For the typical Manhattan College student, Thanksgiving and winter break signify a special time when we can escape the craziness of the semester, retreat to our homes and celebrate the holidays with our family and friends. For us, this practice is familiar because we are so used to the traditions and common themes for each holiday time. However, looking at these American practices from an international perspective, one can gain new insight into what American holidays truly are like. For Manhattan’s international community, the holidays are a time for students to learn about American culture and also share the way their cultural background celebrates Christmas, New Year’s Eve or other traditional holidays.
Being an international student gives one the opportunity to really see how Thanksgiving is celebrated in different parts of the country. Students like Irene Entringer have had multiple different experiences with the holiday. Entringer is a senior from Madrid, Spain has been here for four years, making this her fourth thanksgiving. “In the past I have gone to friends’ houses and spent the holiday with them, however this year, I went to Chicago with my boyfriend which gave me great experiences with travel and getting my mind off of school,” Entringer said. “It was so cool to see the way that Thanksgiving was celebrated in a different part of the country.” She does, however, go home to Spain for the Christmas break so she can spend the time with family and friends. “We usually have a big family dinner on Christmas eve and lunch on Christmas Day,” she said. “On New Year’s Eve at midnight we eat twelve grapes, each one for good luck for each month of the new year. On the sixth of January we receive and give gifts for ‘los reyes magos,’ or the three magi that came to Jesus.”
Mikael Röjerås is a senior from Sala, Sweden and has been at Manhattan for all four years, so he definitely has some perspective on what it is like to spend holidays away from home. “This was my fourth Thanksgiving in the U.S. and I spent the previous three with a friend and his family on Long Island. I like to travel and see as much as I can of the U.S. while I’m here, so during two of my previous winter breaks I decided to stay in the U.S. instead of going back to Sweden,” Röjerås said. “Two years ago me and a few friends visited another friend of ours, who then attended SDSU. So we spent Christmas at her apartment in San Diego, and then went to Las Vegas for New Year’s.”
In 2010 Röjerås went to a two-month training camp in South Africa during winter break. “So I actually haven’t spent that many Christmases in the traditional way; where you stay at home with family, have a nice dinner and just take it easy,” Röjerås said. “Instead I have been all over the place, which is sad in a way because you lose that feeling of ‘ohh, finally it’s Christmas.’ I think this happens when Christmas is no longer one specific feeling, or associated with a specific place, family, food, or drink. But instead it is (means) too many different things at once and your brain can’t specify what Christmas exactly means.” This year he spent Thanksgiving with the other international members of the track team at the communal dinner thrown by the coach.
While Thanksgiving may be an easier holiday to forget being away from home because it isn’t celebrated in Sweden, Christmas for Röjerås holds many memories and traditions. Christmas, or ‘Jul’ in Sweden, is an extremely festive time centered around spending time with family and friends. “When I was younger I spent Christmas at my grandparents’ house. We were usually about 15-20 people or so. Everyone got there around 11 a.m. and had a late breakfast,” he said.
“Then when it turns 3 o’clock half (literally 50 percent of the population) of Sweden stops just to watch some old episodes of Donald Duck (exactly the same thing very year, insane I know). Then it’s time for dinner, after dinner either my dad or my grandpa went to buy ‘Snus’ (a not so delicious thing many Swedes unbelievably like to consume) and five minutes later Santa walks in.”
Thanksgiving is about as American as it gets, so, for Katharina Klein, who is from Austria, the holiday traditions are completely new. “Our coach Dan Mecca provided us a Thanksgiving dinner,” Klien said. “We had the dinner in OV and all international students from the track and field team ate together. After dinner we sat together, talked and played games – it was so much fun and a perfect ‘friendsgiving.’” Leading up to Christmas, Klien described the tradition of lighting advent candles each week.
“Every year for Christmas I fly home to Austria. On Christmas Eve my family goes on a hike and after we have dinner an exchange gifts,” she said. “We go to church together as a family, and then on Christmas day we get together again and exchange fits, eat, drink and share each other’s company. It is so good being home because I miss traditional food and my family so much. However when I am at school, we all feel somewhat the same way so we sort of form our own little family.”
Alex Coates is a sophomore from York, England and has been here since his freshman year. “The thing I really like about American holidays, especially Thanksgiving, is that it really emphasizes the importance of family and you really just feel connected to the people around the table, even if you aren’t directly related,” Coates said.
For the past two years, he has gone to his roommate’s house in Connecticut and has loved it. For Christmas, Coates goes back across the pond and spends winter break with family. “I’m always really excited to go back home mostly because it’s so good to see our family. Our holiday traditions are very similar to the U.S. except we don’t place such an emphasis on Christmas Eve dinner,” Coates said. “One thing I really look forward to is Yorkshire Pudding, and to have a real English Christmas dinner. We also celebrate Boxing Day and everyone goes out and it’s a huge deal for us.”