Strength through Culture

Students practice a variety of holiday traditions

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Strength through Culture

Designed by Jasmine Burgess

Designed by Jasmine Burgess

Designed by Jasmine Burgess

Alexis Perno, Business Manager

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A menorah glows in the windowsill of one home, clay pots decorate another, and Christmas songs ring through the air. With two weeks off for Winter Break fast approaching, the holidays are just a breath away.  

Despite Christmas being in the forefront of seemingly everyone’s minds, other holidays are just beginning, bringing with them a history of unique, interesting traditions as well.  

“I was born in Portugal in the city Porto, which is on the coast,” sophomore Carlota Faustino said. “I lived there for a year and a half, then moved to Miami. We celebrate Christmas, but we have some special traditions. Something that’s specific to us is at night, on Christmas Eve, we put out a shoe for each of us, and in the morning, we come and there’s presents. Just like how people put presents under the Christmas tree, this is how we do it.”  

Some of those in Portuguese culture also believe in Santa Claus.  

“Some families do [believe], but it really just depends,” Faustino said. “Instead of it being Santa, it’s usually Jesus that comes and brings the gifts… Portugal is a pretty religious country. [Christmas] is probably our biggest holiday.”  

The food typically eaten on Christmas, referred to as Natal in Portugal, also differs from a Western Christmas night.  

“We usually have a sweet that’s called Bolo Do Rei, which [translates to] King Cake,” Faustino said. “[My favorite is] Rabanadas, which are almost a type of French Toast. We take slices of bread and soak them in a wine reduction and cinnamon… it’s really good and sweet.” 

Similar to the festive streets here that are decorated extensively with lights, Portugal’s cities don decorations of the same caliber.  

“We have really big lights that we put up, and they’re everywhere around the city,” Faustino, who visits Portugal for Christmas, said. “They go across buildings, and they vary from bells to trees to angels. A lot of places have different variations of Christmas trees- there’s one huge one by the sea.” 

Along with variations of Christmas, some religions, like North and West Indian Hinduism, have already celebrated their biggest holidays.  

“My parents were raised in Hindu households, with Muslim friends and going to Catholic school, leading them to celebrate many holidays,” sophomore Karishma Rana said. “I celebrate almost all Hindu holidays… I kind of fake celebrate all holidays as I may do some of the rituals and prayers but usually my family celebrates for the fun, food, and presents.” 

North and West Hinduism celebrates two large holidays, Holi and Diwali, with the latter just ending.  

“Holi is the festival of colors, and it celebrates the victory of good over evil,” Rana said. “It’s two days long with a bonfire done the night before the second day. On the second day it’s a fun celebration where people cover each other in colored powder and play around with water guns that are filled with tinted water. It’s filled with delicious food, such as Dahi Vada (Vadas being a deep-fried dish made of potatoes and chickpeas, Dhai translating to yogurt) and Thandai, a sweet milk-based drink that is filled with spices.”  

Diwali changes every year due to the Hindu calendar and is done in many different ways, but usually falls between mid-October to mid-November. 

“[Diwali] is the Festival of Lights, and another holiday that celebrates light over darkness, good over evil,” Rana said. “The celebration begins with Dusshera, which is around two and a half weeks before the beginning of the five days of Diwali. Each day celebrates different relationships and has different prayers, foods and celebrations. My family doesn’t celebrate all five days, only the main day of Diwali and sometimes chhoti Diwali (small Diwali).”  

Diwali begins with cleaning similar to spring cleaning as other cultural traditions take place. 

“[We] make rangolis, a piece of art made by hand using different colored sands, light diyas and line them up outside (diyas are clay lamps), put up Christmas lights and do lots of cooking in preparation for the big day of Diwali,” Rana said. “My mom is Gujarati and my dad is from Northern India, so we cook dishes from both parts of India. Many, many desserts are made and ordered- what we call mithai- of various colors and shapes.”  

Even though traditions usually vary, some cultures celebrate surprisingly similarly to the Western idea of holidays, despite being from halfway around the world.   

“I’m not really religious,” senior Jonathan Otterstad, who is Danish, said. “I don’t think there’s really that much of an emphasis on it in Denmark. I lived there for 16 years, until two years ago when I moved to here. I’ve been there most of my life, but [the holidays] are pretty much the same [as here], except that they happen at different times.” 

The holiday season also brings an important time for practicing Jewish people.  

“Being Jewish is like being in a big family really,” senior Hillary Perfit said. “It’s a religion that integrates ethical behavior with everyday life and religious practice. There are three different branches of the religion, and there are holidays that we celebrate and respect.”  

One of the most widely-known for its traditions is Hanukkah.  

“We light the menorah each night for eight days,” Perfit said. “We say the prayers over the candles and give and receive our presents. We cook each night traditional Israeli food –latkes, kugel, challah and hamantaschens. Before our dinner every night of Hanukkah [my family] says what we are grateful for. Every Friday we celebrate shabbat and make our own challah.”  

Similar to how Hinduism has already celebrated very large holidays such as Holi and Diwali, Islam has done the same with Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, or small Eid and big Eid, respectively.  

“In the Middle East, it’s mostly Muslims, but there are still different types of religion,” freshman Leen Alfawaz, a practicing Muslim, said. “We don’t have Christmas, but we do sometimes have Halloween and stuff like that but it’s not really part of our culture or religion- it’s just like something that came in. For example, we have two holidays called Eid… by the end of Ramadan. In that holiday it’s where you get to visit relatives… men usually, like your uncles… give out money to you. For women, they mostly give out candy.” 

The two Eid celebrations aren’t just about family relations, however.  

“For [small Eid], we give to charity, dress good, we get new clothes- it’s like getting presents at Christmas,” junior Mohammed Hassan said. “In the bigger Eid, which is like by the end of the year… we take a sheep [or cow] and sacrifice it to charity. Our traditions in our culture always represent respect: not being rude to other people, being kind… we can’t curse, we have to pray five times a day for our religion. I can’t drink, I don’t eat pork, I don’t smoke- you can’t do any of these, and it’s not because my family says any of these.”  

Another important Muslim holiday, Ramadan, has already passed.  

“I like Ramadan,” Hassan said. “In Ramadan we give back to the poor and we give to charity. In Ramadan we fast from [sunrise to sunset] for a certain amount of time and there is a reason for it: the reason is that we want to feel what the charity feels like and we give back to them.”  

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