Winter holidays are celebrated all across the globe in a variety of fun and festive ways. And even though many countries and cultures celebrate the birth of Christ by attending church services, hanging Christmas decorations, hosting feasts, and practicing traditions that range from singing carols to giving gifts, it’s still no surprise that everyone has their own special way of observing this annual special holiday. As a host family, you may face the challenge on the different style or tradition that your student has in their country. So, students that decide to embark on the adventure of a lifetime by studying abroad in the United States should do so with the understanding that the Christmas celebrations they encounter may be very different from what they’re used to at home. Here are just a few hallmarks of an American Christmas that international students may enjoy when they find themselves in a strange land on December 25th.
For starters, the food may be different. While many European and Scandinavian countries celebrate Christmas Day with a turkey and cranberries, this is the traditional Thanksgiving meal for Americans. As a result, many American families elect to skip the turkey and cook a roast or a ham on Christmas. That said, American host families are sure to be accommodating. More than likely, they will be willing to cook up an international student’s beloved Christmas dishes on this special day.
Americans are also fond of decorations of every stripe, and Christmas is a time of year when the hallmarks of the season can not only be seen in and on houses, but also displayed in public. While private homes may feature decorated Christmas trees, garlands, wreaths, strings of lights, and nativity scenes, international students can also enjoy stores that create Christmas window displays, decorative facades, and interiors bedecked with special holiday decor. Many malls set up huge Christmas trees, as well as spaces where kids can sit on Santa’s lap and tell him just what they want to find in their stockings come Christmas morning.
The Christmas season isn’t all about excess. Christmas is also the season of giving. International students should not be surprised to see piles of gifts under the tree, but they may also get to experience the charitable proclivities that strike many Americans at this time of year. This includes donating to charitable organizations like Toys for Tots, volunteering at soup kitchens and homeless shelters, and collecting cans of food to drop off at the local food bank. And of course, participating in religious traditions like midnight masses, candlelit ceremonies, and contributing to church-related charities are also popular at this time of year.
Although foreign exchange students are likely to find that American Christmas traditions are different from their own, there’s no reason for a culture clash at this joyful time of year. Students can enjoy seeing how another culture celebrates this special holiday, perhaps adding to their own understanding and appreciation of Christmas. They can also add their own traditions to the mix, helping their American hosts expand their worldview, as well.
If you are one of AmeriStudent host family for international students, we created a guide to help you be prepare on the different culture and celebrations of your host students.