Winter Holiday Traditions from I-House Residents

Season’s Greetings I-House! For many, the winter holiday season is a time to spend with friends and family as well as take time for reflection. From Hanukkah to Christmas to New Year’s, our residents have a unique way of celebrating the holidays at home.

“Christmas in Egypt is celebrated in January,” said Deena Sabry, a resident from Cairo, Egypt who studies at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism. Sabry who is Muslim, acknowledged the Christmas celebrations in Egypt given her country’s large Coptic Christian population.  For New Year’s, Sabry said celebrations are up to the individual. “It truly just depends on the person and their family and what they want to do,” she said, adding that some people might spend it with their friends partying or stay home with their family.

Christmas and New Year are a big deal in Nigeria, according to I-House resident Gbemisola Akinsipe. “I’m from a Christian family . . . so we usually have a Christmas service or carol, and then for new year we pray together.” Akinsipe said that beyond the church activities, the holiday season is “a time for family, food, and a lot of gifts.”

I-House resident Kieran Janin celebrates a Franco-American Christmas with his family. Janin, who is from Paris, France, has an American mother and French father. “My mother puts out stockings, which is very American,” he said, “and the Christmas tree is always in the house during this time.” He stated that Christmas meals are what’s characteristic about the holiday from his French side. “We have a dinner . . . which often is green beans and potatoes, as well as pork roast” he said, adding that wine is often accompanied with the meal. Dinner is eaten with his parents, brother and grandmother, and they typically dress up for the occasion. Presents are opened in the morning rather than at night, which he said has always been a tradition for his family. Afterwards, they go to his uncle’s house to have a Buche de Noel, also known as Yule log cake.

For Luigi Muci, Christmas in Italy has many religious ties. “Usually Christmas dinner, the night of the 24th, is meant to be a light dinner . . . because Jesus isn’t born yet, so the day after the 25th is the day when there’s a big meal.” Luigi, who attends school in the London, and is currently a research assistant at UC Berkeley, noted the differences in Christmas celebrations between Italy and the United Kingdom. “In the UK on the 24th, usually you’d have a bigger meal, [oftentimes] with turkey,” he said. “There’s more wine present and mince pie as dessert.”

Carlos Nuñez, from Santiago, Chile, said Christmas is very important to him and his family. “We always go to Santiago, to the capital of my country, to see my cousins [and] my grandmother,” he said. They usually have a fancy dinner together and, afterwards, at midnight, he said he goes with his little cousins to look for Santa. “After a while, we come back and see ‘oh, magically the gifts are here’ so we start open[ing] the gifts in the same night.” 

Christmas isn’t the only major holiday in December. Melanie Asor, an I-House resident from Tel Aviv, Israel, enjoys celebrating Hanukkah with her family. “It’s a fun . . . holiday to spend with your family around the time of the new year,” she said. While Hanukkah celebrations vary among families, Asor said one thing that’s consistent is families gathering in the evenings to have a candle lighting ceremony. This is to “commemorate the miracle that happened way back when, when an oil lamp stayed lit for eight days,” she said, which is the reason for the eight day holiday.

For Paulina Tarr, an I-House program assistant from New Hampshire, winter holiday celebrations are especially unique. “I come from a kind of multicultural background,” she said. “My grandmother was Greek Orthodox, my grandfather was Jewish, and my mom is Buddhist and so I celebrated the holidays a lot of different ways.” Tarr said when she was a kid her family celebrated Hanukkah as well as Christmas, and now more so the latter for her younger brother. “We often put up a big tree and we decorate with ornaments.” Tarr said her family also eats Chinese food as part of their holiday traditions.

“I absolutely love Christmas in Poland,” said I-House program assistant Mary Zielińska. “We celebrate Christmas on [December 24th] . . . and traditionally we have twelve dishes on . . . Christmas eve.” Dishes such as Pierogi, or Polish dumplings, are typically prepared, according to Zielińska, and “it will be a meatless feast, so we’d have a lot of fish.” Aside from the meal, caroling is another Christmas tradition for her family. “It’s all just about coming together.”

For Alex Chen, from Xi’an, China, celebrating Chinese New Year is a big part of his winter holiday traditions. Traditionally known as the Spring Festival, or “Chun Jie,” the event typically occurs between late January and early February depending on the lunar calendar. “So, we have some belief some beast, like a monster, will come to our home, it’s called the nian . . . which [means] ‘new year’ in Chinese.” According to Chen, the belief is that the nian will come down from the mountains to eat people, so to protect themselves, people leave food in front of their door for the beast. Chen says that fireworks are also used in the belief that it will protect them from the beast. Chen’s Chinese New Year holiday traditions also include making dumplings with his family, which typically take eight days, as well as eat rice cakes. 

Aside from the different holiday traditions, peace is a common theme during the holiday season and to reflect that, I-House residents participate in the annual Peace Dove Decorating Contest, where they show their artistic talents using paper dove cutouts. The artwork is then displayed outside the Great Hall after winners are announced.

While the holidays are enjoyed in a wide variety of ways, enjoying time with others can helps keep the holiday spirit alive. While not everyone can or will be with loved ones during the winter holiday season, being at peace with yourself can be the greatest gift of all.

Wherever you are during the holidays, may peace be with you.

Peace dove graphic with artwork from I-House residents Chrissa da Gomez (Indonesia): left, Hans Gundlach (USA): right, and Isabelle Boni (Bolivia): center


About chancellore1

Chan'Cellore Makanjuola is a class of '21 alum of UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism, with her concentration in documentary filmmaking. She served as the I-House Social Media Ambassador from Fall 2019-2020, capturing the residential experience for the I-House blog site and social media channels.
This entry was posted in Faces of I-House, Global Voices and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Winter Holiday Traditions from I-House Residents

  1. susanklee6831 says:

    Loved this post!!

    Thank you to everyone responsible for this and all the “articles” throughout the year.

    Wishing you a peaceful 2020.

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