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International students show many ways of celebrating holidays

By Adam Troxtell
On December 1, 2009


In the United States alone, the Christmas holiday season is celebrated in numerous ways. Even people from the same ethnic, religious, or social backgrounds have different traditions for the holidays. This is no different for people outside of the United States, where history and current trends have shaped a hugely diverse Christmas world culture.


The tradition of eating a special kind of meal while gathered with family, for the most part, remains the same in any country. The type of food served, however, varies greatly. According to Spanish professor David Hervas, who grew up in Spain, food served on Christmas comes in many forms even in just his home country.


"It used to be turkey, but it isn't so popular anymore," Hervas said. "Some people eat lamb that day, and I believe somewhere in Castilian regions they go for roasted piglets."


Hervas also said the food varies by region in Spain.


"In the north area of the country, there are going to be more sea food products," he said. "In that area, it is more traditional to eat something from the seas for Christmas time."


There are even Muslim influences seen at Christmas time in Spain, since the Spanish region was conquered by the Moors at various times between 711 and 1492.


"One very popular desert for Christmas is from Muslim traditions," Hervas said. "It's called ‘turron'. It can be many flavors, but the basic one is almonds with honey that makes it like a chocolate bar shape."


Graduate student Chubi Obuzor, who has his MBA and is now set to get an MSC in finance, said in his home country, Nigeria, the food does not vary as much.


"The Nigerian equivalent is chicken," Obuzor said. "Most of the time it's cooked, and the funny thing is they actually kill it and make it. There's always the fun with catching it. The animal rights would get you for that here."


Rice is the traditional side dish served. Although rice is common year round in many places around the world, Obuzor said it is treated with care at Christmas time.


"There's a special way they prepare the rice with some sauce usually made from tomato, pepper, and a lot of spice. It's simple, but they take it very seriously. They eat it all year. It's like eating gravy regularly, but on Thanksgiving it's different. It's that same kind of attitude."


Obuzor said Christmas in Nigeria is similar to Thanksgiving in America, where it is more about getting together with family. This is especially true in the eastern part of the country where he lived.


"Most of the time during that holiday there is a lot of traffic to the east, because every person working in Nigeria in any part of the country that is an easterner will pack his stuff and go down to where he grew up," he said. "The small towns are literally jam packed. It's usually a wonderful time, because you get to see people you have rarely seen before."


Because of this tradition, the practice of gift giving is not as prominent in Nigeria. According to Obuzor, people would rather concentrate on making sure the family-get -together goes well.


"Presents on Christmas Day is not extremely common," he said. "We don't expect that, it's more western than it is Nigerian. The equivalent to that is it is almost mandatory you get some new clothes or new wrist watches for the kids. It's very common. When you interact with people, they will ask' what kind of dressing did you get for Christmas?'"


This is different from Spain, where, Hervas said, it is easy to tell when Christmas time has arrived.


"Cities or towns will always put up some special illumination," he said. "They always put up figures like trees or baby Jesus' or Mary's. Today it is becoming more secular, with images of trees and Christmas images that relate to nothing Christian. All the towns tend to put a big tree in downtown, and people at their homes put up trees with colorful balls."


Despite the holiday becoming more secular in Spain, the Christian side of the holiday is not completely ignored.


"It's traditional to have what they call a ‘belen'," Hervas said. "Belen is like a nativity scene. There are contests sometimes in towns for nativity scenes. Towns could have a tree in the downtown and also have a nativity scene around there. The actual city hall is the promoter, they pay for it."


Neena Rondla, who is getting her masters degree in computer science, is from Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, India. She said it is traditional in her school to do a Christmas play.


"We had a Christmas play which was played by students," she said. "A small hut is put on stage with grass and a lot of things to create an atmosphere of Bethlehem."


Rondla also said it was common to sing many Christmas carols known well in the U.S. during the play, such as "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" and "Jingle Bells."


"Now we go to church during Christmas and do prayers and join everybody," she said. "We have lots of churches in Hyderabad and Secunderabad (its twin city)."


Hervas said even in Spain it seems Christmas time is coming sooner every year. He mentioned an article he read about Spain which brought up the fact that, although the country claims it is becoming more secular, the celebration of Christmas is coming earlier and becoming more prominent.


"In Spain, there used to be one day when the people knew they were in Christmas already," he said. "That was the twenty first of December when there was a national lottery where they shared much more money. The Christmas trees are coming sooner, the nativity scenes are coming sooner, the balls and the green colors are coming sooner out in the streets."


Although the Christmas holiday feeling worldwide is becoming more secular and coming sooner in the year, Obuzor said in Nigeria the reason for the Christmas holiday is never forgotten.


"It's a national fact in Nigeria that Christmas is about Jesus Christ," he said. "The westerners and easterners identify more with that fact, because they are predominantly Christian. The northerners are predominantly Muslim, but they all know it's about Jesus. They try to ensure that message is carried out, even for those who don't go to church."


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