It’s that time of year again. Families are gathered, houses are decorated, and tables are set. Everybody is getting ready for the holiday season, and it seems like everybody knows the drill. But perhaps you didn’t know that somewhere out there, there’s a household that’s doing things a little bit differently. Different cultures mix with the American holidays all the time, and it might take only a glimpse inside someone’s window to see how truly unique our traditions are.
Coming to the U.S. from a different country, the way we celebrate Halloween can seem a little foreign. Few countries celebrate Halloween as we do, however, many other cultures have their own way of recognizing their dead in late October.
Freshman Anna Verdiguel moved to the U.S. from Mexico a few years ago. Verdiguel celebrates Halloween in the U.S. like any regular American teen, but she still holds onto the tradition of celebrating Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead.
“Day of the dead is a really big thing in Mexico,” Verdiguel said. It is a holiday where families celebrate someone close to them who has passed away. Starting at the beginning of October, Verdiguel makes an altar with the picture of the person in the middle. As the month grows old, Verdiguel adds more and more of the things that the person liked. Bread and flowers are quite common, as well as colorful paper cut-out decorations called Papel Picado.
Nov. 1 is the day for the kids, and Nov. 2 is when the adult spirits come out to visit. “They come out and they go to the altar, and they get the food and stuff that you left for them. And usually you leave things they like, so it’s like they’re getting things that they like,” Verdiguel said.
Flash forward to the third Thursday of November. Pumpkins and gourds sit on porches and early winter winds howls in the air. Through the windows, families are visible, gathered around a table set with fancy plates and silver forks.
Thanksgiving is a holiday unique to America, and a lot of the time it is not celebrated by people from other countries. However sometimes when two very different cultures meet what results is a surprising blend, possibly like that experienced by sophomore Dilara Tezcan.
Tezcan’s parents immigrated to the U.S. from Turkey about 20 years ago. Tezcan’s family have emerged themselves into the American culture while still preserving their heritage. On Thanksgiving, they play a Turkish game that was often played over a nice dinner in their homeland.
Two people at the dinner table make a deal by breaking the wishbone together. Then, for the rest of the dinner, when one hands an object to the other, they cannot accept it unless they say, “Aklimda” or “I remember” in Turkish. The first one to forget loses. “It’s the little things like that which actually matter,” Tezcan said.
Thanksgiving is a humble holiday, nothing more than a big dinner with friends and family, celebrating what we have. With a holiday that simple, it wouldn’t be unlikely for a few foreign families foreign to embrace it, and that’s exactly what Senior Rafeal Boucher’s family did. Before moving to Davis this year, Boucher had lived in France, where no one celebrates Thanksgiving. Boucher’s family adopted the holiday after celebrating it while spending a year in America 10 years ago.
“We wanted to keep it,” Boucher said. “It was kind of like our own special holiday.” Often they would invite their American friends to spend it with them.
Former American Studies Professor, Jay Mech-Ling believes food is an important aspect of cultures. “Food is a powerfully symbolic substance, and eating with people is a powerful symbol of connection,” the UC Davis professor said. He believes one of the best ways families blend cultures is through food.
“There are many ways families blend their own ethnic foods into the “traditional” Thanksgiving, sometimes adding ethnic foods with the turkey still at the center of the menu, and other times making the whole meal based on ethnic foods. When there is a ‘mixed marriage’ in the family, sometimes both heritages are at the table.”
Even if you don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, you don’t have to wait long until a quite popular holiday comes your way. When it becomes deep into the winter, colorful lights adorn houses, and glamorous evergreens, framed by the windowsills, stand dazzling inside living rooms. Though Christmas is a big holiday in the U.S, it is also quite widespread throughout the world. More than 160 countries celebrate Christmas. Many kids from other countries celebrate Christmas in the same manner, more or less.
“Christmas is pretty much the same,” said Henrietta Selecka, a Slovakian foreign exchange student at DHS. “We decorate a tree, give presents, and spend it with our family.”
“We celebrate Christmas, but not as a religious holiday,” said Aamia Malik, a sophomore who is of Indian Heritage. “We make it more of a family or gift-giving time.”
Of course, 160 is a big number, and with so many countries celebrating one holiday, there is bound to be some interesting traditions. Verdiguel’s family is no exception. “We bake special bread with Baby Jesus dolls inside,” Verdiguel said. “The whole family gets together and eats it, and if you get a doll while eating, you have to bring tamales the next day.”
The only holiday that is truly universal however, would be New Years. New Years is something every culture celebrates, be it January, February, or any other month. It signifies the beginning of a new time, a chance to start over, something every culture would find a way to celebrate.
Tsetsen Anuurad was born in Mongolia, and lived in Japan for a long time before moving to America. “For New Year’s we make dumplings, and three of them have either a string, coin, or no meat, and we have to find one at dinner.” Anuurad said. If you find the string, that means you will have a long life, and if you get a coin, it signifies you will be rich. If you get a dumpling with no mean, it means you will have a lot of kids. “It’s kind of weird, but cool.”
For Boucher, it’s not finding dumplings that’s important, instead it’s waking up. On New Year’s Eve, his family has a tradition in which they call the person in their household who wakes up last, Sylvester. For the rest of the day they are “the Sylvester”, and they are like “the slave of the family for the day.”
So an expensive ticket to some place far is not necessary to see the vast diversity of cultures, it only takes a glance through a window. Holidays are ways to express oneself and ones heritage. They will always be part of who we are. As Mech- Ling said, “Holidays remind people that what really counts in a fast-paced, highly competitive and individualistic society such as the U.S., are the friendships, loyalties, and other qualities that are not materialistic.”