Holidays overwhelm some foreign students

International students at Storm King School gathered at lunchtime on Dec. 19 to talk about their nation’s holiday customs.

International students at Storm King School gathered at lunchtime on Dec. 19 to talk about their nation’s holiday customs.

For a student from Indonesia, the Christmas season in America was overwhelming. “I wondered why everyone was so happy,” she admitted.

Storm King School has many students from other countries. At lunchtime on Dec. 19, they gathered in a conference room to share their holiday experiences.

A young woman from the Ukraine was the first to speak. She said that people in her country celebrate New Year’s Eve rather than Christmas. They watch TV together, and write their wishes on pieces of paper, which they burn at midnight.  They then put the ashes in a glass of champagne and drink them.

A student from France said that religious families in his country attend Mass every morning through the 12 days of Christmas. But there are other people who will fill their homes with provisions, lock the doors, and party for five days. Thinking of the first group, he said the holiday is more secular in America.

A young man from Italy agreed with him. “At home, it’s more Jesus than Santa Claus,” he told us — adding that the Italians also observe the Feast of Santa Lucia, on Dec. 13.

The Chinese, we learned, also get to celebrate twice. They recognize the traditional New Year as well as the Lunar New Year when they eat dumplings and get lots of money.

Korean kids get money, but it’s for the winter solstice rather than one of the New Years or Christmas.

Storm King School was due to have a Winter Solstice Dinner on Tuesday night. At lunchtime, the students were already dressed for the event. Some of them were due to speak about their customs back home.

Like the girl from Indonesia, many of the teenagers  came from Muslim countries — meaning that Christmas (or Hanukkah) was a new experience for them when they came to the United States. It was different for a student from Malaysia. “We have many Christians,” she said. “We have no snow, but otherwise everything is the same.”

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Ken Cashman