Holiday Traditions Vary with Religions, Cultures and Nationalities

December 5, 2017

Students from Czech Republic, Costa Rica and Sweden Share Christmas Customs 

Families in the Czech Republic enjoy a walk together after a Christmas Eve lunch of borscht soup while Swedes enjoy watching Mickey Mouse cartoons at 3 p.m. sharp and, in Costa Rica, families exchange handmade gifts.

Wilmington College students, faculty, staff and friends shared many holiday traditions at an annual program hosted by the offices of Campus Ministry and Diversity and Inclusion Monday (Dec. 4).

PICTURED: Chip Murdock (RIGHT), director of diversity and inclusion, explains some of Kwansaa’s finer points along with Black Student Initiative members Kelly Angevine and Sterling Clark, the latter of whom is holding a ceremonial skekere, a rhythm percussion instrument from Africa.

In addition to those aforementioned countries, other holidays and traditions covered included: India’s Diwali, the Jewish eight-day Festival of Lights known as Hanukkah, African Americans’ embracing their heritage during Kwansaa, the significance of Christian Advent and Epiphany, Quakers’ view of Christmas and Dec. 26 as Boxing Day and Feast of St. Stephen.

Roman Kirschner, a sophomore from the Czech Republic, was interested to learn that many Americans place the main focus of their Christmas holiday activities on Dec. 25, Christmas Day, while his country celebrates on Christmas Eve. After the borscht and walkabout, his family reconvenes that evening for a dinner of fried fish or chicken and potato salad, after which young children open gifts from “baby Jesus.”

While Kirschner said Santa Claus as Americans recognize him doesn’t exist in Czech, Eric Lundquist, a sophomore from Sweden, said Scandinavians know Santa very well, complete with reindeer, the red suit and “ho, ho, ho.”

Swedish families enjoy traditional foods like meatballs, sausages, potatoes and pickled herring for Christmas Eve dinner, the festivities of which also include for older members singing songs followed by tastes of schnapps. The audience was fascinated to learn that literally every Swedish household tunes in at 3 p.m. to watch cartoons, Mickey Mouse and Friends (in Swedish).

“I’ve seen it for every year of my life,” Lundquist said, adding that another tradition involves placing a single almond in a batch of oatmeal and the family member who gets the nut makes a new year wish for the family.

Costa Rican freshman Ipsilan Castillo said her family’s Christmas traditions constitute a mixture of Costa Rican, Ecuadorian and Quaker influences.

Christmas is the “biggest event of the year,” she said, and Costa Rica, as a largely Catholic country, includes many traditions of that faith; however, since her family is Quaker with an Ecuadorian background, their traditions include the simplicity of Friends that states each day is sacred and one in which to worship God through selfless acts of kindness and service.

However, the family also enjoys corn meal-based dishes, meat and eggnog. Her roots from Ecuador come through with the unique tradition of creating a life-sized doll and burning it to, in effect, start the new year fresh with a clean slate.