Why do different cultures celebrate different holidays? The common answer is religion. But in reality, there’s so much more to it than that.
We all know that religion affects what holidays are celebrated. Of course, there are global exceptions, the most notable being New Years, but a Hindu most likely won’t celebrate Christmas or Easter and a Christian probably doesn’t know what Eid al-Adha is.
Several holidays are based on historical events. While it’s true that most major holidays under this category are religious, there are some exceptions. Take our Thanksgiving or Argentina’s Independence Day for example.
And then there are holidays whose origins are a mix of the two. Halloween, which is a Celtic holiday that marked the end of summer and brought the ghosts of the dead to the Earth, is a fairly popular example. After being conquered by the Romans, the holiday was Christianized in an effort to forcefully assimilate the Celtic tribes, resulting in the Halloween we know today.
Interestingly, it’s geography that’s at the root of most cultures. The term is cultural geography, which is how geography affects the culture and beliefs of the resident population. A large mountain, abundance of flowering trees, weather patterns, or any other landmark has the potential to influence culture. Water in particular has a large impact on civilization, so several holidays based on geography revolve around the precious source.
In Egypt, for example, a two-week holiday known as Wafaa El-Nil celebrates the flooding of the Nile River, which assured them survival in ancient times. Additionally, in Thailand, a tradition during the holiday Loy Krathong is to send small decorated “boats” down a river with gifts and prayers to the water goddess.