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Most of us in the United States consider Thanksgiving to be the semiofficial launch of the holiday season. Indeed, except for the Fourth of July, it’s hard to think of a more quintessentially American holiday. But one of the fun and interesting things about operating a global network is the glimpse it gives us into some truly unique holiday traditions around the world.
My personal education in cross-cultural holiday differences began years ago when my family and I lived in London. There, we learned that the Santa Claus we knew and loved had been replaced by a fellow named Father Christmas.
Traditionally, when we think of the end of the year, we consider December holidays such as Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa to be the apex of the season. From a global perspective, however, the holiday season is just hitting its stride. In the Bahamas, the traditional celebration of Junkanoo — a series of joyous musical parades — takes place on December 26 and again, for good measure, on January 1. On December 28, Puerto Ricans celebrate Dia de Los Inocentes (Day of the Innocents), a day of fooling people similar to April Fools’ Day in the U.S.
In countries throughout the American network, food plays a big role in New Year’s traditions. In some countries, cabbage — thought to represent paper currency — is eaten as a wish for prosperity in the coming year. Likewise, in Latin American countries such as Chile and Brazil, lentils symbolize wealth and are often eaten on January 1. On New Year’s Eve in Spain, it is tradition to eat 12 grapes as the clock strikes midnight (each grape signifying a month in the coming year). Meanwhile, in France it is customary to usher in the New Year with pancakes — indeed, in many cultures, circular foods such as pancakes are considered to be lucky, as they symbolize a full year’s cycle.
Let’s not forget that the biggest New Year’s celebration of them all won’t even take place until February. On February 10, 2013, the Chinese year 4710 will begin, and we will transition from the Year of the Dragon to the Year of the Snake. The Chinese New Year is that country’s longest and most important celebration, and the festivities typically include fireworks, parades, and the Lantern Festival, in which thousands of lanterns light the way to the new year. Chinese New Year coincides with Chunyun, a period of widespread travel within China. Considered to be the largest annual migration of people in the world, Chunyun stems from the long-held tradition for most Chinese people to spend the New Year celebration with their families. In recent decades, economic forces have led to a vast migration from rural to urban areas, and educational reforms have greatly increased the number of young people who leave home to attend university. During Chunyun, which typically begins two weeks before New Year’s Day and lasts about 40 days, millions and millions of people return to their hometowns. And, since starting service to China in 2006, we are honored to play an increasing role in the Chinese people’s journey home.
While our holiday traditions may vary, I believe they are all rooted in that same universal desire to connect — to the people we care about and to the world around us. To me, that’s what the holidays are all about. On behalf of all my American Airlines colleagues, I want to thank you for flying with us and wish you and yours a joyous holiday season. Have a great trip!
Thomas W. Horton