Gingerly, a father reaches deep into the confines of a wooden box. His hand quickly returns, a glass ornament held tenderly between his fingers. He turns to his wife, who is currently hanging the last stocking, and the pair share a smile. He turns to the pine tree, decorated with crimson ribbons and adorned by bells, and places the ornament on its highest branch. Below his feet children, still donning their nightgowns, eagerly eye the gifts before them. The father chuckles at the siblings and ventures into the kitchen, only to return shortly with a tray of sugar cookies. As the family gathers around the tree, the faint crackle of a dying fire is drowned out by laughter.
Just like America, every country celebrates unique holiday traditions. Junior Silvia Rota, a foregin exchange student from Italy, celebrates Christmas earlier than any other European country. On Dec. 12 Santa Lucia, the female equivalent of Santa Clauses, arrives to Italy, gifting toys and treats to small children. Instead of travelling from the North Pole, Santa Lucia, who is blind, descends from the sky on her sight seeing animal, a flying donkey. The night before her arrival, children will leave bowls of hay and water for her donkey. After Santa Lucia’s departure, the residents of Italy will begin preparations the Dec. 25 celebration. On Christmas Day, Sota’s relatives gather and, in the span of a single day, cook an enormous feast consisting of polenta, beef and cooked vegetables.The meal lasts from noon till 9pm and afterwards, the members of the family will play board games together.
“The Christmas fest takes a long time to prepare. All the women in the family help. It’s a lot of fun,” said Sota.
Jamaica, despite its similarities in Christmas lore, has vastly different holiday events. Junior Kumani Anderson originates from a small town in Jamaica and fondly recalls the community’s yearly Christmas party. The celebration primarily occurred within the Grand Market, a place of cultural and economic significance for residents. The Grand Market would hold generous sales while the town square hosted dancing competitions. Community members would also partake in a huge feast consisting of salt fish, oxtail, bacon and a popular drink known as sorrel. After the party, his family would return home and exchange gifts.
“The best part of the Christmas party is the dancing. The musicians play a genre of music called reggae that is native to Jamaica,” said Anderson.
Another country that begins Christmas early is El Salvador. Junior Vanessa Caeres explains how, during the holidays, her family partakes in posada, a gathering of family and friends with religious purposes. On Dec. 13th, the country celebrates Virgin Mary Day. The purpose of the holiday is to honor the Virgin Mary, by placing goods and flowers beside her alters. After returning from the alters, families will light candles and lanterns in her name. On Dec. 25th, Caeres and her family partake in the annual tradition of beginning Christmas morning with prayer and songs. After the worship session, the hosts will make a meal, consisting of panes con pollo and empanadas, for their guests and then distribute presents.
“The point of both holidays is to gather with your family and celebrate religion,” said Caeres.