By: Beverly Jenkins <firstname.lastname@example.org>
With the holiday season here and in full bloom, many students will indulge in similar holiday and end-of-the-year traditions. However, Susanna Scolari’s, freshman and English as a new language (ENL) student, holiday traditions are not like most students’.
Scolari is not alone. There are 69 students from 20 different nationalities here, and many do not celebrate the holidays the same way as many students at this school do.
Scolari is from Italy, where holiday traditions are different than America’s, even if the holiday is the same.
“We celebrate Christmas,” Scolari said, “but we don’t have a Santa Claus. We have La Befana, which is kind of like a female version of Santa. If you are good, she will leave presents in your shoes. If you are bad, she will leave you coal.” Also, instead of celebrating the majority of Christmas events on Dec. 25, Scolari said that many are held on Christmas Eve.
Italy is not the only country where holidays differ. Majd “Didi” Sadek, ENL student and freshman, is from Lebanon. She also celebrates the Christmas holiday, but said that it is much different from both the American and Italian traditions.
According to Sadek, about two weeks before the holiday, seeds such as chickpeas and beans are sewn into cotton fabric. The Lebanese people water the seeds daily, and by Christmas, the seeds grow to roughly six inches in height. The shoots from the plants are often used to surround the manger in Nativity scenes.
Laura Paul, ENL student and junior, also celebrates Christmas in her native country of San Martin, but while many Christians here fixate on the birth of Jesus, Paul said that the focus is not really on the birth in San Martin.
“Maybe it’s just my family,” Paul said, “but for us it’s more about the season of giving.”
Winter season holidays are not the only cultural differences among countries. A lot of the meanings among the holidays are similar, but it is the traditions that distinguish the differences between cultures.
“In Italy, kids don’t trick or treat on holidays,” Scolari said as an example. “Instead, there are a lot of parties, and a lot of them are masked dances. In America Independence Day is a big deal, but in Italy it’s not really much of a celebration.”
Lorena Flamenco, ENL teacher and department chairperson, said many of her students will celebrate American holidays in ways that many Americans may consider non-traditional. “Many of my students will find their own ways to celebrate the American holidays,” she said.
Concepts behind certain holidays are different in addition to the holiday traditions. For instance, America just celebrated Thanksgiving, but students like Scolari, Paul and Sadek said that these traditions are not familiar.
Most Americans were educated that America celebrates Thanksgiving because the Pilgrims and Native Americans joined together in 1621 to produce a feast and give thanks to God. However, many other countries view Thanksgiving as a day to celebrate the end of the Harvest season. In some countries, the term Thanksgiving isn’t even used. The term ‘Harvest Festival’ is used instead.
For example, Sadek said she recently had an interesting Independence Day.
“Independence Day is a big deal in Lebanon,” she said. “The president comes out and makes a speech and everything, and there are lots of parades. It obviously isn’t on the same day as in America though. Our Independence Day actually was on [the American] Thanksgiving Day. We celebrated both the American Thanksgiving and the Lebanese Independence Day. We had a big Thanksgiving meal, but we also had Lebanese flags all around the house, and instead of saying ‘Happy Thanksgiving,’ we said ‘Happy Independence Day.’”
And still other holidays are unique to one country alone. The United States celebrates Martin Luther King Day, which is a holiday that no other country celebrates.
In San Martin, Paul said everyone on the island celebrates Carnival. According to her, it has no real significance to the country, but is rather just a day to uplift the people’s spirits.
According to Scolari, Italy celebrates White Week, a week that is similar to Spring Break here in America, but occurs in February.
Despite cultural differences, Flamenco said her ENL students feel at home here.
She said, “(My) students really feel like they are a part of the community.”