Holiday season is in full swing; we’re wrapping up Thanksgiving and moving into Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, the New Year and more. Growing up Catholic means that I’ve been on the Christmas bandwagon for as long as I can remember. Back home, we show our holiday spirit by displaying colorful Christmas trees and lights, singing Spanish-influenced parang music, making pastelles (like the Caribbean version of tamales) and drinking sorrel made from a type of hibiscus flower.
It’s easy to get sucked into the Christmas hype, but there are countless other holidays around the world that hold a special place in people’s hearts. I asked Stanford students to share holidays from their hometowns and countries, and here’s what they said.
Fatima Karim ’22, from Georgetown, Guyana, celebrates Mashramani on Feb. 23, the day in 1970 when Guyana became a republic. According to Karim, the word “mashramani” is native to Guyana’s indigenous people and means “celebration after hard work.”
Karim described Mashramani as a vibrant celebration involving street parades with colorful dress, floats and music.
“I love Mashramani because it is a celebration all about having fun [and] for all Guyanese from all walks of life,” said Karim. “Guyana is a relatively young country … [so our] celebrations make up an important part of our identity.”
Guyana also celebrates religious holidays including Holi, Diwali, Eid ul-Fitr and Christmas. This is one thing that Karim loves about Guyana: “I love … that most people celebrate all religious festivals regardless of their religion.”
Muslims around the world observe Eid-ul-Fitr, a day of celebration at the end of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting.
Nuzhah Tarsoo ’22, from Phoenix, Mauritius, explained the significance of the month of Ramadan: “[It is] a month where Muslims renew their faith, forgive the people who did them wrong and reform themselves into better people.”
Then, at the end of Ramadan, Eid is a time to “reflect those commitments in terms of community and family relations,” according to Tarsoo.
“[It’s] an opportunity to let go of family problems and unite again,” said Tarsoo, whose family celebrates by exchanging gifts and enjoying dinner together. “Children are usually very excited about Eid because they know the gifts are coming.”
Día de los Muertos
Translated as “Day of the Dead”, this holiday is widely celebrated in Mexico in the first days of November. According to Claudia Bobadilla ’21, from San Luis Rio Colorado, Mexico, “The celebrations take place in the evening of Nov. 1 and continue onto the next day as families commemorate those whom they have lost.”
Bobadilla described how families and communities gather to partake in the holiday festivities: “They contribute in creating and decorating the ‘altar,’ [which is] meant to commemorate a specific person or group of people.”
Arantxa Terrazas Ortega ’19, from Tijuana, Mexico, recalled the beautiful decorations of her grade school and the altars that each classroom would make.
“The cleanup was tough,” Ortega admitted, “but it was all worth it.”
Día de los Reyes Magos
“[It’s] kind of Mexican Christmas,” is how Ortega described this Jan. 6 holiday honoring the Three Wise Men of the Bible, who brought baby Jesus gifts at his birth.
This holiday tradition involves leaving one’s slippers out the night before so that the Three Wise Men can leave gifts in them.
Ortega also described a delicious pastry, rosca de reyes, which is eaten with hot chocolate and has baby Jesus dolls hidden inside.
“Whoever gets [a doll] in their slice of rosca has to bring tamales for everyone on the Día de la Candelaria [Feb. 2],” Ortega said. “The rosca is super delicious, and if I’m home on that date, my mom still leaves candy in my slippers with a cute note. That’s why I love [this holiday].”
“Chandeleur is the crêpes day!” said Chloe Leblanc ’20, from Paris, France. The French celebrate this holiday by eating crêpes all day.
The Chandeleur occurs on Feb. 2, 40 days after the birth of Jesus in the Christian tradition, when Jesus was presented in the temple and described by Simeon as the “light of Israel.” Circular and golden-hued, crêpes represent the sun and light.
“Nowadays, everybody in France celebrates it — not just religious people — simply because everyone wants an excuse to eat crêpes,” said Leblanc.
“There are multiple very old beliefs around this tradition,” Leblanc continued. “For example, successfully flipping a crepe only with your right hand while holding a coin in your left hand is a symbol of prosperity for the year to come.”
Fiestas de Quito
According to Felipe Calero Forero ’22, from Quito, Ecuador, these weeklong festivities in November celebrate the history of Quito. As a tradition, each grade at Forero’s high school organized their own plays, which they performed at the end of the week to compete for best show.
“Besides celebrating Quito’s history, there are also themes of love and courtship,” Forero said. “Plays usually revolve around some sort of love story and of a central couple giving ‘piropos’ to each other (essentially romantic pickup lines).”
Dec. 25 is observed as the birth of Jesus in Christian traditions. Students from around the world shared how they spend Christmas at home.
Kate Littlejohn ’22, from Hamilton, New Zealand, often spends Christmas Day — which falls during summertime — with family on the beach. They enjoy the outdoors together by camping, swimming and having barbecues.
Ramarea ’19, from Kanye, Botswana, said that during the holiday season from Christmas Eve to Jan. 2, people return to their hometowns and celebrate with meals, football tournaments and concerts.
“In the nights, we sing and dance dikhwaere (a type of traditional music),” said Ramarea, “It’s a lit time.”
Magdy Saleh ’19, from Cairo, Egypt, celebrates Coptic Christmas on Jan. 7 with “lots of family and lots of food.”
It seems food and family are a big part of Christmas celebrations around the globe. “When I was younger my family was big on gifts,” said Peter Caroline ’21, from Louisburg, North Carolina, “but after middle school, I was old enough to be happy with family and memories of the year.”
In the Catholic tradition, Easter is a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who we believe died to save us from sin. It is preceded by 40 days of Lent, a time to reflect and grow closer to God. Easter marks the end of Lent, and my family celebrates by attending church services and participating in a solemn, prayerful procession on Good Friday, the Friday before Easter Sunday.
We spend Easter Sunday itself with family, eating sandwiches of hops (a bun-like bread) with ham. Non-Christians also enjoy Easter celebrations.
“We get those plastic eggs from Walmart and have an egg hunt with my 10-year-old brother,” said Ananya Nrusimha ’20, from Buffalo, New York. “We aren’t Christian, but he has fun.”
Food, dance, music and merrymaking are all part of celebrating Gawai, also known as the Harvest Festival in Sarawak, Malaysia. It’s officially celebrated on June 1 to ring in the new farming season and continues throughout the month.
“[It’s] a season of thanksgiving for the bountiful harvest,” said Carissa Livan Ding ’21, who hails from Sarawak. Gawai is a time of food-sharing and community for Sarawakians; they ngabang, or visit each other’s houses, host open houses and share meals with each other.
“Many families still gather fresh ingredients from the jungle as there is so much green on the Borneo Island!” Ding said. Ding’s family gathers ingredients such as midin (a type of fern), tapioca leaves and bamboo shoots, which are used for meals.
There’s often live music with someone performing on the sape, a traditional musical instrument. “[We] dance, eat and repeat,” Ding concluded.
Countless other holidays exist around the world, and this is just a snapshot of a few that our fellow Stanford students experience. It’s fascinating to discover festivals that I never knew existed and to see that no matter where in the world you go, food and community are a means of bringing people together in celebration. Happy holidays!
Contact Astrid Casimire at acasimir ‘at’ stanford.edu.