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  • Pete Karolczak

January 2021 - Celebrating Global Traditions

Many people who worked with me at HP understand that celebrating global traditions has always been important to me. Though I have since left the corporate world, I wanted to re-establish my own tradition of sharing global traditions, holidays and interesting events each month.

This tradition started when I noticed several important deadlines and meetings were being set on significant days for employees in our global team. Additionally, this same lack of awareness not only impacted our employees around the world, but our customers and partners as well. I decided that I wanted to do something about it - and started sharing a few important dates each month with a reminder to be aware of these dates when thinking about employees and customers.

I not only received many thank-you emails, I also received wonderful suggestions for traditions that I had missed! I know I will never be able to share everything, so please add your own traditions in the comments! Sadly, I also received a few comments based on prejudices, but that only strengthened my resolve. We are a global business community and most certainly every company, large and small, work with people of different cultures and traditions.

So with that, let’s reawaken the celebration of Global Traditions for JANUARY!


Venice New Year's Eve
New Year in Venice: Photo by Pete Karolczak

Firstly, Happy New Year! Whether you stayed up late to watch the fireworks on Sydney Bridge or watch the giant disco ball fall in Times Square, NYC, I think we are all relieved to see an end to 2020! And while many parts of the world celebrate the western calendar flipping from December to January, this isn’t the only New Year we will be celebrating this year. We are still looking forward to the several different Lunar New Year celebrations in Asia next month, to Rosh Hashana and to Muharram, the Islamic New Year in early Autumn! But let’s start with January and our new 2021 Calendar year!

United Kingdom: Let’s start in the UK where the first guest to walk through your door should hopefully be a young, dark-headed male bearing gifts? I only hope this year he is wearing a mask - but did you also know this belief is based less on the preference for brunettes and more on the historical wish that it’s not a blonde norseman bearing an axe!

Japan: The New Year in Japan often includes a thorough house-cleaning and decorating with pine branches, blossoms and bamboo. I have also celebrated New Year in Japan with the ringing of temple bells - in one of the most beautiful celebrations I have witnessed!

Speaking of cleaning, did you know you can toss your old fruitcakes out on Fruitcake Toss Day, January 3rd? Just saying…

Denmark: For our friends in Denmark, the New Year celebration includes smashing old dishes on your friends’ front door - and an unspoken contest to see who has the most broken dishes (and thus the most friends)! This feels like a wonderful tradition for a pandemic year!

Spain is an important country to me, where eating 12 grapes at midnight; one per chime is mandatory! And of course there’s tapas and wine!

Philippines: And for my friends and family in the Philippines, prosperity for the new year is symbolized in the round shape of foods, coins and even polka dots on your clothes! Lighting fireworks and throwing candies and coins into the air for the children to gather is also included in the celebration!

South America: In several countries in South America, one influences the next year’s fate by the color of underwear they choose to wear! Red bring love, yellow money, green luck… I assume some colors are not recommended. I’ll stop there.

In Pasto, Colombia, they celebrate the Carnival of Black and White January 2-7… This is a very politically incorrect festival (that has thankfully evolved a bit) - but it’s a centuries-old tradition honored with UNESCO World Heritage status. The festival goes back to the time of Spanish colonial rule, when for one day in January, slaves were given the day off. To show their support, slave masters painted their faces black, and on the following day, slaves painted their faces white. Today, the city of Pasto thankfully celebrates this day with parades, music and food!

The Epiphany occurs on January 6 - 12 days after Christmas when Christians celebrate the arrival of the Magi to Bethlehem. Many families keep their Christmas trees up until this day. I would like to keep mine up until March but I am not allowed to.

United States: Martin Luther King Day is typically celebrated on the third Monday of January in the United States, timed with King’s actual birthday on January 15. On this day, the US celebrates the life and still incomplete Civil Rights journey that this great leader mobilized.

Spain: On January 19th in the Basque city of San Sebastian, La Tamborrada celebrates the world-famous Basque cuisine accompanied by thousands of people taking to the streets at midnight to begin a full 24 hours of wooden-barrel drum playing, I’m curious how such festivals will be celebrated in a pandemic, but I know the food will be amazing!

India: The final tradition of the month I’d like to salute is the Jaipur Literature Festival, January 23-27. This is the largest literature festival in the world; where writers from India and all over the world gather in Jaipur to celebrate, share ideas and learn. This is a must for book lovers, though I think you’d all agree that this January feels like a good month to read a book at home!

Thank you for joining me in celebrating these global traditions and please remember that your peers, your employees, your customers and your partners may have different traditions than your own!

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