Across America, winter celebrations

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Americans love a party, and winter offers several holidays for family and friends to meet and celebrate religious and cultural events. Winter solstice celebrations mark the return of the sun following the longest, darkest night of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, around December 21 or 22.

Loy Krathong

Two people praying near flowers and incense (© AP Images)
(© AP Images)

Offering a prayer to Buddha, like these two are doing in Florida, is common during Loy Krathong. The holiday is held on the full moon of the 12th month in the traditional Thai lunar calendar. In the Western calendar, this usually falls in November.

Hanukkah

Four people celebrating Hanukkah (© AP Images)
(© AP Images)

A family in New York stands by a menorah at Hanukkah. This Jewish holiday, also known as the Festival of Lights, lasts eight days and is celebrated with a nightly menorah lighting and special prayers and food. The dates vary based on the Jewish calendar.

Las Posadas

Girl holding lantern (© Washington Post via Getty Images)
(© Washington Post via Getty Images)

Las Posadas (“The Inns”) lasts from December 16 to 24 and commemorates Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem and their search for shelter before the birth of Christ. This procession, in Langley Park, Maryland, visited several homes to pray and sing.

Mawlid al-Nabi

Muslim worshipers praying at a mosque (© Getty Images)
(© Getty Images)

Worshipers in Lanham, Maryland, pray in a mosque to observe Mawlid al-Nabi. The holiday celebrates the birth of the prophet Muhammad, born in the year 570. The date varies based on the Islamic calendar.

Christmas

Children visiting Santa Claus (© AP Images)
(© AP Images)

Santa Claus has assumed the persona of a jolly dispenser of gifts through such works as the 1823 poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” by Clement Clarke Moore. However, Santa is originally derived from the Dutch Sinterklaas and the German St. Nicholas. This Santa hugs children in a department store in New York.

Kwanzaa

Woman in African garb with Kwanzaa candles (© AP Images)
(© AP Images)

Kwanzaa is a seven-day celebration, based on African festivals, from December 26 through January 1. In Atlanta, Ruth Ndiagne Dorsey sits with her Kwanzaa display at her church, the Shrine of the Black Madonna.

New Year’s Eve

Fireworks over a bridge (© AP Images)
(© AP Images)

Many Americans mark the new year by watching the New Year’s Eve festivities in New York City’s Times Square on TV or with local fireworks displays, seen here in San Francisco. Celebrations generally go on past midnight into January 1 (New Year’s Day).

Russian Orthodox Christmas

Man spinning the Christmas star with people near (© AP Images)
(© AP Images)

A man spins the Christmas star during a Russian Orthodox Christmastide celebration at the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage, Alaska. The Russian Orthodox Church celebrates its Christmas on January 7. That’s 13 days after Western Christmas, celebrated December 25.

Lunar New Year

People in Chinese lion costume (© AP Images)
(© AP Images)

The Lunar New Year is celebrated by several Asian countries and by Asian communities in the United States. The holiday can fall anywhere from late January to mid-February, depending on the lunar calendar. Here, performers dance in a Chinese lion costume outside the Thien Hau Temple in Los Angeles.

ShareAmerica’s Leigh Hartman contributed to this report.