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International students share holiday traditions

If you are passing by houses in the Bangor or Orono area, or even walking through the Memorial Union, you will see holiday decorations already on display. Local grocery stores are already stocking their shelves with eggnog and the television channel ABC Family has kicked off their annual holiday movie event “25 Days of Christmas.” Many students are getting into the spirit of the season as well, including the university’s 555 international students.

“[My family and I] celebrate Christmas in December,” Shunsuke Sato, an international political science student from Japan, said. “Usually parents give gifts to their kids and couples exchange gifts.”

According to the Pew Research Center — a nonpartisan think tank that provides a wide array of information on social issues and demographics — nine out of 10 Americans celebrate Christmas. A much smaller percentage celebrate Kwanzaa, Hanukkah or even Yuletide.

“We also celebrate New Year’s Day,” Sato said. “We eat soba at the night of New Year’s Eve and eat osechi-ryori and mochi on New Year’s Day.”

Osechi-ryori is a traditional Japanese dish made up of a variety of different foods including seaweed and fish. It is served in a square dish made up of boxes to separate the food. Mochi is a traditional type of rice cake.

Around 9,300 students are enrolled at the University of Maine with about six percent of them being international students. International students at UMaine come from 70 different countries and are enrolled in many different degree programs.

“I am not very religious in any aspect,” Benjamin Peel, a second-year electrical engineering student from Australia, said. “I do not celebrate any other religious holidays other than Easter and Christmas, of course, however in today’s modern time, these holidays have lost some meaning and have become just a time to be thankful for what we have and to be with those we love.”

Peel celebrates Christmas a bit differently. Australia recognizes Boxing Day as a federal holiday, which is another day to give gifts and visit with family. Many popular sports leagues play games on this day and stores offer the best deals on this day of the year, much like the ones seen during Black Friday in the United States.

“In [Australian] society the place is lit up, but there is not as much effort in Christmas decorations as here,” Peel said. He also mentioned that it does not get dark in his home city — known as Geelong, which is just south of Melbourne — until about 8 p.m.

Many holidays this time of year like Hanukkah and Christmas are celebrated for their religious affiliations, although Christmas is celebrated in many countries by non-religious peoples. Many debate that this is due to the holiday’s commercial appeal.

While there are many variations of the celebration of Christmas, some traditions are mostly uniform. Erecting a Christmas tree is standard in most countries as well as celebrating Christmas Eve. Stories of Santa Claus are mostly similar, although he has many aliases.

“Christmas is special to everyone,” Peel said. “For me it’s a time to catch up with family.”


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