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Holidays & festivals around the world (besides Thanksgiving)

November is one of my favorite months. It starts with our wedding anniversary and ends with one of my favorite holidays—filled with gorgeous fall colors, delicious food, and a slower-than-October pace of life in between.

Thanksgiving is just a few weeks away for Americans, but seeing as we have quite the international audience for this blog, I didn’t want to dedicate an entire Intellectual Grownup post only to Thanksgiving this month.

And since we had a heavy-hitting post last month, I thought it might be fun to have this month’s offering be a bit… lighter. I loved writing my 31 days series about places around the world, and in my research, I learned about a few remarkable holidays celebrated throughout the nooks and crannies of the globe.

So here you go—a look at fascinating festivities around the world during November.

Diwali: India (& more)

Diwali is the Hindu festival of lights, held around October-November. It’s associated with Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity, and marks the beginning of the fiscal year in India. For Hindus, Diwali is one of the most important festivals of the year and is celebrated by most families throughout the country.

Photo source

Diwali is also an official holiday in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Mauritius, Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago, Suriname, Malaysia, Singapore and Fiji, and it’s also celebrated by many pockets of people throughout the world.

Melbourne Cup Day: Victoria, Australia

Melbourne Cup Day horses
Photo source

I’ve gotten to know more Aussies lately, so my Facebook feed was sprinkled this week with pics of women in outrageous hats. On the first Tuesday in November , the “race that stops a nation” is a 3,200 meter horse race for thoroughbreds three years old and older.

Photo source

‘Fashions On The Field’ is a major focus of the day, with substantial prizes awarded for the best-dressed man and woman. Most noticed are the requirements for elegant hats, and more recently the alternative of a “fascinator” (I had to ask Darren Rowse’s wife what on earth that was). Raceday fashion has occasionally drawn almost as much attention as the race itself.

All Saint’s Day: Globally throughout the Christian Church

Also known as The Feast of All Saints, this holiday is celebrated on November 1 by parts of the Western Church (and on the first Sunday following Pentecost in the Eastern Church). With the broad definition of “honoring all saints, known an unknown,” customs for this holiday are as varied as the Church itself.

all saints day
aints_Day_2010-4.jpg” target=”blank”>Photo source

For example, in Portugal, children celebrate the tradition by going door-to-door, where they receive cakes, nuts and pomegranates. In many parts of Europe and the Americas, people light candles and visit the graves of deceased relatives.

In English-speaking countries, All Saint’s is often traditionally celebrated with the hymn “For All the Saints” by Walsham How.

Loi Krathong & Yi Peng: Thailand

Loi Krathong is a festival celebrated annually throughout Thailand and certain parts of Laos and Burma. The name comes from the tradition of making buoyant decorations which are then floated on a river—traditional krathong are made from a slice of the trunk of a banana tree or a spider lily plant.

Photo source

Thai Buddhists use this holiday to honor Buddha, Prince Siddhartha Gautama, where the candle venerates the Buddha with light, while the krathong’s floating symbolizes letting go of hatred, anger, and defilements. People sometime cut their fingernails or hair and placed the clippings on the krathong as a symbol of letting go of negative thoughts.

Loy Krathong
Photo source

Also known as “Lantern Festival,” Yi Peng typically falls around the same time as Loi Krathong, so these two holidays are often celebrated together. A multitude of sky lanterns are launched into the air, resembling large flocks of giant fluorescent jellyfish gracefully floating through the sky.

Remembrance Day: Global

Around the world, people stop to recognize Remembrance Day on November 11th. This day, also known as Poppy Day, Armstice Day, or Veterans day (depending on your country), is recognized globally to honor those who lost their lives during World War I (and in certain countries, such as the U.S., this has expanded to include all veterans).

Remembrance Day
Photo source

Remembrance Day is held on November 11 because the war ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in the year 1918. Countries observing the holiday include Australia, Bermuda, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Ireland, Canada, and the U.S.

So now it’s your turn—I’d love for you to comment below (head here, if you’re reading via RSS or email) and share two things: 1. Where you’re from, and 2. What’s your favorite holiday this time of year? I love learning about cultures and their festivities, and I love hearing where this community lives! Tell us about your homeland.

Reading Time:

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  1. Pipsqueak

    I’m originally from the UK where we celebrate Bonfire Night on Nov 5th.

    • Maggie

      All Saints Day is not a day where we remember our deceased and give them cakes etc., that is All Souls Day on November 2nd!

      • Tsh

        Yes, that’s common in certain parts of the world—both All Saints and All Souls. 🙂

  2. Annie

    Here in Canada, November is light on the holidays. We have already had thanksgiving (in October) and Christmas is still weeks away. Certainly once Halloween is done, Christmas starts in full swing, heck once thanksgiving is done (early Oct.), the Christmas decorations and commericials come out.

    We do have one holiday that you mentionned in your post, Rememberance Day. It is no longer a holiday where schools are closed etc. I believe government offices are closed, but that is it.

    In Canada, we are fiercely proud of our military history. In fact, you can say our nation was truly born in the trenches of France. Well, yes we became a nation in 1867, our foreign policy was still dictated by mother England (it continued to be administered by England until the 1930s). So when mother England went to war in 1914, Canada went to war. For most of the war, Canadian troops were led by British officers. It was not until late in the war, that we were given the opportunity to fight as Canadians under Canadian leadership.

    Just as Gallipollli defined Australia and New Zealand as nations indepedent now in spririt from their mother, places like the Somme, Verdun, Flanders, and Paschendale, gave us our pride. So on Nov. 11 we pause at 11 am to remember our fallen heroes who bought our freedom.

    Fast foward almost a hunderd years and the day now remembers our fallen soliders from WW II, Korea, and beyond. We have a tradition when a soldier dies now in combat, he or she is transported to the chief coroners office in Toronto from one of the military bases East of the city. All along the highway, people line the overpasses in silent tribute to the soldier. It has happened so many times that they have renamed that stretch of highway “the Highway of Heroes”. For a country of lesss than 35 million, the loss of even one soldier is hard. We remember ours deeply.

    • Tsh

      Fascinating stuff, Annie. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Jessica

    I’m from Britain and we’ve also just had Bonfire Night, also known as Guy Fawkes Night, which traditionally is to remember and celebrate the fact that parliament was not blown up in 1605 by Guy Fawkes! Here is the little poem that I remember learning in school!

    ‘Remember, remember!
    The fifth of November,
    For Gunpowder treason and plot;
    I know of no reason
    Why the Gunpowder treason
    Should ever be forgot!’

    Traditionally, kids would make ‘guys’ of old clothes, newspapers and masks and then throw them on the bonfire. It’s now generally just an excuse to gather outdoors and welcome in the winter months as you warm yourself by the fire, watch some fireworks and drink hot soup!

    • Tsh

      Yes! Read up about Guy Fawkes night. So is it a big holiday there?

      • Jessica

        It’s not a holiday that people would take the day off work for or celebrate with a big family meal, but it is marked by most people as it’s a great family event and lots of families, schools, churches and community centers would hold ‘bonfire night’ events. I have fond memories of bonfire night, as a child I always went to a big community gathering at my school and often made a guy that was thrown on the big bonfire and snuggled in close with family to watch the fireworks. As I got older I tended to mark the occasion with friends in someones back yard, doing our own small fireworks display and now that I have a baby girl I just watch the displays from my window until she is old enough to take to an event!

  4. Beth

    I’m over in the UK.

    Bonfire Night on the 5th is my absolute favourite.

    It all started when Guy Fawkes – a catholic – tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament – in an attempt to kill King James, a Protestant. He was caught, and hanged.

    On Bonfire night, traditionally we build huge bonfires, make a “Guy” and throw him on the Bonfire – it’s not as dark as it might sound!

    Then we light the sky with beautiful fireworks!

    Our family tends to have warming food, light sparklers, and head into the town for a big fireworks display.

    It’s so much fun!

    • Tsh

      Sounds like so much fun!

  5. Katie

    I am an American but live in China. Here in China there’s Chinese National Day which is the birthdate of the current political party here. That’s on October 1st and many businesses and schools have a week off. My favorite fall time is September – the weather is still warm enough to be pleasant but not cold either. I love those first crisp days of fall, and I love crispy fall apples! Best of all, my birthday is in late September! 🙂 Not too much happens here for Halloween. My next favorite is the whole Christmas season!

  6. Prerna

    Am in India:) and we just celebrated Diwali this Sunday! It was lovely.. homemade sweets, oil lamps and flowers and rangolis{floor ‘paintings’}:-)

    • Tsh

      All the pics online looked GORGEOUS, Prerna. 🙂

  7. Carola

    We live in Germany right now where kids get to celebrate St Martin’s day on November 11 with lanterns that they made in the weeks leading up to it. They walk around the neighborhood in the evening singing Martin songs. According to the legend St Martin cut his coat in half one night during a snow storm and gave one half to a beggar to save him from freezing. It is a big day for any German kid!

    • Tsh

      Cool! Sounds fascinating.

    • sherah

      We are also in Germany and our children are preparing for St. Martin’s. It’s one of the things I’m going to miss about living in German when we leave in March. This will be our 5th and last time to celebrate.

  8. M L

    Not sure that you meant to say “nooks and crannies” of the globe — I’m pretty sure “INDIA” is neither a nook nor a cranny! Phrasing makes you otherwise beautiful post start off on an odd note.

    • GM

      M L, I interpreted it as meaning that Indian people all over the world celebrate Diwali, even if they’re a relatively small minority population in a different country. For example here in the UK Diwali is not an official holiday but we have areas where relatively high proportions of the population are Indian or of Indian descent. In those areas there are many community Diwali celebrations and many schools and workplaces will also do something to mark the day.

      • KC

        I can confirm that in a nook and/or cranny of New Jersey (the little blocks of condo-like apartments we currently live in, which are basically an island surrounded by farmland), the whole afternoon and evening were crackling with fireworks on Sunday. 🙂

        (I did have to look up the next day what holiday it had been, though!)

    • Tsh

      Yep… what GM said. I know India is huge.

  9. GM

    I live in London UK. It’s a bit earlier than your examples here but one of my favourite festivals that I associate with the autumn is Chinese Mid Autumn Festival (also called moon festival). This year it was on 19th September.

    As a child I loved the paper lanterns we got – if it wasn’t too windy we would get to put the lit candle inside and I loved looking at the images on the lanterns through the glow from the candles. The food’s also excellent, of course, food is so central to Chinese culture (as it is to many other cultures).

    And I still love the legends the Chinese have around the moon, sun, stars, etc. I love re-telling them to my own children now, especially the stories about Chang’e, the moon goddess (there are loads of stories about her, and loads of variations from different parts of the country).

  10. Sarah M

    My favorite holiday this time of year is Thanksgiving. I’m originally from the midwest (Lincoln, NE) but we’re living at the tip of Washington–Blaine, literally the last exit before the border– because my Canadian husband works in Canada. 🙂 This year we won’t be celebrating Thanksgiving with our immediate families like in the past, which is tough, but we were invited to a Canadian Thanksgiving (Oct. 12, it felt so strange!) and our small town does a community wide Thanksgiving week-of, so I’m looking forward to that.
    I loved the Lantern video. So pretty.
    Sarah M

  11. Rebecca

    From the US, but currently living in the United Arab Emirates. My favorite holiday this time of year is Thanksgiving, just a time of being grateful together. Last year while on vacation in South Carolina, our extended family celebrated Thanksgiving at an all-volunteer community dinner. We feasted with others from around the US and the world. Just lovely!

    Around here, they’re preparing for the national day the beginning of December. Intricate light displays at night, decorating cars, etc. This country is about 80% expats so there is always a reason to celebrate with so many holidays. Makes it a good reminder to celebrate in the everyday…

    • Tsh

      I loved celebrating Thanksgiving when I lived overseas! Something about gathering with expats who understood my home culture made it all the more special.

  12. Faigie

    First of all that picture under Melbourne cup day reminds me of Ascot opening day from My Fair Lady.
    Anyway I am an Observant Jew and our holidays are observed by Jews all over the world as opposed to just in one country. We just recently finished a whole slew of holidays from the new Year, Rosh Hashana, yomKippur, sukkot, simchat torah ( it was a bundle ) and are heading into Chanukkah.
    We have a number of holidays that many secular Jews are not familiar with if they don’t have an Observant lifestyle even thought everyone knows about chanukkah.

    • Tsh

      I love learning about Jewish holidays. So many, and all because of such rich history!

  13. Miriam

    In Germany we remember the dead on “Sunday of the Dead” (Totensonntag), the last Sunday in November.

  14. emily

    i saw others have said the same, but i love guy fawkes’ night! i’m an american but grew up partially overseas, and my international school always had a bonfire night. sparklers make a lot more sense in weather where you can wear gloves than in the middle of the hot summer 🙂

  15. Emma

    Another vote for bonfire/guy fawkes night! So much fun! And this time of year is also statutes time where I grew up. (Essentially a travelling fair came to town and shut off the main roads for 4 days! Its called that as there is a statute in the doomsday book allowing it!!!!) But I guess that one only applies to a handful of people!

  16. Lorena

    Hi Tsh!
    I’m from Mexico living in the US and my favorite holiday this time of year is the Dia de Reyes. The day when the three Wise Men arrived to visit Baby Jesus and it’s celebrated on January 6th. In Mexico city, in particular, this is the day when children wake up to see and open their gifts under the Christmas tree. The rest of the country open their gifts on Christmas day. I was born in Mexico city so that particular date is always dear to me. We also celebrate with a big feast with family and we eat a cake called “Rosca,” which is in the shape of a ring. In the cake, there are little plastic dolls baked in. People take turns cutting their piece and if their piece has a little doll, that person then has to throw a party on February 2nd. Another Catholic holiday.
    It seems to me, we just make up ways to have parties and get togethers, but it sure is a way to celebrate our traditions and celebrate our families.

    • Janie

      I’m from the U.S., though I have lived all over. We’re not Catholic, but we celebrate Jan 6 (we call it Epiphany) because my parents like the symbolism of it. Your comment about the plastic dolls made me laugh – one year my mom used a Lego man for the doll in the cake!

  17. caroline

    I’m an Australian living in Cambodia, and November is usually when the annual Water Festival is held. It has Buddhist religious foundations, but now it’s more a time of celebration and merriment. Many people travel from the provinces to the capital of Phnom Penh, often doubling its size, to watch and participate in three days of long-boat races where the waters of three rivers converge.

    This year however the official Water Festival celebrations have been cancelled due to extensive and devastating flooding throughout Cambodia.

    The festival also marks the amazing natural phenomenon when the flow of the Tonle Sap river reverses.

    The Tonle Sap river flows from Cambodia’s Tonle Sap Lake, the largest freshwater lake in South-East Asia, located near the ancient temples of Angkor Wat. In the city of Phnom Penh the Tonle Sap river meets two other rivers – the waters of the mighty Mekong which have flown from China through Tibet, Myanmar, Laos, and Thailand; and the smaller Tonle Bassac river. In dry season, the waters of the Tonle Sap Lake flow south and join the Mekong and Bassac waters before continuing through Vietnam into the ocean. But when the annual rains come, the volume of water in the Mekong forces the waters of the Tonle Sap river to reverse their flow.

    November also marks the start of the wedding season, so there are lots of brightly coloured wedding tents/marquees constructed on the streets and loud music announcing the celebrations to the local community.

  18. Anda


    I am from Latvia and November here is a pretty special month.

    There is Martin’s day on November 10th, when goose is roasted and other activities goes on.
    November 11th is called “The bear slayer day” (called after an epos), dedicated to those, fallen in fights for Latvia during WWI, and is significant as in 11.11.1919 Latvian army freed Riga (capital of Latvia) from Russian army (bermontians).
    And then November 18th is the independance day. It’s been 6 years that around 18th there is a festival of light – “Staro Rīga” (“Glow Riga”) and of course the celebrations end with the years most spectacular lights and music show over the river Daugava in front of the Riga castle.

    And of course at the very end of the month Advent starts. (And I also have my nameday in november 🙂 )

  19. karen

    We live in Ireland, which doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving, but we have a growing Indian population. Last week our son’s preschool celebrated Diwali, and I’m so thankful that even though he’s missing out on a culturally American holiday, he’s getting to celebrate (and support) his new little friends in remembering their own special days.

  20. Kara U

    I’m from the US but have lived in Thailand for awhile. Loy Krathong is one of my favorite holidays. It wouldn’t really feel like the holiday season without it. It is rather incredible to experience.

  21. Primary Beginnings

    This is fantastic! We enjoy sharing how other cultures celebrate holidays at our preschool and the article, plus all the great comments, will help us teach our kids.

  22. Michelle

    The Melbourne cup is a disgrace. It’s where horses are flogged, sometimes to their deaths (2 horses died in the 2014 race). People trash the grounds with their litter and act like drunk fools. This is definitely not worthy of being called a celebration.

    Sydney, Australia

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