Sharing worldwide holidays

Woman wrapping arms around a globe sculpture - worldwide holidays

Celebrating holidays in the USA is a new experience for many refugees and immigrants. A teacher tells us about teaching US holidays and how she helps her students share their own, worldwide holidays.

As Christmas approaches, we start learning useful vocabulary in school. We are learning words like candy cane, gift, stocking, lights, potluck, invitations …

My goal is to help the students be informed and prepared for what is happening around them but it’s very important for me that their traditions and beliefs are included and acknowledged as well. Every year we use this time as an opportunity to learn about worldwide holidays.

The students choose their favorite holiday from their country and they prepare a little presentation. It is a very enlightening experience because we all get to learn from each other.

This year we learned about New Year’s Eve in Russia and their Ded Moroz, a figure similar to Santa. We learned about the Chinese New Year and how you are supposed to give red envelopes filled with money to children or unmarried adults with no job. We also learned about Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha and how they are celebrated on a different date each year because they use a lunar calendar.

The students love sharing their worldwide holidays and their eyes sparkle when they talk about their homes. I talk about my home traditions as well, and nostalgia envelops us all.

The holiday season is a hard time for some foreigners because you remember, once again, how foreign you are. If you celebrate Christmas you cannot help but compare the different traditions and somehow you always think YOUR traditions are better. If you don’t celebrate Christmas then it’s even harder because you miss your own celebrations and your own people.

I remember my first Christmas in the USA in 2015. I was very excited to have my first American Christmas. On December 24th I dressed up and got ready for the celebration but when my husband came from work, he told me that our Christmas celebration was on the 25th. I was very disappointed because, in my family, we start the whole celebration on Christmas Eve. We go to church, or we pray our “Novena” at home, and afterward we have a huge family dinner. After dinner, we open presents and then we dance until late at night. On the 25th, we have a Christmas lunch and then another Christmas dinner!

That was the first December 24th that I didn’t do all those things, and I got really homesick.

On the 25th we opened presents and we had a delicious Christmas lunch but I felt like everything was over very quickly. I called my family and they described every dish and every song. It was very painful but I decided I wouldn’t let that happen again so the next year I prepared myself.

I spent the whole year enlarging my Colombian community, so by the time Christmas came around I could show my husband what I was talking about. In Colombia, we have a tradition called “Novena.” It consists of prayers repeated for nine successive days, the nine days before Christmas Day. The last day, the 24th, is the most important one so on that day we go all out.

I wanted to have the Christmas I remembered and I was very lucky because that year I found a huge community that felt exactly as I did.

We all joined and put together our own Novena. Every night during the nine days before Christmas a different person offered a home and three people were in charge of the food. At Novenas you must feed everybody after the prayer is over and you must raffle little presents for the kids and for the adults. I took my husband to the Novena every single night until the 24th and he was able to see firsthand how different our worlds were.

I had beautiful traditions, but so did he. Every Christmas Eve he would watch A Christmas Story with his family and every Christmas morning they would go skiing before their Christmas meal.

We decided to mix them both and now we pray our Novena, and then we have a big Christmas dinner on the 24th. Afterward, we watch the movie. On the 25th we wake up and go skiing.

Worldwide holidays are all different but they all have something in common: they bring people together. This is why I want all of my students to know about each other’s holidays. If we have a Colombian classmate, we can ask them about the Novenas. If we have a Muslim classmate, we can wish them a happy Eid and celebrate with them. If we have a Chinese classmate, we can wish them a happy new year in February, and if we have an Afghani classmate, we can wish them a happy new year on March 21.

Because even if a single person celebrates your beloved tradition with you, then you don’t feel as lonely.

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About Erika
Once an immigrant, Erika Warner is currently an ESL teacher. “How can I become an English teacher in a country full of Native speakers? I almost gave up but then I discovered that having English as my second language was not my hindrance but my advantage,” Erika Warner.