At this time of the year there are many religious festivals that take place.
Of course most people know that Christmas falls on the 25th December but how many people know of all other festivals that take place not on 25th December but generally from November until January?
Most of these other celebrations take the form of Festivals of Light.Countries across the world have their own special ways of celebrating festivals of light.
Thailand celebrates 'Loi Krathong'. Loi means 'to float' and 'Krathong' is a Lotus shaped boat that is made of banana leaves the boat has a candle, joss sticks, flowers and coins.
It is believed that when the Krathings float they carry away any bad luck.
In India 'Diwali' is a Hindu festival celebrated in October / November and lasts for five days.
Hindus believe that Diwali commemorates good over evil and gives thanks for Lord Rama's return to his kingdom after being exiled for 14 years. Fireworks and candles are used to celebrate Diwali.
The Phillipines is the only Christian country in Asia and is celebrated by lighting star lanterns, these are called 'parol'.
Nine days before Christmas the story of the birth of Jesus is told. Over the next nine days parols are displayed and fireworks lit, culminating in Christmas Eve by a procession and people carry their paroles to light their way.
The Chinese Christians also use lanterns to light their homes as well as having Christmas trees which they call 'trees of light'.
Children hang up muslin stockings and await a visit from 'dun che lao ren' this translates to 'Christmas old man'.
Of course most Chinese are not Christian and their big festival is Chinese New Year which is held in January. Fireworks are a big part of this celebration.
Mexicans start their celebrations of las posadas 9 days before Christmas when they march from house to house with candles looking for a room at an inn.
They are re-enacting Joseph and Mary's search for shelter in Jerusalem before the birth of Jesus.
And in Jerusalem, what do people do?
Chanukah is celebrated between November and December. This festival lasts for eight days. A candle is lit every day for the eight days.
It celebrates a great battle won by the Maccabees against the Syrians. When the battle was won the Jews went to their temple to give thanks and found that the Syrians had let the oil in their everlasting lamp go out. They only had enough oil to light for one day. A miracle occurred and the oil lasted 8 days. There are 9 candles in a menorah. One is used to light the eight candles.
Children are given small gifts and play a game with a spinning top called a 'dreidel'.
Special foods , fried in oil, are eaten such as doughnuts and potatoes pancakes.
Christians in Egypt are members of the Coptic Church and celebrate Christmas on 6th and 7th January. Gifts are exchanged on the morning of the 7th January.
Before this happens advent is celebrated by lighting a candle every week for four weeks. During advent, which lasts 45 days fasting takes place and no meat, poultry or dairy is eaten.
Homes are decorated with lights and Christmas trees. On Christmas morning (7th January) friends and neighbours bring gifts of shortbread which is called 'Kaik'.
Now to Europe where Festivals of light are celebrated in a variety of different ways.
In Germany and Holland, St. Martins day or laternenfest is celebrated on 11th November.
Martinstag is named after St. Martin of Tours who was a roman soldier. He became a monk after being baptised as an adult. He was made a saint by the Catholic Church to reward him for being a kind man doing good deeds, one of which was to tear his cloak in half and give one half to a beggar.
Many parts of Germany have the children making lanterns in school and then gather in the streets to sing and dance. Often men dress with long red cloaks to lead the parade.
Traditional foods eaten on St. Martins day are goose, red cabbage and dumplings.
Goose is eaten as the story is told that Martin was reluctant to become a bishop as an honour for his good deeds.
He hid in a stable filled with geese to escape from church officials but the noise of the gabbling geese gave him away!!!
Many other countries in Europe and, the rest of the world have developed their own traditions but all have one thing in common, candles and/or lanterns.