Winter Holidays Around The World

A wide variety of multinational holidays are celebrated in different countries and cultures around the world throughout the month of December. This year, MUSC Center for Global Health interviewed several people around campus to learn more about their winter holiday traditions, and how holidays are celebrated in their home country. Check out their stories and read about a few holiday traditions celebrated in other countries that you may have never heard of! 
 
Eden Mekonnen
College of Medicine/ Department of Public Health
 
What country are you from?
 
Ethiopia 
 
How do you say “Happy Holidays” in your country? 
 
"Melkam gena" or "enkuan aderesachew"! These are more informal greetings. You say them to family or friends. The second one is used a lot more than the first one. 
 
What holiday do you and your family celebrate this time of year?  
 
Christmas in Ethiopia is on January 7th this year since Ethiopia uses a solar calendar instead of Gregorian.  It is similar to the Julian and Coptic calendar but not quite the same. 
 
How do you and your family celebrate where you’re from? 
 
We clean the whole house and mom buys the ingredients to make Doro Wat, a chicken-based dish that is made for special occasions. Around this time, the streets fill with sheep and hen vendors, signaling the approach of the holidays. The day or two before Christmas, my brother and father will go and buy a sheep to slaughter on Christmas morning. My mom sends someone to buy the hen around the same time since it needs to be slaughtered the day before and prepared. My brother slaughters the chicken since he is the second man of the house. My father being the main man of the house slaughters the sheep on Christmas morning. Once the sheep is slaughtered, we have a man come in to take the skin and dress it. Afterwards, we sit down for Christmas breakfast. We pray and thank God, we eat, and afterwards we have the coffee ceremony. We don’t do presents because it’s not part of the Ethiopian culture. 
 
What are some holiday traditions in your country? 
 
The main man of the house slaughters the sheep and the chicken, we have food, and then go and visit our elders. If your father or mother is the elders in the family, the family usually goes to your house. We usually alternate years with my uncle and invite each other for a family dinner. 
 
Are there any food traditions or popular foods eaten on the holidays? 
 
We eat Doro Wat on Christmas morning. The Doro wat is chicken based. You eat it with Ethiopian cheese, boiled eggs. My mom makes one with the spice blend called “berbere” and one without. And when the meat from the sheep is ready, we eat Tibs at the elder’s house. The sheep’s meat will be cut up and my mother packs most of it to eat for the next two or three months.  
 
What’s your favorite part about the holidays? 
 
In Ethiopia, I like the smell of the air around the holidays. The smell of my mom’s cooking, the smoke from the fire that is used to cook, the coal from the coffee ceremony, the smell of Ethiopian coffee, and the popping of popcorn.  It smells like home. 
 
How will you celebrate the holidays this year? 
 
This year, I will be spending Christmas in Charleston with my host family and my mom is coming to visit. I get to spend Christmas with my mom for the first time in seven years! We will celebrate and exchange gifts on Christmas Eve. On Christmas Day, we will have a quiet breakfast at home and go to my host mom’s mother’s house for Christmas dinner. I’m so fortunate to have a family here in America. 
 
Michelle Offit
College of Medicine
 
What country are you from?
 
I’m from the United States. I’m originally from Baltimore, Maryland but my mom’s side is from Argentina.
 
What holiday do you celebrate this time of year? 
 
My family and I celebrate Hanukkah. Hanukkah (also known as the Festival of Lights) is celebrated with a nightly menorah lighting, special prayers, and fried foods, and lasts for eight days. 
 
What are some holiday traditions you celebrate? 
 
Playing Dreidel (a traditional game played to celebrate Hanukkah), making latkes (potato pancakes), and lighting the menorah (candles). Growing up, I always enjoyed lighting the menorah with my mom. 
 
How do you and your family celebrate the holidays? 
 
We all get together to eat latkes and light the menorah. The menorah holds nine flames, one of which is the Shamash (“attendant”), which is used to kindle the other eight lights. On the first night, we light just one flame. On the second night, an additional flame is lit. By the eighth night of Chanukah, all eight lights are kindled.
  
Are there any holiday food traditions or popular foods you and your family eat?
 
Some popular foods my family and I eat are latkes and chocolate gelt (chocolate coins). 
 
What’s your favorite holiday tradition or favorite part about the holidays?
 
I would have to say my favorite part about the holidays would be getting together with my family and friends and spending quality time with one another.  I also really enjoy seeing all of the lights displayed in people’s windows during the holidays.
 
How will you celebrate the holiday this year?
 
This year I am going back home to Maryland and will spend the holiday with my family. 
 
 
Jessa Mae H. Sabate
College of Pharmacy, P1
 
What country are you from? 
 
Philippines
 
How do you say “Happy Holidays” in your country? 
 
Maligayang Pasko! (Tagalog), Maayong Pasko! (Visayan/Cebuano dialect)
 
What holiday do you and your family celebrate this time of year?  
 
Christmas décor is displayed, and carols start playing at the beginning of December through Three Kings Day on January 6.  Three Kings Day, or the Feast of the Epiphany, marks the end of Christmas season in the Liturgical calendar and is celebrated 12 days after Christmas. This day is the celebration of the three wise men who visited baby Jesus in the manger and gave individual gifts to the newborn King. It’s a time of feasting, visiting, and gift-giving. My family and I attend a mass to celebrate the feast. 
 
 How do you and your family celebrate the holidays in your country? 
 
We celebrate by going to church on Christmas Eve and after mass, we all eat together. We call it Noche Buena. 
 
What are some holiday traditions in your country this time of year? 
 
In the Philippines, we participate in the 9 days novena, “Misa de Gallo” (Rooster’s Mass) or “Simbang Gabi” (Night Mass). In the Philippines, mass starts on December 16 and ends on Christmas Eve. Another common tradition is children Christmas caroling during and leading up to Christmas. They carol in the neighborhoods with a group or solo using musical instruments or improvised musical instruments. 
 
Are there any food traditions or popular foods eaten on the holidays? 
 
The ever-present "Lechon" (roast pig), lumpia (egg rolls), pansit (stir-fried noodles), chicken macaroni salad.
  
What’s your favorite holiday tradition this time of year? 
 
My favorite Christmas tradition is going to our "Ninongs" and "Ninangs" (Godmothers and Godfathers) houses to ask for gifts (aguinaldo).
 
How will you celebrate the holiday this year? 
 
9 days novena will begin and then I will attend midnight mass. I will also go to a relative's Christmas party.
 
 
Cristina Reyes Smith, OTD, OTR/L

College of Health Professions Division of Occupational Therapy
 
What country are you from?  
 
My family is from Puerto Rico—which is a territory of the United States.  Puerto Ricans are US citizens, and my father retired from the Navy here in Charleston.
 
What holiday do you and your family celebrate this time of year?  
 
Puerto Ricans are big fans of Christmas as well as Three Kings Day (Dia de los Reyes) on January 6th.  You can spot decorations of the Three Kings all over the island throughout December and early January.  This makes for a long holiday season.  
 
When our three children were small, we took them to the island for my abuela's birthday right after Christmas.  On Christmas Day, we surprised them with a Three Kings snow globe to let them know we were taking a trip to Puerto Rico the next week.  We told them we were going to see "Los Tres Reyes" and also referred to the surprise of seeing my Reyes family members including my abuela/grandmother, tia/aunt, and dad (who was visiting them as well).  We love reflecting on the trip each Christmas with the snow globe.
 
What are some holiday traditions you celebrate in December?  
 
Puerto Ricans love to celebrate holidays with good food, good drinks, and good music! Food may include a traditional flan (a caramel-like custard), arroz con dulce (coconut rice pudding), or other tasty desserts.  Traditional Puerto Rican dishes like pernil (savory oven-roasted pork) or pasteles (similar to tamales) may also be served.  The classic holiday drink is a Puerto Rican eggnog known as Coquito (named for the “coqui” frog which is indigenous to the island) made with cinnamon, coconut, and rum.  
 
For Three Kings Day, children leave a shoebox of grass for the camels of the three kings under their beds in exchange for a surprise gift. Puerto Ricans also take Christmas caroling to another level. Their parrandas can go until the wee hours of the night with instruments like maracas and guitars from house to house waking up the neighbors with singing until they are invited inside for food and drinks.  Neighbors are sure to stock up for hosting - just in case.
 
How do you say “Happy Holidays” in your country?  
 
Like the famous song, "Feliz Navidad--Prospero Año y Felicidad!"
 
How do you and your family celebrate the holidays where you’re from?  
 
My parents and siblings are all in Charleston now.  Typically, we wear our Christmas pajamas to my mother's house to eat breakfast together.  There is usually a big lunch or dinner involved, and many, many “primos” or cousins.
 
Are there any holiday food traditions or popular foods you and your family eat?  
 
My mother makes a traditional Puerto Rican oatmeal for us every Christmas morning called “Arena de maíz.”  It is made with milk and seasoned with cinnamon and nutmeg--the flavor is similar to a chai tea latte.  She also makes traditional Puerto Rican rice and beans to go with our holiday ham.
 
What’s your favorite holiday tradition or favorite part about the holidays this time of year?  
 
In the words of my five-year-old daughter, "All of it!"
 
How will you celebrate the holiday this year?
 
We love to go to the Holiday Festival of Lights each year, the Christmas Parade, Christmas Tree Lightings, and any other local festivities.  On Christmas morning, we will open gifts with our children, Solomon, Aidan and Elena.  Then, we will head to my mother’s for breakfast and lunch.  Last, we will go to my mother-in-law’s home for dinner and even more gifts in the afternoon with their side of the family. In true Puerto Rican style, it is a fun-filled, marathon holiday season.