adequate water will help to control your appetite
    • Create mocktails that still satisfy your desires
    • Try adding some fresh mint, cucumber, or basil for a refreshing twist
  • Get adequate sleep
    • Getting a good night’s rest will help control your hunger hormones and prevent added cravings
    • Try to power down and hour before bed. Dim the lights, avoid screens, and enjoy a relaxing activity.
  • Maintain normal eating schedule
    • Eat every 2-3 hours to regulate blood sugars and prevent hunger
  • Take advantage of your weekly Livea visits
    • These visits are important for accountability, especially during the busy holiday season.
    • Use your visits to plan ahead and set intentions for your Holiday events.


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  • Herrera, Hannah. “Traditional Hanukkah Food.” WebstaurantStore. WebstaurantStore, Nov. 2021. Web. 12 Dec. 2021.
  • “Las Posadas 2021, Celebrations, Recipes & Traditions.” Web. 12 Dec. 2021.
  • Lewis, Femi. “How Does Kwanzaa Honor African-American Heritage?” ThoughtCo. ThoughtCo, 12 Dec. 2020. Web. 12 Dec. 2021.
  • Thakkar, Amrita. “The Most Popular Diwali Sweets.” Taste of Home. Taste of Home, 16 Mar. 2021. Web. 12 Dec. 2021.
  • “Three Kings Day – January 6.” National Today. 09 July 2021. Web. 12 Dec. 2021.
  • “Traditions.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. Web. 12 Dec. 2021.
  • “What Is Dawali.” Curious Cusine. Curious Cusine. Web. 17 Dec. 2021.