Family Winter Traditions and Festivals
17 Family Winter Traditions and Festivals to Discover!
I love family winter traditions and festivals especially those that fall in the New Year. I find traditions and festivals, especially if they are historically rooted, to be fascinating.
Discovering and appreciating traditions and festivals helps keep them alive and thriving.
Traditions and festivals brings us closer to our communities both local and globally, as well as fostering out connections with the rhythms, seasons and flows of the earth.
Learning and appreciating new cultures can enrich our experiences and enjoyment of each passing month.
That’s got to be a good thing overall!
I’m sure you will find a new festival or tradition that your family will enjoy, maybe lots more!
Activities and ideas are suitable for all age groups. Our kids won’t even realise that they are learning so much useful information and skills.
Following along with the activities suggested for the month of January will provide lots of exciting memories, experiences and enriching fun!
Which is what we all need during our various lockdowns.
The following Family Winter Traditions and Festivals dates are for January.
February dates will be included shortly.
Festivals, traditions and ideas include:
- Hogmanay/New Years Day
- Mari Lywd (Wales)
- 365 Days Green Challenge
- Twelfth Night
- Twelfth Day/Epiphany/Three Kings Day/Little Christmas/Woman’s Christmas
- Plough Monday
- Straw bear Day
- St Hilary’s Day/Coldest Day of the Year
- Lohri (Punjabi Winter Folk Festival)
- International Kite Festival (India)
- Appreciate a Dragon Day
- Wassailing Orchards
- Penguin Awareness Day
- The Big Winter Wander
- Robert Burns Day (Scotland)
- Up Hella Aa (Shetland Isles)
Today is the perfect opportunity to sign up for the 31 day Vegan Challenge for the month of January!
Even if you can’t commit to an entire month, why not just try a week or two or even just a day?
For lots of easy plant-based recipes check out traditionalplantbasedcooking.com.
My Kids Bake The Best Vegan Banana Bread is perfect for this month.
Hogmanay and New Years Day
Create your new years resolutions. Resolutions are great as they get kids thing intentionally and demonstrate that with a bit of planning and action, they have the power to make things happen. Even if resolutions are not kept up this is still a perfect learning opportunity to reassess and re-plan goals.
Check out Netmums.com post that provides lots of ideas for kids making their own resolutions.
Biglifejournal.com have a useful post that sets out the 4 steps kids can take to create their own goals.
Growing up in Scotland, and now with my own kids, my family’s New Year traditions include:
- Staying up to at least midnight on Hogmanay, 31st December, to listen to the bells ringing in the New Year. The bells are usually televised or you can tune into the radio or stream from the Internet.
- A glass of juice either fizzy or still in a fancy glass was used to bless everyone good health and good fortune for the coming year. We say ‘cheers’ and clink each others glasses.
- While waiting for the bells to ring, a buffet of food is usually laid out for picking at throughout the Hogmanay evening. The buffet replaces the ordinary meal. Food such as cucumber sandwiches, little cheese n onion pastries (vegan in our household) and little vegan sausages, crackers, fruit cake, and shortbread are all usual visitors.
- Traditionally, Scottish people would eat steak pie at midnight after the bells had rung in the New Year! Though my family didn’t do this, as the pie was left for New Years dinner. For my family I usually prepare a vegan vegetable pie, or my kids favourite a veggie hotpot if we don’t feel like having pastry.
- I usually play Scottish music during the evening and play games such as Charades, Monopoly, Up words or Scrabble. Sometimes we have a homemade quiz. Afterwards I play some party music such as the conga, footloose theme tune, etc and we have a dance!
- It was traditional in our house while I was growing up that the adults wait till midnight to have a drink of alcohol, but as I don’t drink that’s a tradition that only gets followed if my extended family come to visit.
- It is also tradition to take a broom and sweep out the dust from the previous year! A hoover would work just as well but superstition would dictate to ceremoniously empty the hoover bag outside to ensure the old dust is firmly outside your house!
- After the midnight bells and in the early hours of 1st January, it is tradition in Scotland to go ‘first footing’. First footing means going around your friends and neighbours house for a wee drink and to wish them Happy New Year. You don’t stay long as there are more houses to visit before morning! Gifts of shortbread, black bun and bottles of alcohol are offered. However, this New Year due to lockdowns first footing was banned.
- It’s considered good fortune if a ‘tall, dark haired handsome guy’ steps over your threshold holding a lump of coal soon after the bells!
- For New Years Day we usually have a little sleep in then a usual breakfast of plant-based milk with cereal or porridge. New Years Day dinner is usually earlier than normal around 3-4 pm. Dinner traditionally is a steak pie, but nowadays my family has a plant-based pie, with roast potatoes, Brussel sprouts, carrots and maybe peas or parsnips. With gravy of course. I use the Marigold gravy brand and make it up with the Brussel Sprout and carrot cooking water! Pudding can be leftover Christmas pudding and custard, mince pies, Christmas cake, or even some shortbread. Traditionally in Scotland a New year trifle would be prepared.
- If you need an easy Vegan Fruit Cake recipe here’s a delicious recipe. And for gluten-free, as well as fat, sugar, oil, soy, egg and nut-free fruit cake recipe check this easy recipe out.
- To learn more about New Year traditions around the world check out these useful pages over at newyearwiki.com
Don’t fret if you miss taking part in Hogmanay/New Year traditions on the 31st December and 1st January as the old Gregorian calendar or the Orthodox calendar states that New year was originally on the 14th January!
So you can still have fun with some new traditions! Or bookmark this page for New Year 2022!
Mari Lywd is a Welsh tradition originating from at least the 1800s. Mari Lywd translates to ‘grey mare’. The Mari Lywd is said to represent the grey mare that had to leave the stable when Mary and Joseph arrived. This midwinter tradition features a horses skull which is decorated with white sheets, ribbons and bells. The skull is attached to a pole and carried around the local village. The decorated horse sings and tries to bite people it visits and passes! But in a fun way!
- Learn more about Mari Lywd over on Wales.com. And at the British Council cite.
- Why not create your own Mari Lywd by fashioning together a hobby horse or decorating an existing hobby horse. Another idea is creating your own horse mask, and sing songs and pretend to snap at your family in jest!
- For older kids, teenagers and adults why not read the Ballad of the Mari Lywd over on https://literaryballadarchive.com its a challenging read but worth it! A ballad is a story in poetry or singing form and has been a popular form of entertainment since medieval times.
- Perhaps read some segments of the Mari Lywd ballad out loud for younger kids and have a discussion about the ballads meaning.
- Younger kids can learn about ballad poetry over on classroompoems.com. The Space Cows and Cream Cheese Ballad is quite fun!
- Read some awesome horse and pony poems with this collection from poemsearcher.com.
- Learn about horses from around the world.
365 Days Green Challenge Earth Cadets Education
January is the idea time to begin the Earth.Cadets.Education 365 days Green Challenge!
Epiphany/Twelfth Day/Three Kings Day/Woman’s Christmas (Ireland)/Little Christmas
The Twelfth Night is the last day of what is known as the 12 days of Christmas.
WhyChristmas.com is a great website for learning all about the 12 days of Christmas. Historically, the 12 days of Christmas was a time to have great feasts and to celebrate.
The Christian Epiphany Eve begins on the twelfth Night.
Epiphany is also known as the Feast of The Three Kings/Wise Men and is celebrated in various countries.
Learn more about Epiphany over on the WhyChristmas.com site.
Activities for the Twelfth Night can include:
- Taking down the Christmas decorations. My family tradition for this day is to ensure that everything and anything to do with Christmas is put away out of sight. This is an old superstition and is upheld for fear of bad luck within the New Year. Often a member of my family will find a Christmas bobble or decoration down the back of the sofa or some other hidden nook and the offending article will be blamed for any misfortune that occurred since the Twelfth Night!
- Although traditionally some people keep their decorations up until Candlemas which falls on February 2nd!
- Singing Christmas carols. Learn about the tradition of Wassailing and learn a Wassailing song here.
- An old custom is Chalking the door with three wise men and the year symbols, to offer protection for the home.
- Blessing the home with holy water. Or burning incense. Perhaps burning some aromatherapy oils would be a nice touch? Or use this day as an opportunity to burn the last of your Christmas candle scents?
- Around the world cake or pastries are enjoyed on Epiphany. Such as a King Cake. Keep it simple and enjoy a slice of homemade vegan fruit cake. Or a wedge of a really easy steamed Vegan Christmas pudding. This Christmas pudding recipe is light and delicious enough to be eaten all year round.
- Learn about Three Kings Day, and how in Latin America The Three Kings bring gifts to children on this day!
- Learn about Little Christmas/Woman’s Christmas tradition. For the Woman’s Christmas it is tradition for women to have the day off from housework and for the men to carry out the housework instead!
Plough Monday (UK)
Plough Monday is always the Monday after Epiphany, and was historically the time when farm workers returned to the fields after the Christmas celebrations were over. However, on the Plough Monday farm workers did not do any work! Instead famers pushed a plough throughout the town collecting money for a ceremonial ‘plough light’. The plough light was a candle that burned in the local church throughout the farming season. The workers would dance, sing and play instruments during their procession. After the collection the farm workers would enjoy a Plough Monday supper. The next day would be back to work as usual.
To mark Plough Monday why not:
- Read some interesting plough facts and view some great plough photos over on kids.kiddle.co.
- Have a Plough Monday supper/dinner! Choose a British traditional meal such as Scottish Vegan Stovies, Vegan Lancashire Hotpot or even go global and appreciate Vegan Hungarian Goulash (which historically is a traditional meal of Hungarian herders).
- Put some tunes on and have a song and a dance!
- Perhaps have a think about a charity or a good cause that you could dedicate some time during the New Year to raise some funds for. Or look out some unwanted or outgrown items to donate to your local charity shop.
- Instead of or as well as a Plough Monday Supper why not start a tradition of having a Back to School Supper! Or even a special breakfast, to mark the return to school.
- Read Robert Burn’s (1759-1796) poem ‘To a Mouse’ .
- Robert Burns was a farmer as well as a Scottish poet. Burn was ploughing his fields one day when he accidently disturbed a mouse’s nest nestled within the grasses. Burns respected all living animals and was moved enough to compose a poem dedicated to the mouse.
- Listen to this reading of ‘To a Mouse’ and soak up the Scottish accent!
January 12th to the 16th
Straw Bear Day
Straw Bear Day, in the UK, was traditionally held on the first Tuesday after Plough Monday. However, nowadays it may be observed on the Saturday after Plough Monday. The Straw Bear Day features a ploughman dressing up in a suit of straw fashioned to look like a huge bear. Other farmers would lead the dancing and singing straw bear around the village houses collecting money, beer and food offerings.
In the early 1900s the Straw Bear Day festival disappeared but was brought back to life in the 1980s by Whittlesea society, England. Nowadays, a great procession of dancers and musicians parade through the streets of Whittlesea leading the straw bear. On the Sunday the ‘bear’ costume is ceremoniously burned. The burning symbolises the end of the year/season and the beginning of the new growing season and the bounty that will come.
- This years 2021 Straw Bear Festival at Whittlesea has been cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic but you can still enjoy the festival virtually! It sounds quite exciting with virtual events teaching how to make a straw bear, singing, dancing and story-telling! Find out dates/times here.
- Watch the 2019 Straw Bear Festival parade:
- Create your own little straw bear out of straw, hay, long grass, shredded paper, twine, shredded packaging bits, toilet roll tubes etc., and some wool/string/pipe cleaners/Sellotape/craft glue. Use these to fashion the legs, arms and head shape. Kind of like a ‘guy’ that is created for Guy Fawkes Night. Use buttons, beads, plasticine, paper, etc to add features.
- Or fashion together a ‘scare crow’. This link is to an easy paper scare crow craft. You could always fashion it to look more like a scare-bear!
- Check out these amazing images of straw sculptures of animals from around the world on the BBC Newsround site.
- Learn more about Morris dancing here and over on the Britishcouncil.org website. Let’s help keep these old traditions and cultures alive even if it means just discovering and talking about them!
St Hilary’s Day (coldest day of the year)
St Hilary is an Ancient Roman saint and the 13th of January is marked as his feast day. It became known as the coldest day of the year in Britain as many notable harsh winters throughout history began around St Hilary’s Day. Imagine being so cold that your food and drink froze before you could eat or drink it!
Activities for St Hilary’s Day:
- Wrap up well and go for a winters walk, enjoying the feeling of being toasty warm.
- Or if its howling a gale or chucking it down with rain have a sofa day, enjoy nibbles and movies while appreciating the chilly weather outside and the warmth inside.
- Find out more about St Hilary of Poitiers.
- Watch this video clip about St Hilary of Poitiers life:
- Find out where the coldest place on earth is.
- Learn about some of the coldest days/winters that occurred in Britain around St Hilary’s Day.
- Try some fun science ice experiments. For the ice cream experiment try replacing the milk with plant-based milk!
Lohri (Punjabi Winter Folk Festival)
Lohri is a traditional festival from Punjabi, India and signals the end of the winter season and the beginning of the farming season.
- Find out lots of interesting information about Lohri traditions, rituals, food and history.
- Enjoy and appreciate the great dancing and music of this Lohri celebration:
- Yoga originated in India. For younger kids the CosmicKids YouTube channel is an amazing hub of yoga videos that are lots of fun. I even enjoyed doing the videos when my son was younger!
- Check out some vegan Indian food recipes from BBC Food to enjoy cooking and eating!
International Kite Festival, India
- Learn about India’s Kite festivals and look at some awesome kite photos!
- Learn about the science behind flying a kite.
- Get some easy ideas for kite making with kids.
- If your feeling extra technical this kite making project over on Wiki How is great for kids who love to construct. You’ll need wooden dowels, hand saw, craft knife and string.
- Bake some easy vegan shortbread biscuits, just use a knife to cut them into the shape of a kite and decorate!
- Watch this amazing video. I love the music!
Appreciate a Dragon Day
This modern day was invented by the author of The Dragon Keeper Chronicles: Donita K. Paul.
Donita wanted a special day where people could appreciate dragons, talk about their favourite dragons, and learn more about dragons!
- Learn more about Appreciate a Dragon Day.
- Find out some dragon facts over on Kiddle and on the Britannica site.
- Watch a film featuring dragons and other fantasy animals. My family favourites include How to Train your Dragon, and The Hobbit series of films. As well as JK Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them movies.
- Listen and watch this cute video for the Puff the Magic Dragon song:
- Download this Dragonese pdf booklet from kidsscholastic.co.uk and start learning the dragon language from the How to train Your Dragon series of books and films!
- If you have the How to Train your Dragon books then this Chatterbook activity pack that’s free to download will provide inspiration for lots of discussion.
- Download an activity pack for a project based on the How to Train your Dragon film, and learn about the dragons featured in the film.
- Read or listen to the story of George and the Dragon over on Storynory.com.
- Learn all about Chinese Dragons.
- Check out this Chinese Dragon slideshow.
- This gallery of dragon artwork is brilliant! There’s so much interesting information about dragons on the draconika.com website its worth a look. Find out about dragons in history, different cultures, legends and more!
- My family love to play the table top game Dungeons and Dragons (D & D). My son enjoys being the Dungeon Master and creating our adventures. It can take dedication to read all the game-play instructions for Dungeons and Dragons, create characters and play the game but it is so worth it! Kids get so much out of playing Dungeons and Dragons it can benefit social skills, team building skills, self-confidence, creativity and problem solving and so much more. Your child’s Educational attainment can also benefit just by playing the game. This article from Forbes.com explains how D & D can even have therapeutic affects that can benefit your child’s mental well being and health.
- The dndadventuresforkids.com provides free adventures to download. And the dndwizards.com website has the rules to download for free.
- Download the free EarthCadetsEducation Cryptozoology nature journaling activity booklet! Find out lots of ideas for a cryptozoology/fantasy beasts project. As well as a huge list of movies that feature fantasy animals.
- Listen to the amazing Hobbit soundtrack ‘I see fire’ by Ed Sheeran:
Wassailing orchards has been going on for hundreds of years, possibly way back to the year 600 and beyond! Wassail translates to a blessing such as ‘be well or good health’.
This is a traditional day for singing, dancing and blessing apple trees to encourage the trees to have a brilliant growing season and bear lots of fruit for cider making! Although for those who do not drink alcohol we can still partake in Wassailing orchards and wish for bounties of apples to make cider vinegar, apple juice and apple sauce!
- Learn more about the tradition of wassailing over on the historic-UK.com site.
- Go for a walk in the woods with cartons of fruit juice and ‘toast’ the trees, plants, bushes, anything green and living! Wish them all a happy growing season to come!
- Make a wassailing drink out of apple juice and spices. Here is a recipe for hot mulled apple juice from BBC good food.
- Learn a few Scottish Gaelic words to say when you toast and chink each others glasses filled with your hot mulled apple juice.
- Watch this video clip of modern day Wassailing!
Penguin Awareness Day!
A day to focus on Penguins and how climate change has affected their survival. Spend the day learning about penguins and raising awareness of their plight.
- Learn more about Penguin Awareness Day.
- Find out about how to Adopt a Penguin with WWF. This would be a brilliant gift!
- For younger kids check out lots of cute penguin activities and pintable’s over on kidzone.ws.
- Create your own penguin soft mascot/teddy. Use these instructions from ActivityVillage.co.uk as a guide to create your own softie out of scrap material you could recycle from around the house. Material such as old t-shirts, socks, gloves, stockings, scarfs, t-towels, cloths, etc. Anything really. I think a patchwork penguin would be amazing.
- Find out about Emperor penguins on the National Geographic Kids site.
- If your doing a penguin project then this list of resources from National Geographic is ideal.
- Watch a penguin film such as the funny Mr Poppers Penguins (2010). Or The Penguins of Madagascar (animation) from 2010 which is available on Amazon prime UK. Happy Feet 2 is available on Netflix UK.
- Watch Our Planet Frozen World documentary over on YouTube. It features penguins as well as polar bears, walruses and seals and demonstrates how climate change has affected their lives.
The Big Winter Wander
Today, or earlier if your reading this before the 24th, why not sign up for the World Wildlife Fund’s Big Winter Wander and start planning your family’s magical winter fundraising walk!
Due to ongoing and changing lockdown restrictions you may not be able to organise a large walk, but a scaled down smaller walk with just immediate family should still be achievable.
During your winter walks why not look out for winter berries and nuts that can be foraged during January in the UK?
The Woodland Trust have a useful guide to what’s available to forage during each month.
If your going to eat anything growing wild remember to ensure you are more than 100% sure of the plants identification!
Its always a good idea to purchase a reputable field guide if your considering eating foraging finds. The Woodland Trust have guidelines about foraging safety and the law on their website.
My family loves foraging and learning new plants during our walks. So I highly recommend learning foraging skills as it can be lots of fun and so interesting.
Sometimes its just fun to find the fruits and nuts appreciating them instead of eating, and filing away the knowledge for future use! Creating your own personal sketchbook/field guide to all the edible plants within your local neighbourhood would be an amazing learning experience and resource.
Robert Burns Night
An evening to celebrate the Scottish poet Robert Burns.
- Enjoy a Robert Burns supper. Which traditionally consists of mashed potato or ‘tatties’, mashed turnip or ‘neeps’ and haggis. Most supermarkets in the UK stock vegan or vegetarian haggis. I have been experimenting with creating a plant-based haggis but not satisfied with the results yet! I will post the recipe up when I manage to create a haggis that I am happy with. I have tried other recipes for vegan haggis online but have not liked those either! I guess I am a tad fussy seeing as I am Scottish! Find out all about the tradition and formalities of a Burns supper over on the Visit Scotland website.
- Of course if you are not plant-based or vegan then you can try the usual haggis! Although a haggis may be difficult to source outside the UK. For those that are vegan but can’t source a vegan haggis then substitute the haggis for some vegan sausages or even some vegan stuffing balls. Yum!
- Before you eat your Burns Supper it is tradition to say the ‘address to the haggis’. The words for the address is contained within the pdf booklet link below. Robert Burn’s Auld Lang Syne, To a Mouse, and A Red, Red Rose poem lyrics are all included. After dinner, some poetry reciting could be in order! I know I will definitely be subjecting my kids to some poetry!
- This fun learning pdf booklet from VisitScotland.com is really cute and full of interesting activities such as word puzzles, crafts, colouring and facts about Robert Burns. As well as the lyrics to some of Burns poems.
- Older kids, teenagers and adults may enjoy listening to or reading burn’s epic poem ‘Tam o’ Shanter’. This link is great as it has the translation alongside the poem!
- Watch this little video clip that introduces Robert Burns for kids:
Up Hella Aa (Scotland)
This traditional Scottish fire Viking festival usually takes place on the last Tuesday of January on Lerwick, Shetland Isles but has been postponed until January 2022 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Up Hella Aa marks the end of the Christmas/Yule time celebrations. A group of people dress up as Vikings and are termed the ‘Jarl Squad’. The Jarl Squad marches around the villages and towns singing songs and carrying burning torchlights.
A Viking galley ship is prepared especially for the festival. At the end of the celebration the galley ship is burned in front of all the spectators!
Activities to mark Up Hella Aa are usually:
- Crafting Viking masks, helmets, and weapons such as shields and axes. DIYs.com have 15 Viking crafts to discover.
- Watching the Jarl Squad procession.
- Visit Shetland.org for more information about Up Hella Aa for Kids. And on the BBC Newsround site.
- Watch this great video of the Up Hella Aa procession:
- Learn all about the Vikings over on BBC Bitesize. And over on vikingsmrdonn.com to find out who exactly the Jarls were!
- The DKFindout website also has a great hub of Viking information for kids to discover.
Thank-you for making it to the end of my post!
If you have any comments or feedback I would love to read them.
Especially about your family’s experiences with any of the activities.
It would be brilliant if you would pin my post on Pinterest or share on social media.
It really helps to support my blog and is very much appreciated.
Many thanks and a Blaidhana Mhath Ur! (Scots Gaelic for Happy New Year)
17 Family Winter Traditions and Festivals to Discover
The following are Amazon affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase I may receive payment at absolutely no extra cost to your purchases.
All links are relevant to my blog post and I only recommend items that I own or would love to! Many Thanks!