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Christmas traditions!

These testimonies were gathered mainly by four of our editors: Tihomir, Alexandra, Adil and Marta.

It is undeniable that one of the aspects that make the whole College experience so unique is the diversity of its students, who live together in this bubble in a spirit of sharing, understanding, respect, and mutual celebration.

For this Christmas edition, we wanted to reflect that aspect of the “esprit du Collège”, so we gathered testimonies from our fellow students concerning what Christmas means to them and how do they celebrate it, for the purpose of getting to know a little more and a little better about the others. Happy Christmas to you all!

Luiza (Armenia): “Armenian New Year and Christmas celebrations are the most long-awaited, bright and magical events for Armenian families. Being the first Christian country, Armenia did not replace the Christmas date to December 25. The Armenian Apostolic Church still uses the old Julian Calendar, so the Armenian Christmas, the holy birth of Jesus Christ, is celebrated on January 6th. In Armenia, Christmas is considered to be the most domestic holiday, which is celebrated in a warm homely atmosphere. This is the day when all are happy and hurry to congratulate each other with the following words: “Christ is Born and Revealed Great Tidings to you and us”! Walls and windows wear their holiday dressings, Christmas tree becomes a beloved guest of every family. And of course, Christmas in Armenia is about abundant tables and delicious food. Whether you are personally invited or not, you’re always welcome into Armenian homes on this day, because it’s a holiday that needs to be shared with everyone who knocks on your door.

Armenian New Year celebrations start on the evening of December 31st with New Year’s Eve and go on for a week till the Christmas ends. This time is especially allocated for fun, therefore the preparations start a bit earlier. Regardless the family’s income, the New Year table should be rich and luxurious. Every family makes sure to buy the best ingredients, so the cook in the family prepares traditional Armenian dishes (you should eat absolutely everything the housewives offer, otherwise they will be offended): meats cooked in the most sophisticated ways, pilaf, salads, fresh pastry, and of course charaz (nuts and dried fruits). It’s on the New Year’s Eve that Armenian Santa Claus arrives: he does not come down the chimney but rings the doorbell and leaves the presents for children in front of the door. Having Armenian brandy and homemade wines on the table is an absolute must. You will be welcomed to a crowded dinner with the limitless amount of creative toasts and dances. After receiving and spreading these beautiful vibes, “guest-host chain” starts. This is the most beautiful and loving atmosphere you will find yourself in!”

Victoria (Moldova): “Christmas is my favourite holiday. Being with my family for Christmas anchors me fully in the person I used to be when I was still living at home, when I had only developed a small part of who I am today. There is something about Christmas that makes it inextricably magical, cosy and safe. The cotton-like snowflakes falling lazily on the heavy ground. Smiles on faces and music in hearts. Sat at the dinner table, around the Christmas tree, we feel safe enough to be grateful for what we have and dream a little bigger! I also find it the most poetic holiday. Numerous Romanian authors drew inspiration from Christmas and winter, making me, through their creations, unsee the snow storms and picture colonies of white bees instead. I will always have a special place for this holiday in my heart.

A wonderful Christmas tradition in Moldova is ‘colindat’. On Christmas Eve, both in villages and cities, children of all ages gather together and go from house to house singing traditional carols. Of course, they get rewarded with sweets and some pocket change. It’s the loveliest way to keep the folklore alive and make sure all houses are full of Christmas spirit.”

Alexandra (France): “For me it is about the whole Christmas period, I get excited right after Thanksgiving, and then for a whole month I am listening to Christmas songs, so I guess I am more into the American type of Christmas, like the super commercial and capitalistic one (laughs). Indeed, other than that we have a pretty small Christmas, we do it in France because most of my family is there, a small gathering getting good food and exchanging presents, so yeah, just turkey and lots of love and that’s it!”

Adil (Belgium): “Growing up in a non-Christian family, I have to say that it has a special meaning for me, because we have always celebrated it because my parents wanted us to feel like everyone else in Belgium, so it may sound cheesy but Christmas for me is about accepting other people, getting together in times of cold, and seeking the warmth in other people even though the seem to be different or they don’t have the same beliefs as you. We always do a big dinner with all the family we have in Belgium and then exchanging gifts the following day!”

Grégoire (Belgium): “In Belgium, firstly, we have Saint Nicholas in the 6th December, which is focused on the kids, who would place their shoes under the fireplace in the night and get gifts in them the next morning! But Christmas is the real opportunity for the whole family to get together, I consider that despite your religion is an occasion to get together. In addition, the gifts in Saint Nicholas for the children are more like little treats, normally food or chocolate, while in Christmas is more like beautiful and meaningful gifts”.

Antonia (Germany): “Christmas means family to me, it does not really matter where you are, but that you are with them. Because I am from Germany it means also that it is cold outside. But I think in general Christmas is all about love and forgiveness and family. A typical German Christmas tradition is going to the Christian mass on the 24th December in the middle and exchanging gifts under the Christmas tree”.

Pauline (France): “This one is going to be a very special Christmas because it is going to be end of the exams and Bar Night, which is what we need: alcohol and get all together. That’s it”.

Anna (Poland): “Above all, for me Christmas is time home with my family in Poland. We eat a meal with two courses and we share a special kind of bread and we wish the best for the other”.

Niamh (Ireland): “Christmas means having a couple of drinks with my family and going to midnight Christmas mass, which is a common celebration in Ireland, and then going to the local pub with everyone from your village. Then on Christmas day, going for a swim in a very very cold Atlantic sea and there are charities set up everywhere and having glüwhein and hot whisky, and finally going home for a huge Christmas dinner”.

Xinyi (China): This must be the most unusual answers among all, but may help readers to decentre a little bit. For a Chinese, Christmas is one of the days that young people look forward to the most while parents don’t celebrate or even care about it. It doesn't mean vacation, family reunion, Christmas dinner or Christmas tree in the house. It's one of the (hard to say which one is more important, Valentine’s day or Christmas) commercial festivals that we celebrate passionately though our history and culture has nothing to do with it. We don’t have our own Christmas tale, music, movie, food, drink, family tradition or any other special activity. For me, Christmas means Santa Clause decorations and discounts in shopping centers, big dinner with friends and sometimes gifts. And of course Mariah Carey. But I’m very happy to have the chance to celebrate my very first authentic Christmas with you in probably the most “European” college!”

Ana (Spain): “For my family Christmas is really especial, because we live in different parts of Spain and the world, so we get all together to celebrate Christmas’ Eve, Christmas Day, and then on the 26th December we celebrate San Esteban, which is a Catalan tradition in which we eat canelons. We also celebrate on the 6th January the Three Magic Kings tradition in which we exchange gifts, and we never forget to put some cookies and warm milk in the living room so the Kings and their camels can have a rest when they “come to our houses and leave the presents”, because of course “it has to be exhausting to come all the way from the Middle East to leave presents”. For the kids is really symbolic and special. Another tradition that I love is New Year’s Eve, in which we eat twelve grapes, one for each of the bell strokes at midnight (and we wear red underwear to attract the good luck too).”

Johan (Sweden): “Christmas means holiday and being with your family and friends for a couple of days at least. It means relaxing some sort of calmness and also some kind of peace I guess, and most of all is fun (and of course eating and drinking)”.

Ana Li (Portugal): “Growing up in Portugal, Christmas is part of the tradition, part of the culture. However, my parents are Chinese, so we never really celebrate it, but all my friends did. We do kind of a big dinner with my parents and their friends, but we don’t celebrate the religious meaning or exchange gifts. What we do celebrate is Chinese New Year. I guess that Christmas did not get to us as much as it should have (laugh) but it is of course something that we respect and accept, but we don’t particularly identify with it religiously speaking”.

Christina, Tatiana and Katerina (Greece): “Christmas is an opportunity to go back home and spend time with the family and the friends, eat a lot, buy gifts for yourself and others, and most importantly and excuse for drinking during the week. In Greece, as a tradition, we have this cake that we cut for New Year’s Eve that has a coin inside and whoever gets the coin has good luck for the entire year. In addition, it is a big day because it is the name day of everyone called Christina, Chris or Christian (laughs). Christina does actually mean salvation in Greek.”

Maria Elena (Italy): “Having lived most of my life outside of Italy, celebrating Christmas has always been a very special tradition for me. My family and I would often travel back to Rome to be with our relatives. When this was not possible, we would celebrate Christmas abroad. My fondest memory is making the ''presepe'' with my family. ''Presepi'' are Nativity scenes that Italian families set up inside their homes starting from December 8th (the feast of the Immaculate Conception), where they will remain until January 6th (the Epiphany). While all presepi include the figures of Mary, Joseph and the infant Jesus, they can range from simple to elaborate reconstructions of contemporary times. Once my parents had set the scene, my sister and I would take turns placing the miniature figures inside the presepe. On the morning of December 25th, we would place baby Jesus in the crib.”

Guillermo (Spain): In Spain, but with even more romanticism at my home, we celebrate the Wise Men (also known as the Three Magic Kings). According to the Bible, three wise man coming from the East brought Jesus gold, frankincense and myrrh. Based on that episode, the night of January 6th is our Santa Claus day, but instead of coming Santa; the Three Wise Men come riding their camels to bring us gifts. In general, only the kids believe in it, and once they grow up, the magic disappears. But not in my home. At m place, even when me and my siblings are between 20 and 35 years old, we keep making as if the kings were real, writing them a letter with our wishes for the upcoming year, and even leaving the night before some sweets for the Wise man and some milk for their camels. In the end, Christmas is our moment to travel in time, to get back to childhood. As Charles Dickes said "is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas”

Susie (England): “Coming from England, my family celebrates Christmas on 25th during the day. I have quite a small family and it's not such a big occasion: we exchange presents and eat a nice meal together - but since we have no strong religious tradition, its more about all being in one place at the same time and not having to work!”

Julia (Germany): “A British friend of mine recently told me that the way Germans celebrate Christmas is probably one of the best ways to celebrate it and pointed out the numerous traditional Christmas markets in Germany. Well, I’m pretty sure there are plenty of wonderful ways to celebrate Christmas and I’m not even sure if there is a particular German style of doing so. But I do know that people in Germany attach a particular importance to the time before December 24th, which despite all its stress and increasing commercialization, is supposed to be a time of joyful anticipation, warmth and light, a time for contemplation and family. The so-called Adventszeit (Advent season) usually starts at the end of November or the beginning of December and is a time of expectant waiting for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus and the arrival of the Christkind – yes, in Germany the Christ-child brings the Christmas presents, not Santa Claus. To sweeten the time of waiting, each day children (and adults, of course) may open a door in their Advent calendar. And every Sunday of Advent, we light a candle on the Advent wreath, a ring of fir tree branches knotted together and decorated with pine cones, holly and four red candles.”

Indre (Lithuania) : “My favourite part about being home for the holidays is our Christmas Eve dinner, which we call Kūčios. This tradition, having Christian and pagan origins, is followed by most Lithuanian families. On 24th December, many people refrain from eating meat and heavy meals in general, while helping to prepare a special kind of dinner. The dinner consist of 12 dishes, representing Jesus's 12 apostles or the 12 months of the year, and does not include meat or dairy products, with typical dishes being herring, Lithuanian potato salad, sauerkraut, mushrooms, as well as a sort of poppy seed drink. Before dinner, a prayer is normally spoken and Communion wafers (obtained at a church) are shared. The evening is seen as an occasion for families to gather together and is meant to be rather peaceful in comparison to 25th December, when most of the partying and festivities take place. After the Kūčios dinner, many go to the midnight (Shepherd's) mass. Some families also exchange presents on the 24th, although in my family this is done on the 25th. I would definitely say that this special Christmas Eve dinner is seen by most Lithuanians as being more important than Christmas Day itself.”

All I want for Christmas is EU - Issue n. 3, 24 December 2018


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