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Wednesday, January 23, 2019

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Angela Moss, an international student from Nassau, Bahamas, looks forward to dancing on the islands this Christmas. (Photo: Michael Klitzing) Angela Moss, an international student from Nassau, Bahamas, looks forward to dancing on the islands this Christmas. (Photo: Michael Klitzing)

Students Explore Different Holiday Traditions

SDSU’s international students uphold some of their home countries’ holiday traditions while learning about American ones.
By Michael Klitzing

As students finish final exams at San Diego State University, Helene Guilguet is watching with mixed emotions as many of her international friends head to the airport to return home for the holidays. An exchange student from Institut d’Études Politiques de Paris in the U.S. for a year, Guilguet had initially looked into the possibility of returning to her native Fontainebleau, France for Christmas.

When she saw the cost of a plane ticket, however, she decided to make other plans.

“I’ll just have to acknowledge the fact that I’m not going to have a typical Christmas with my family around the fireplace, eating good food," Guilguet said. "I'm fine with that, because this is a one-time opportunity. My family actually pushed me to stay here and enjoy it.”

Many international students at SDSU are faced with a tough choice when winter break rolls around: go home to their native country or stay and experience new holiday traditions in the United States.

Return to Junkanoo

According to business management senior Angela Moss, Christmas in the Bahamas isn’t so different from what you find in the United States, though you’re more likely to find conch, crab or lobster as part of Christmas dinner on the islands as opposed to ham or turkey. It’s the day after Christmas where things really get different.

On Dec. 26, Boxing Day, Bahamians take to the streets for a daylong festival called Junkanoo, which celebrates the end of slavery. In Moss’ hometown of Nassau, New Providence, entire families pack buildings and line barricades along Bay Street to see dancers and brass bands in elaborate costumes perform alongside enormous, vibrantly-colored floats.

“When they’re making music, they call it rushing," Moss said. "You literally dance the entire time. They rush all night until 10 or 11 o’clock in the morning, and that’s when the dancing stops.”

Then at New Year’s, they do it all over again.

Moss, who is heading back to Nassau at the conclusion of finals, is excited to attend Junkanoo for the first time in two years.

“I don’t know the last time I heard that music," Moss said.

First American Christmas

Computer science graduate student Niranjan Hegde has experienced Christmas before. In his native Bangalore, India, the city’s small but visible Christian minority celebrate with lights and festive food.

“Some of my Christian friends would come and give us cakes which they’d cook at home,” said Hegde, who is Hindu. “It’s kind of like what happens in the U.S., but not on such a large scale.”

Hegde will be getting his first real taste of the holidays in the United States by staying here during winter break It actually started last week, when he attended the office holiday party of the International Student Center, where he works as a student assistant. He particularly enjoyed the lively “white elephant” gift exchange, which he called the “king of the show.”

“It was very exciting because the entire culture is different,” said Hegde, who plans to travel to Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Arizona with his Indian roommates during winter break. "At any festival back home there are lots of pujas (an act to show reverence to a god) in addition to a lot of good, homemade food. But this was nice – it kept the delicious food part but added a lot of enjoyment.”

Far from France 

In her first holiday season in the United States, Guilguet said she mostly noticed similarities to the traditions of France, though there are some notable differences. For one, the holiday season - and the time people take off work to celebrate - is much longer in France. And the Southern California weather is a far cry from chilly Fontainebleau.

But there’s also a difference in intensity.

“I would say the Christmas spirit is more hardcore here,” Guilguet said. “Christmas is such a big thing here. Even compared to Paris, with all the lights and shops on the Champs-Élysées, I feel like here it's even more."

Like Hegde, Guilguet is planning to travel around North America during her time off. She will explore Baja California and Mexico City and visit French classmates in Boston and Colorado.

It’s not time with her family in front of the warm fireplace, but it will be her only chance to experience a different kind of holiday season in the foreseeable future.

“I’m going to have a lot of French Christmases in the next few years,” Guilguet said. “I can just travel around this time.”