By Gunnhildur Baldursdottir
The holiday season can mean many different things for international students. Not all celebrate Christmas, and even those who do, might have their winter celebrations with unique traditions.
When I think of Christmas in my home country Iceland, the first things that come to mind are books and chocolate. Part of my family’s tradition is also going to the forest and cutting down our own Christmas tree.
Giving and receiving books as Christmas gifts is a beloved tradition known as Jólabókaflóðið, or “The Christmas Book Flood.” We usually open gifts on Christmas Eve, and many families spend the night reading new books from their loved ones with assorted chocolates.
According to the Reykjavik Grapevine, the tradition likely began during World War II. Because of the strict currency restrictions, imported giftware was limited. However, what Iceland did not lack was paper. So books became the gift of choice and it has become deeply rooted in Icelandic Christmas traditions ever since.
Soma Albert, a junior engineering major from Hungary, said he was surprised when he first heard about Santa Claus in America.
“On Christmas day, it’s actually Jesus and the angels that bring the presents under the Christmas tree [in Hungary]. That’s how I was raised and what they told us was part of Christmas,” Albert said.
Albert said Santa Claus comes to town on a different date in Hungary. The night before Dec. 6, children place a shoe in their bedroom window, wishing to wake up with a gift from Santa Claus. However, children who misbehave over the year only get a wooden stick.
“Usually on Christmas Eve, we visit a local church with literally the whole family, my grandparents and cousins. The same night, we have a family dinner and open gifts,” Albert said. “Then in the next couple of days, we travel around the country to see more family members.”
Allison Ramirez Romero, a freshman physics major from Spain who has family in Colombia, said she appreciates the opportunity to celebrate both countries’ traditions for Christmas, depending on which she stays in.
“In Colombia, they open the gifts on Dec. 24, at midnight after prayer. So, you spend the whole night dancing and eating with the family. Then, Dec. 25 is just one more day,” Ramirez Romero said. “You don’t do much because everything is done the night before.”
Ramirez Romero said she plans to celebrate Christmas in Spain with her family and friends this year. She said the Christmas season starts Dec. 7, when neighbors come out into the streets to see their Christmas lights sparkling after working hard decorating their homes.
“In the states, you eat dinner on the 24th, then go to sleep and open presents on the 25th. Most people eat seafood, like lobster or squid, for Christmas dinner and then a cinnamon chocolate pudding for dessert. I love it,” Ramirez Romero said.
Aleksa Radenovic, a sophomore journalism major from Serbia, said Christmas in his country is tied with New Year’s because Serbians use the Julian calendar.
“We are Orthodox. So, we celebrate Christmas on Jan. 6 and New Year on Jan. 18. Because in Serbia, it’s not about to be 2023. It’s about to be 7530. So, it’s a different calendar as well,” said Radenovic.
Radenovic said instead of Santa Claus, Serbian children wait for St. Nicholas, who brings gifts under the Christmas tree on New Year’s night. He added that St. Nicholas is known as a symbol of change because with a new year comes, new opportunities to do things differently than the past year.
While Americans celebrate Christmas in December, Serbians only celebrate a festival called Solstice. They also fast, eating mostly fish and vegetables, in preparation for their Christmas – which isn’t until January.
“It’s a soul festival where people who have passed away from your life, mostly family members, are welcome back for dinner. You have this huge feast, and you kind of imagine they’re there with you,” said Radenovic.
However you and your loved ones celebrate Christmas or winter events, we at The Jambar wish you a wonderful holiday season and a happy New Year!