Paper is universally festive. In fact, paper factors into many holiday festivals and traditions around the world. From paper lanterns in China to cardboard and paper pinatas in Mexico, paper has a pride of place in many cultural celebrations. We’ve rounded up some of the more interesting paper-centric traditions featured in festivals and on holidays from across the globe. Some are specific to each place, others are shared in different cultures, but all their meanings are universal.
In Japan, during the first few days of the New Year, many people practice Kakizome, also known as the first writing of the year. Through calligraphy, people of all ages write poetry, words of luck and aspirations for the new year on paper. The papers are later burned to bring the words to fruition.
Tanabata, also known as the star festival in July, is a celebration in Japan that originated in China. During the festival, it is custom to write one’s wishes on a piece of paper and place it on a bamboo tree in hopes they come true.
The Lantern Festival marks the end of the traditional Chinese New Year celebrations. Festivalgoers create and decorate paper lanterns with images and Chinese characters. Lighting and appreciating the paper lanterns are the highlight of the festival. Sometimes people paste riddles on pieces of paper to their lanterns and hand out prizes to those who figure them out.
At many festivals and holidays throughout the year, red paper envelopes filled with money are handed out. The red color of the envelope symbolizes good luck and wards off evil spirts.
Ghosts and restless spirits roam the earth during the Hungry Ghost Festival, where their descendants pay homage to them. One of the main activities for the festivalgoers is to create replicas of paper money or luxury items in miniature paper models and burn them to appease their ancestors.
During the Wag Festival, dedicated to the death of Osiris and to honor the souls of the deceased, festivalgoers make paper boats that are set toward the west on graves as well as float paper shires on the waters of the Nile river.
Every Christmas season, decorated, ornamental and often star-shaped lanterns called parols are made of bamboo and paper. The lanterns are hung throughout the towns during Yuletide and symbolize light and hope for the season.
In France, as well as other European countries, a paper fish is integral to their annual April Fool’s day celebrations, or in this case April Fish! Children of all ages attempt to attach a decorated paper fish to each other’s backs without being noticed.
A New Year’s tradition in Russia involves burning wishes for the new year. Each person would have a piece of paper, pen, beverage and lit candles. Once the countdown starts, revelers would write down their wishes for the new year on the paper, then burn it with the candle’s flame and add its ashes to their drink, finishing it before the clock strikes midnight.
A yearly tradition for the Danish is to create a Christmas Heart in anticipation of purchasing their Christmas tree for the holiday season. The ornament is made of red and white paper interwoven in the shape of a heart. Once the hearts are constructed, it is time for the family to get their tree.
Originally invented as packaging for sweets, paper wrapped crackers have become a holiday tradition in the U.K. and can be found on the table for many festive celebrations, particularly Christmas. The cracker is a paper-wrapped cardboard tube with a gift inside. Two people, one holding each end, pull the cracker apart and whoever is left with the tube and gift wins.
While it may not have originated there, the pinata is central to many celebrations and festivals in Mexico. Made into various shapes out of cardboard and paper, they are filled with small gifts such as candy or fruits. Participants are blindfolded and swing at the pinata with a large wooden stick until it breaks open.