Joy to the World: A look at holiday celebrations around the globe

Rony Gramajo

As the holidays draw near, many students and their families brush the dust off the box of house lights, scour the stores trying to check off items from their gift lists, and make space for the Christmas trees and menorahs. But beyond the typical tinsel, potato latkes, and homemade fruitcake, a few foreign students remember their own unique holiday traditions.

 

Gabriela Manuela, Senior

“The story is that St. Nicholas came to the island from the Netherlands and went around the island giving gifts for all the children,” Manuela said. “He has a long white beard and a hat and robe and rode around on a horse. He’s basically our version of Santa Claus.”

This fable is important to Manuela because it brings back the fond memories of the island of Curacao, where she was born, and the holiday that they celebrated on the island, St. Nicholas’ Day.

Manuela described how some traditions of St. Nicholas’ Day resemble American Christmas traditions, but with a twist.

“The night of St. Nicholas’ Day, instead of leaving cookies and milk for him, we leave grass and water by our bed for his horse, and in return he leaves us a present under our beds,” Manuela said.

Though there are no school or work breaks for St. Nicholas’ Day, which is held on Dec. 5, that doesn’t stop people from celebrating with parties, gatherings, and fireworks, according to Manuela.

Manuela said that she and her family only celebrate Christmas since moving to the United States when she was in fourth grade.

“We don’t celebrate it anymore because it was mainly for the kids in Curacao, and since we no longer live there and I’ve grown up, there’s really no need,” she said.

Manami Shiomi, Junior

One thing that Manami Shiomi noticed when she moved from Tokyo, Japan, to Marin was how different the holidays are.

Christmas is very simple in Japan and isn’t widely celebrated like it is in the United States, according to Shiomi. The main holiday that Shiomi and her family celebrate is New Year’s Eve.

“New Year’s Eve is really different,” Shiomi said. “On New Year’s Eve, all my family and relatives get together and eat a traditional Japanese meal that is only eaten on that day, called Osechi.”

Osechi is served in a box plate that contains small dishes, each with its own special New Year meaning. Two examples of these small dishes are Ebi, which is a dish of skewered prawns, symbolizing a wish for long life, and Kuro-mame, which are black soybeans that symbolize a wish for health. Along with the longstanding tradition of Osechi, Shiomi and her family also partake in the Japanese tradition of Otoshidama.

Otoshidama are small envelopes filled with money that are given to kids on New Year’s Eve and often have small positive sayings on the front.

“This was my favorite part of New Year’s Eve because I would always get a lot of money from my parents, aunts and uncles,” Shiomi said.

But after moving to the United States, Shiomi said that she and her family have stopped celebrating New Year’s Eve.

“It’s hard to celebrate because my family and I have had a hard time finding traditional Japanese food. But we celebrate it when we go to visit Tokyo and see all our relatives,” Shiomi said.

Fatima Quinones, freshman

Freshman Fatima Quinones still vividly remembers the holidays in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where she lived for five years before moving to the United States this year.

“During Christmas, the entire family would get together to celebrate,” Quinones said. “Every year we would rent a big hall to fit everyone. My day would always be busy helping the adults prepare the food, playing games, and spending time with relatives.”

Along with the standard Christmas traditions of opening gifts and enjoying each other’s company, Quinones holds one tradition very close to her heart.

“One thing that is very special to our family is that at midnight we all eat 12 grapes and for each grape we make a wish, normally for happiness and health for everyone in the family,” Quinones said.

Each Tuesday on the week of Christmas, Quinones said that her family would spend almost the entire day in church. Her favorite part of Christmas, though, was the music.

“My favorite part of Christmas is when the family gathers up and sings Christmas songs together,” said Quinones

Despite being born in the United States and only living in Mexico for five years, Quinones says that she still celebrates the holidays the same way she did in Mexico.

 

Ivan Kurakin, freshman

In Khabarovsk, Russia, where freshman Ivan Kurakin was born, according to him, only a small portion of people celebrate Christmas. According to Kurakin, the main holiday celebration is held during New Year’s Eve.

Despite not celebrating Christmas, many of its traditions are incorporated into the typical Russian New Year’s festivities, Kurakin said.

“For New Year’s Eve, we would wake up and decorate our tree and leave our presents under it until later that night,” Kurakin said. “Then our family and neighbors would come over to our house and spend time with each other until midnight.”

Kurakin recounted how his family would get together during New Year’s Eve and watch American Christmas movies and TV shows with Russian subtitles.

Right before midnight on New Year’s Eve, his family would gather around the TV to watch the president say a few words as the rest of the citizens in Russia would, then pop open champagne bottles and celebrate as the clock struck midnight Kurakin said.

“My favorite part was right before the new year because I would just reflect and think about everything that I did in the past year,” Kurakin said.

Kurakin said that his family still celebrates New Year’s Eve the same way as they did in Russia, and they have adopted some American traditions as well.

“We celebrate Thanksgiving, but not as much as Americans do. That’s something that we started celebrating when we moved here from Russia,” Kurakin said.