Science - December 16, 2004

Holiday season away from home

It’s almost the Christmas break, which this year is short. Wb caught up with four students from other countries and asked them what they would be missing from home, and about their plans for the holiday.

Of priests and prawns

Shauna Ni Fhlaithearta from Ireland:

‘Christmas hats really put you in the right mood. They remind me of having fun with my family. Me and my three sisters always wear them at the Christmas table.
My parents and brother often wear the paper hats that come out of the Christmas crackers: nicely wrapped tubes that look a bit like giant toffees. You pull them apart with the person sitting next to you. Inside there’s always a little present, a bad joke and a paper hat.

On Christmas Eve, my family buys last minute presents, and we hoard food, not remembering that the shops will be open again in two days. The rest of the evening, everyone is busy wrapping presents and putting them under the tree. Then it’s time to go to church for the midnight mass. It is so beautiful. Little children play the whole Christmas story, dressed up as Mary, Joseph, a wise man or an angel – and there is a fake little baby Jesus. I played Mary once when I was six. Meanwhile the priest reads out the story of Christmas and there is a choir singing. On Christmas morning, my youngest sister will wake up first, super excited to unwrap her presents and she will wake us all, just in case we forget to unwrap our presents as well.

The rest of the day is spent cooking: the best thing of all is the starter, prawn cocktail. We have it every year. My father is a fisherman. He told me that he is fishing for prawns right now and there will be plenty of them for Christmas. The main course will be stuffed turkey and ham, roast vegetables, roast potatoes, turnips, Brussels sprouts and mashed potatoes with lots of butter and salt. There will be sherry trifle and ice cream for dessert.

I’ve heard that Dutch people often spend Christmas at a restaurant. That would be impossible in Ireland; everything except for the church and the pub is closed anyway. But apart from that, Christmas is a family thing you celebrate at your house. There’s no place like home.’ / TS

Time of the year to look back

Gelagister Gwarasara from Tanzania:

‘In my country Christmas celebrations go on for one week. At Christmas you cook and eat together with family, and share your thoughts. And you also bring a good portion of the food you cooked for your family to a few neighbours regardless of their religion, so you have the feeling of sharing.

Christmas is a time to discuss your problems and family issues, and a time to look back over the past year. This year I had planned to visit Lourdes, which is an important place for me as a Roman Catholic, and I went. I also think about things that went wrong and how I can do better next year. In Tanzania most people also go to mass. The churches are flooded as people who normally don’t attend church go to mass. For me Christmas is special because we celebrate the birth of Jesus, who is our saviour. Before we were prisoners, then we became free. In Tanzania we celebrate the birth of every child, so the birth of the saviour is a big celebration.

Christmas is also a special day for children. Every child gets new shoes, new clothes, and gets to eat a lot of special food. I have three children between eight and three, who have stayed behind in Tanzania. It will be my second Christmas without them. They miss me too: when I phoned them recently they were disappointed I wouldn’t be around this Christmas either. But it’s too expensive to go home. I’ve sent them a package with chocolates and sweets, and I hope to see them again in March after I graduate.

This year I’ll celebrate Christmas again with the few students from Tanzania in Wageningen. We’ll have lunch and dinner together, with traditional food: spiced pilau rice, meat, green peas, carrots and potatoes; plantain with coconut milk; ugali, from maize flour, and a stew with meat or fish. On Christmas Eve I’ll attend mass at the student chaplaincy, and on Christmas Day I’ll also go to church. By the way, the Western Santa Claus has also started to come to Tanzania. On Christmas Eve he distributes sweets to the children in the streets.’ / YdH

Trip to Paris

Kamyar Pournazari from Iran:

‘Christmas doesn’t mean anything to me; I’m from an Islamic country. I only know that in December Christians celebrate the birth of their prophet Jesus.
I’ve been here since December 2001. Other years I went to Iran around Christmas, but this year I went home for six weeks during the summer and this vacation is only one week. Now my father is coming to the Netherlands, to visit me and my brother, who is studying in Eindhoven, and my sister-in-law, who is studying in Tilburg. I also got an invitation from my mother’s brother to visit him in England, but I have to arrange a visa and the holiday is too short, so I’ll go another time.

It’s sure good to see my father again. I miss my parents: they take care of you all those years; they are like your best friends. The first months in the Netherlands were the worst, but then my brother arrived, and now I see him every two or three weeks. Around Christmas I’ll be in Paris with my father and brother. Later we’ll visit some of the bigger Dutch cities like Rotterdam or Amsterdam.

New Year’s Eve we’ll spend in Eindhoven at my brother’s place. Last year I also was there. I went into town together with a friend at about two in the morning, but at every café the security people asked us for our tickets. We didn’t know about them, and it turned out that you could only buy them beforehand, so we walked around outside until four. But we still had a good time. My father will stay for three weeks, so when classes start again he still will be here. I might miss a class or two, or attend class and then meet up with him again.

At New Year the Dutch let off nice, colourful fireworks. In Iran we also have fireworks at New Year, which we celebrate around 20 March, but we just have noisy fireworks. The nice thing about Christmas is the sales. The town gets crowded and prices go down.’ / YdH

‘I’ll miss family dinner’

Elia Zamora Moleno from Mexico:

‘At Christmas and New Year I’m going on a trip to Austria and the Czech republic by train with some friends from Latin America, who are also studying here. We couldn’t go home for Christmas because the holiday was too short. It’s ridiculous that the university even plans examinations on the 24th of December. You should be able to go home to your parents for Christmas Eve. As we can’t be with our families we decided to seize the opportunity and go somewhere further away, where you can’t just go for a weekend.

So this year I’ll miss family dinner. I have a huge family. Last Christmas there were seventy of us for dinner in my grandmother’s home. She’s 85 and very nice. We put the food on big tables and people sit everywhere in the house. All my mother’s sisters make something. As long as I can remember we have cod cooked the Spanish way, pasta, turkey, apple salad and fruitcake, together with a lot of beer, tequila and cider. These are not typically Mexican dishes, but that’s because my grandmother is Spanish. I always make the fruitcake. I start one month before. It contains all kinds of candy fruits, and you pour cognac on top once a week.

It’s always fun, Christmas dinner. We go to church, eat, make music and sing. Our family is scattered, so everybody is always happy to see each other. We talk a lot; fortunately we are all good at taking part in three conversations at the same time. At midnight we give everybody a kiss and a hug, and then we open our gifts. We usually don’t get to bed before five or six in the morning. Family members are then distributed for the night. New Year’s Eve we do the same, but without presents.
I’ll sure miss my family, but I also know I should be open to new experiences and enrich myself culturally. I hope I find time to call home, although a conversation will be impossible because everybody always speaks so loudly. What I miss most from home is the food. Last week I got a big box with chillies, tequila and chocolate. I also miss baking cookies this year: we always give each other home baked cookies for Christmas and I used to bake them for friends of my parents. So they’ll also miss me, and my fruitcake this year.’ / YdH

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