International Holiday Differences for Assignees

Published: Oct 23, 2015

Employees and families on assignments outside the U.S. will experience some new and, perhaps, different national holidays/festivals than celebrated in their home countries.  Actively participating in or celebrating such events is often an enjoyable and educational way to adapt to the host country and have a richer experience. Likewise, local colleagues are often impressed by an assignee’s interest in better understanding local culture or traditions. 

Of course, international holidays/festivals come in a variety of concepts and reasons. Take the following:

  • Japan:  Respect of the Aged Day (Keirō no Hi). This national holiday is celebrated the third Monday in September to express respect for elders in the community and thank them for their contributions to society. Many communities throw parties and offer special gifts to bring even more longevity to their lives.

  • Italy:  Assumption Day (Ferragosto).  This widely celebrated national holiday in Italy occurs on August 15—the day Catholics believe Mary ascended to heaven. Many businesses close and one will find celebrations this day and the days before/after with music, food, parades and fireworks.

  • India:  Ganesha Chaturthi.   In India, this is a national holiday when Hindus celebrate the birthday of Lord Ganesh. It normally falls between August 19 and September 20 and varies by year.

  • Switzerland:  The Carnival of Basel (Basler Fasnacht). Each year the carnival starts after Ash Wednesday at 4:00 am and runs for exactly 72 hours. The city of Basel, Switzerland lets its hair down and embraces a massive carnival similar to the way Mardi Gras is celebrated in New Orleans. Onlookers cannot help but partake in the madness of it all.

  • South Africa:  Heritage Day (“Erfenisdag”). This public holiday is celebrated on September 24 and South Africans across the spectrum are encouraged to celebrate their culture and the diversity of their beliefs and traditions.

  • Brazil:  Carnival. An annual four-day festival celebrated throughout Brazil before Lent and Easter, the carnival is the most popular event of the year in Brazil where it becomes the “Greatest Show on Earth”. Dance and music parades fill streets; celebrations carry on for days.

  • China:  Chinese New Year (Nián Jié).  Also known as the Spring Festival, this is a public holiday celebrated in China and also Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, North Korea, Singapore, South Korea, and Vietnam. Fireworks, gatherings/meals with family and friends, lion and dragon dances and giving out a monetary gift during the holiday are all popular activities.

This is just a very small sampling -- every country has its own unique, national holidays, festivities, and cultural rituals.  Likewise, because most assignees still wish to recognize and celebrate their own traditional home country national holidays, an adjustment on how or when they are celebrated may be in order. This might be especially true for holidays that are not observed locally.

For instance, with the “U.S. holiday season” just around the corner, many assignment locations that do not celebrate Christmas include:

  • Turkey:  Largely a Muslim country, December 25 is just another day in Turkey, but Istanbul offers so much to see and do if one is there over Christmas in such a lively and energetic assignment location.

  • Thailand:  This country’s population is primarily Buddhist so Christmas is not widely observed and typically passes without much celebration.

  • Russia:  The Russian Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas, but not until January 7 because the church uses the old “Julian” calendar for religious celebration days.

  • China:  Christmas is not celebrated here like in the west, but there is a Chinese festival for the winter solstice that happens a few days earlier.

If scheduling a home leave trip to celebrate is not an option, some assignees choose to get together with other expatriates locally or use the time to travel elsewhere to celebrate.  Certainly, these might be different kinds of celebrations than in one’s home country, but they can be also very memorable ones.

Understanding and discovering new, host country holidays while celebrating your own away from home can be an excellent way to assimilate and make new friends with host country locals.  If one remains open-minded and accepts that celebrating customary holidays and traditions around the world will be a bit different – but no less fun or festive necessarily – international holidays can prove a very rewarding, memorable and lasting assignee experience.