Guide to Celebrating Global Holidays    

Although you probably know the holidays of your own country, you can greatly benefit by learning about holidays that take place in countries that your job sends you to. A little knowledge will help you to better integrate with your foreign business partners, allow you to participate and keep you from scheduling important meetings at times people may be busy with a holiday celebration.

Wishing people a happy holiday and celebrating it with them can be a big icebreaker, and shows that you’ve put some effort into learning about their culture. It also can help maintain good relations after you leave a country. A small thing like sending an email telling a contact that you hope they enjoyed celebrating their respective holiday can go a long way.

Celebration of Holi FestivalIt’s important to embrace the local customs and holidays and not appear ignorant. For example, if you’re in India in the spring and see bonfires at night and people throwing brightly colored powder at each other, recognizing those activities as part of the celebration of Holi will be more impressive than looking shocked or confused by what you’re seeing.

Many countries hold days that honor the founding of a country or the date it achieved independence. Most countries hold a Labor Day, to honor its workers. Important leaders such as presidents, emperors and historic figures, such as Gandhi in India and Martin Luther King Jr. in the U.S. are honored on their birthday.

Some holidays are celebrated globally, such as New Year’s Day, and Christmas is observed in many non-Christian nations. Different countries may celebrate holidays that share a common theme: Japan’s Vernal Equinox Day and India’s Holi festival, both celebrate spring; Day of the DeadDay of the Dead and All Souls’ Day, which are celebrated in different South American and Spanish-speaking countries, both honor the dead. 

Another common theme for holidays is in honoring the men and women who fought for their country. Australia remembers its war dead on Anzac Day; the United States honors those who died in wars with Memorial Day, and all veterans on Veterans’ Day while France celebrates Armistice Day to mark the end of the first world war.

Here is a guide to some key holidays that are celebrated around the world.

Happy New Year!

New Year’s Day is a near-universal holiday throughout the world, and countries celebrate it differently. Some countries go all-out to celebrate the dawn of a New Year, while others celebrate based on ancient or religion-based calendars.

Shogatsu Japanese New Year

Shogatsu, the Japanese New Year (taking place the first three nights of January), is the country’s largest festival and is a prominent holiday in Japan. At midnight, people eat noodles, and by dawn the emperor prays for the nation. People celebrate with special meals; children are given gifts of money; and families spend the day together, playing games, such as kite flying, playing with tops and “fukuwarai,” where a blindfolded person tries to create a paper face.

Other traditions include Haiku poems, TV shows created for the New Year and performances of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

Other holidays in Japan:

  • Coming Of Age Day (Jan. 11) congratulates people who turn 20 and thus have reached adulthood
  • Foundation Day (Feb. 11) celebrates Japan’s founding, and the ascension of its first emperor
  • Showa Day (April 29) honors Emperor Hirohito
  • Constitution Memorial Day  (May 3) marks the day the Constitution of Japan was adopted in 1947
  • Greenery Day (May 4), a day to appreciate nature
  • Children’s Day (May 5), a day to respect children and to celebrate their happiness
  • Marine Day or Ocean Day (July 18), on this day, the people of Japan give thanks to the ocean’s bounty, and reflect on the ocean’s importance to Japan as an island nation
  • Mountain Day (Aug. 11, 2016) marks the first Mountain Day, and is a day for people to appreciates blessings they receive from the mountains
  • Respect for the Aged Day (Sept. 19) honors Japans elderly citizens
  • Autumnal Equinox (Sept. 22), a day to mark the change of season, and to honor deceased family members
  • Health-Sports Day (Oct. 10) commemorates the opening of the 1964 Olympics, held in Tokyo, and promotes a healthy lifestyle
  • Culture Day (Nov. 3) promotes the arts and academics by honoring artists and scholars
  • Labour Thanksgiving Day (Nov. 23) commemorates labor and production
  • The Emperor’s Birthday (Dec. 23) honors the current emperor. The date is determined by the birthday of the reigning emperor

Spring Festival in China

Celebrating Chinese New YearChina is closed Jan. 1 for New Year’s, but its biggest celebration of the year is Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival. The dates for 2016’s festival are Feb.7 through Feb. 13.

The day before the New Year finds families holding reunion dinners. People clean their homes thoroughly in order to wipe away bad fortune and make room for the good luck that will come their way in the New Year. People decorate, and gifts of money in red envelopes are given to kids.

New Year’s in China is famous for its parades showcasing elaborate silk dragons, the Chinese symbol of strength, and lanterns. Fireworks are lit to wake up the dragon, which legend says hibernates most of the year.

Other holidays in China

China’s holiday schedule can be a bit complicated, as it isn’t announced until three weeks before the start of the New Year. Also, weekends are factored into scheduling holidays to create longer vacation times, which makes them less predictable than other countries.

  • Labor Day (May 4) celebrates the country’s workers
  • Dragon Boat Festival (June 9-11), ancient holiday where people eat rice dumplings, race dragon boats and partake in other activities, such as long walks and decorating their homes. The most popular story of origin for the festival is that it commemorates the death of Qu Yuan, a poet and minister during the Zhou Dynasty
  • Mid-Autumn Festival (Sept. 16-17), the people of China celebrate the harvest during this festival with gatherings, prayers, and the giving of thanks
  • National Day (Oct. 1) celebrates the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949

Flings for the Spring

Some countries mark the end of the long cold, winter by celebrating spring and nature: The Hindu spring festival of Holi is observed in most Indian states, with kids playing with water pistols filled with a yellow or red liquid. Another part of the holiday is blowing colored powder on each other with bamboo pipes. The colors reflect the natural colors that will arrive with spring.

The festival begins the night before Holi with bonfires where people sing and dance. After their colorful day, celebrants clean up and visit friends and family to exchange sweets. It is a time of forgiveness so that people can start anew in the spring.

Japan’s Vernal Equinox Day, which takes place on March 21 in 2016, celebrates the start of spring and the blooming of nature after the winter.

The United Kingdom celebrates many bank holidays, which are days banks are closed for business. One of those is a spring bank holiday, which is set for May 30 in 2016.

Days for Workers

There is a long list of countries that honor workers with some sort of Labor Day. Labor Days scheduled for 2016 include; Japan’s Labor Thanksgiving Day (Nov. 23); China’s Labor Day (May 4); The United States and Canada (on Sept. 5); and Mexico (May 1).

Honoring Those Who Served

Many countries hold days in honor of the veterans and war dead, and the days that mark the end of wars.

The United States pays respect to those who died in wars on Memorial Day (May 30, 2016) and all veterans on Veterans’ Day (Nov. 11). France commemorates the 1945 surrender of the Nazis with V-E Day on May 8, and the end of World War I with Armistice Day on Nov. 1.

Canada remembers its war dead on Nov. 11 and Australia honors those who served and died in war on April 25.

Ramadan in the Middle East

The sacred observance of Ramadan is held during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar (in 2016, it will take place June 18 to July 17), and marks the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad.

While Muslims are permitted to work during Ramadan, business travelers should know if they are in a country that observes Ramadan as it is going on. Countries with a large Islamic majority that observe Ramadan include Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Morocco, Egypt, Mauritania, Tunisia, Algeria, Somalia, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran, Oman, Yemen, Kuwait, Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.

Traditional Ramadan MealMuslims fast from dawn to sunset during the month, which means they don’t eat or drink anything, or smoke. Fasting usually includes increased offering of “salat” (prayers) and readings of the Quran.

Charity is important during the month, as it is believed good deeds are rewarded more during Ramadan.

Eid al-Fitre observes the end of Ramadan and begins at the first sighting of the new moon. Muslims are not allowed to fast on this day, and it has a particular Salat that is usually shared in an open field or large hall.

Families share a large meal on Eid al-Fitre, with particular care going into presentation, and a variety of dishes served. Fish is a big part of the meal in Egypt, while celebrations in countries including Iraq and Indonesia include lamb. Just as important as the food is sharing it with families and friends, as per the instructions of Muhammad.

National Holidays in India

There are many holidays and Hindu festivals celebrated in India, and different regions of the country observe different days. One region or state can be closed for business, while others are open. The calendar and holidays are all based on a changing lunar calendar year.

But there are several days that all states and territories observe. Those include three national days:

  • Republic Day (Jan. 26), which marks the adoption of India’s constitution
  • Independence Day (Aug. 15)
  • Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday (Oct. 2)

Other Indian Holidays

The holiday Nag Panchami is observed in most states, and involves the worshiping of snakes on the fifth day of the month Shravan (which occurs in July or August).

The Navaratri festival is dedicated to worshiping the deity Durga and takes place in October. It is observed throughout India, but on different days in different regions.

The Indian holiday Diwali marks the festival after the Hindu calendar’s summer harvest in the Hindu month of Kartika, which in India takes place in October or November, depending on the year.

Diwali CelebrationDiwali is known as the Festival of Lights. The five-day celebration starts with cleaning and preparing homes. On the second day, homes are decorated with “diyas,” clay lamps that are created with creative designs, known as “rangoli,” which are made with colored powders. The third day of Diwali is the holiday’s main day and sees families getting together for the “Lakshmi puja” prayer, followed by a feast and fireworks. The fourth marks the beginning of the new year with visits to friends and families, and on the last day, brothers visit their married sisters for a meal.

Here are other holidays celebrated in India:

  • The Islamic holidays Day of Ashura (which takes place in October or November), and marks the day Noah left the Ark, and the death of Muhammad’s grandson
  • Eid ul-Fitre (the end of Ramadan)
  • Ed Al-Adha (the Feast of the Sacrifice) are observed in all regions
  • Good Friday (observed in most states and territories)
  • Easter Sunday (observed in most states and territories)

Holidays in France

  • Easter Monday; Labour Day (May 1)
  • Ascension Day (May 5) marks the day Jesus ascended into heaven
  • V-E Day (May 8), in honor of the surrender of the Nazis in 1945
  • Whit Monday (May 16) the day after Pentecost Monday, which Christians believe is the day the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus’ disciples
  • Bastille Day (July 14) commemorates the beginning of the French Revolution
  • Assumption Day (August 15) honors the day Mary ascended to heaven
  • All Saints Day (Nov. 1), the day the Catholic Church commemorates saints
  • Armistice Day (November 11) marks the armistice that ended World War I

Bank Holidays in the UK

Businesses in the United Kingdom close for bank holidays, which are days banks are officially closed)

  • New Year’s Day
  • Good Friday (March 25 in 2016)
  • Easter Monday (March 28)
  • Early May bank holiday (May 2)
  • Spring bank holiday (May 30)
  • Summer bank holiday (August 29)
  • Christmas Day (observed on December 27 in 2016 because of the 25th falling on a Sunday)
  • Boxing Day is held on December 26, and dates to the days when employers provided gifts of money and food to their employees. These days, Boxing Day is a big shopping day, and also a day for sports and for people to unwind after the busy holiday season.

Countries that celebrate Boxing Day include the UK, Bahamas, Barbados, Canada, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, Kenya, Bermuda, South Africa, Jamaica and Kenya. Mainly, countries that were once British territories celebrate it, the U.S. doesn't.

Honoring History in the United States

Many of the United States’ federal holidays mark historic moments and figures.

  • Martin Luther King Jr. addresses a crowd from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial where he delivered his famous, “I Have a Dream,” speech during the Aug. 28, 1963, march on Washington, D.C.Martin Luther King Jr. Day (January 18) honors the famous civil rights leader who was assassinated in 1968
  • Presidents’ Day (February 15) honors the country’s presidents, and began as a day to honor George Washington, the first president of the United States
  • Memorial Day (May 30) remembers those who died in the country’s wars
  • Independence Day (July 4)
  • Columbus Day (October 10) honors the man credited with discovering America
  • Veterans Day (November 11) remembers the men and women who served in the armed forces

Public Holidays in Canada

  • Good Friday, on the Friday before Easter, which will be March 25 in 2016
  • Labor Day (Sept. 5)
  • Easter Monday (March 28)
  • Victoria Day (May 23) honors the reigning monarch
  • Thanksgiving (Oct. 10)
  • Remembrance Day (Nov. 11) honors Canada’s war dead
  • Boxing Day (Dec. 26)

National Holidays in Mexico

  • Mexican ArmyConstitution Day (February 5) celebrates the constitutions of 1857 and 1917
  • Benito Juarez’s Birthday (March 21) commemorates the birthday of President Benito Juarez in 1806
  • Labor Day (May 1)
  • Independence Day (September 16) commemorates the start of the Independence War in 1810
  • Revolution Day (November 20) commemorates the start of the Mexican Revolution in 1910
  • Every six years, Mexico has a holiday for the change of federal government, the day the new president is sworn in is observed as a holiday. The next observance of this day will take place in 2018.

Holidays in Brazil

Brazil will be a major destination for travelers when the Summer Olympics are held there in August of 2016. Holidays in the country include:

  • Tiradentes Day (April 21), commemorating the death of Tiradentes in 1792. Tiradentes is considered a martyr in Brazil for his part in the fight for independence
  • Labor Day (May 10)
  • Independence Day (Sept. 7) celebrates independence from Portugal in 1822
  • Our Lady of Aparecida (Oct. 12) commemorates the Virgin Mary, Brazil’s patron saint. This day also is celebrated as Children’s Day
  • All Souls’ Day (November 2), a day to remember the faithful departed
  • Republic Day marks the end of the Empire of Brazil and the establishment of Brazil’s republic in 1889

Holidays in Australia

Different states in Australia observe different holidays, but there are some days that are observed in all parts of the country. Those include:

  • Royal Victoria Regiment marching through Melbourne on ANZAC Day Australia Day (January 26) held in honor the First Fleet of British ships to arrive to Australia in 1788
  • Good Friday (March 25)
  • Easter Monday (March 28)
  • Anzac Day (April 25) honors those who served and died in war
  • The Queen’s Birthday honors the current monarch on the second Monday in June (currently queen Elizabeth II, if the monarch is a king, the day is called The King’s Birthday), is observed in all states except Western Australia
  • Boxing Day is observed in all states except for South Australia

Just as important as learning about holidays is respecting international business customs, which vary from country to country. Be sure to read Clements’ Top 10 International Business Customs to help make your next business trip more successful.

Tips on International Business Customs