10 Little Known Holidays from Around the World

Go Global By Timothy Nelson September 16, 2016

From the ancient and pious to the colorful and crazy, these ten global holidays deserve a spot on your calendar.

Fête de la Musique in France

From: June 21st

Music makes the world go ‘round, so it was only right when France declared an official day dedicated to its celebration in 1982. Originally envisioned as a way for musicians to spread joy by playing their instruments in public, it’s blossomed into an international event. In cities all over the globe, amateur and professional musicians come together to play their instruments and perform special concerts, filling the air of year’s longest day with the sound of beautiful music.

Black and White Days, South Korea

When: March 14th and April 14th


In South Korea, the traditional February 14th Valentines date is a time for women to give gifts to their partners. The men don’t have to reciprocate until a month later on White day, when candies and other white gifts are purchased. With not one, but two days a year dedicated to celebrating love, it’s easy for singles to feel left out. Luckily, April 14th is known as Black Day, a holiday for those who missed out on Valentine’s Day and White Day get together to wear black and eat Jajangmyeon, a saucy noodle dish with, diced pork and vegetables. It’s also common to see speed dating events on Black Day, as singles look for someone they can spend Valentine’s Day with next year.

Dragon Boat Festival, China

When: 5th day of the 5th month of the Chinese lunar calendar, usually in June)

Though the original inspiration for this holiday remains somewhat obscure, this recently re-recognized public holiday dates back to at least the 4th century B.C.E. Alternatively known as Duanwu, Tuen NG or the “Double Fifth Festival” (as it falls on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese Lunar calendar), this summer holiday celebrates masculine energy (symbolized by the spirit of the dragon), as well as familial piety. The festival’s notable activities include racing dragon boats, preparing and eating zongzi (stuffed rice wrapped in bamboo), drinking realgar wine, and playing a game where participants try to balance an egg upright precisely at noon, with the winner receiving good luck for the next year.

Midsummer in Sweden

When: Saturday between June 19th and June 25th

may pole

The summer solstice figures heavily into cultures around the world, but Midsummer takes on a special significance in Sweden. During the weekend falling between June 19th and June 25th, Swedes depart for the countryside, where they gather in parks and summer cottages in floral crowns for a large meal of pickled herring and dancing around maypoles. And with the sun staying out until well past 10 PM, Midsummer is a great chance for Swedes to gather together and celebrate the warm weather late into the night.

Vesak, Southeast Asia

When: Various dates in May

Known by a variety of names, but colloquially referred to as “Buddha’s Birthday,” this holiday is meant to celebrate the cycle of birth, enlightenment and death of Buddhism’s central figure. While the traditions vary from country to country, some of the central customs associated with Vesak include the “liberation” of animals and making charitable donations and giving gifts to the less fortunate. In some countries, the day is accompanied by public festivals, featuring parades, performances, brightly-lit and colorful thorana and group meditations.

Mountain Day, Japan

When: August 11th

Japanese Alps

If you work in an office, you’ve probably daydreamed about stepping away from your desk and enjoying the summer weather. Japan’s newest public holiday is all about doing just that. Celebrated for the first time on August 11th, 2016, Mountain Day was created to give workers the chance to get some fresh air and explore the lush green mountains, volcanoes and hillsides that the Japanese countryside has to offer. Taking its place alongside Greenery Day and Ocean Day, Mountain Day is part of Japan’s commitment to get people to appreciate the wonder of the outdoors.

Royal Ploughing Ceremony, Thailand and Cambodia

When: Rotating date in May

Groundhog Day tells us whether or not we can expect six more weeks of winter. But in Asian countries like Thailand and Cambodia, there’s a similarly structured public holiday meant to celebrate the beginning of the harvest. Though they vary slightly from country to country, the holiday’s ritual generally involves the ceremonial ploughing of rice seeds by an oxen or team of oxen. Afterwards, plates of food are laid out for the oxen, and it’s said that their choice determines the quality of the harvest. Collecting some of the rice seeds used in the harvest is said to provide good luck, which means the ceremony is always accompanied by a group of enthusiastic onlookers.

Sizdah Be-Dar, Iran

When: April 1st or 2nd

There’s nothing better than enjoying a springtime picnic. In Iran, such an occasion gets its own public holiday in the form of Sizdah Be-Dar. Held on the 13th day after the Persian New Year, it symbolizes a time to gather together and celebrates a return to daily life. In addition to gathering in nature for a meal with family and friends, the day’s rituals include knotting blades of grass by single girls in the hopes of finding a partner, and the “Lie of the Thirteen,” which involves playing pranks and is said by some to be the origin behind the modern version of April Fool’s day.

Holi in India

When: rotating date between late February and mid-March)

holi festival

Without a doubt the most colorful time of year on the Hindu calendar, Holi, is a massive celebration of spring’s arrival on the last full moon day in the lunar month of Phalgun. The festivities begin with an evening of singing and dancing around a bonfire. But the main event takes place the next day, when massive crowds gather to play with dry and wet colored powders, tossing them in the air and using squirt guns and water balloons to create a vibrant and colorful scene. While Holi is huge in India, it’s now celebrated in many parts of the world with Hindu communities.

Vappu in Finland

When: April 30th-May 1st

Combining elements of the traditional Walpurgis Night (a traditional Christian feast that doubles as an occasion for witchcraft), May Day and the end of the school year, Vappu is one of the biggest moments for merrymaking on the Finnish calendar. The festivities start with overnight parties occasionally accompanied by bonfires. The next day, current and former university students don traditional white caps and head to the park for a picnic beginning in the morning, sometimes straight from the previous night’s party. With its ties to May Day, many of Finland’s political parties and major organizations use the day as an occasion for marching and speeches. In all, Vappu is a flurry of festive activity that is not to be missed.