Foreign exchange students talk about differing hoiday customs
Christmas is full of traditions that change from family to family and country to country. Though the methods of celebrating the holidays may differ, the real meaning behind Christmas stays the same.
Carson Valley gets a taste of international holiday traditions from the foreign exchange students Douglas High School hosts each year.
This year, the students include three German girls and a boy from Spain.
Jo Butay is 16 and attending DHS as a junior. She is from the city of Plettenberg, in the state of Nordrhein-Westfalen, in Germany. She thinks that Christmas in the United States is very different.
“We don’t have mistletoes and everything,” Butay said, “And our music is very traditional, only the Messiah and early centuries. No Bing Crosby or ’50s music.”
Butay said they know about Santa Claus, but all of their presents come from the Christ Child.
“We have wooden shoes with candy,” Butay said, “but no stockings.”
Christmas Eve is the big day in Germany.
“At 5 or 6 o’clock we open all of the presents,” Butay explained, “and then I go to mass at midnight.”
The traditional Christmas Eve meal is goose.
Butay mentioned the world-famous Christmas fairs that are held in Nurnberg, Munich and Trier, where gingerbread and gluewein (pronounced gluevine), a special wine heated with spices, are sold. The drinking age in Germany is 16.
n More decorations here. One big difference all of the German students noticed is decorations.
“Americans have much more colorful decorations. Ours is more English-style, and simpler,” Butay said, “We don’t have candy canes, and our lights are mainly white. Blue and white was ‘in’ last year.”
They also celebrate the Day of the Three Kings, which is Jan. 6. That is the day the three wise men visited baby Jesus.
“The children are in groups of three, and they go around the church district collecting money and candy for Third World children,” Vanessa Revers, another German exchange student from Altaus, Nordrhein-Westfalen, who is 17 and a junior at DHS, said. “Some of the candy they keep, and they are all dressed up. There is one who paints his face black, one with a box to collect the money and one with a star on a broom stick.”
Butay said the children in her city also dress up as the kings and walk around in the streets with their priest and chalk. They would sign people’s doors with “CMB” (the three kings’ initials) and the year, and that would give a blessing to the house.
Revers found it very interesting that American presents say, “From Santa.”
In Germany, she and her brother would look for the Christ Child and wait in their rooms on Christmas Eve until her mother rang a bell. They would run out and find a plate of candy for each on the table, and then they would open all of their presents.
“Everything is from the Christ Child,” Revers said, “but none of them say, ‘From Christ Child.'”
She would also receive a plate of candy at her grandparents’ house, because the Christ Child went there, too.
“We eat a lot of candy, but we don’t have Halloween,” Revers said.
Christmas Eve is the day Revers puts up her Christmas tree, and she says that almost everyone in Germany has real trees. The tree stays up until the first or second week of January.
“We put a Nativity on a little table next to the tree, with real grass,” Revers said, “And sometimes it’s cold and the grass is frozen and hard to pull up from outside.”
n Advent traditions. Revers really likes the Advent calendar she gets every year, including this year, that has 24 doors for December, with 24 pieces of chocolate.
Sonja Zell is 17, a senior at DHS, and from Bannberscheid, Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany. Zell has brought all of her traditions with her.
Zell’s celebration starts four weeks before Christmas, which was Nov. 29 this year. Everyone in her host family leaves out a shoe each night, and the next morning there are cookies or chocolates inside.
A wreath with four candles is placed on the dinner table, and each of the four Sundays before Christmas one candle is lit, until all four are lit by Christmas.
“The candles are lit mainly for dinner each night,” Zell said.
She also does a lot of baking, and Christmas Eve dinner at her house is daenisch brot, which is toast with cream cheese, ham and butter.
The 24th also is the big day for Zell. In Germany, the family would eat around 6 p.m., sing songs, read out of the Bible, open all of the presents and then go to 10 p.m. mass.
All of the exchange students are Catholic.
Zell believes that the amount of presents given in America and Germany are about the same.
Pablo Cabello is a 17-year-old senior from Madrid, Spain. For him, the big holiday is the Day of the Three Kings. He wouldn’t even get Christmas presents if he didn’t have an Austrian uncle who sent him some.
Cabello would normally attend mass on Dec. 24 and have a lamb dinner on Christmas.
He said there was no Santa Claus in Spain, only the Three Kings; which Butay found interesting, because she is also Catholic, and she knew about Santa Claus.
Cabello also said that decorations in his country are inside. There are Nativity scenes and real pine trees with white lights in their garages, but only for Jan. 6.
There are also no stockings or mistletoe in Spain.
New Year’s Eve holds a special tradition for Cabello. The last 12 seconds of the year are counted down with grapes.
“We have 12 grapes, and when we count down the last 12 seconds we eat one for each second,” Cabello said. “The grapes are lucky.”
For him, New Year’s is a bigger celebration than Christmas. Also, New Year’s means friends and Christmas means family. He would usually go to a disco with his friends.
Spain’s drinking age is also 16.
Cabello said he would really miss his friends more on New Year’s than his family. His mother, who works for a Spanish phone company, calls him frequently.
On the Day of the Three Kings, Cabello would leave out three glasses of milk and cookies for the kings. Students get two days off school for Jan. 6, and they would celebrate with a turkey dinner. The day before all the stores in town would have a little parade with cars and throw candy out to the children.
After they opened all of their presents, the family would go to midnight or 1 a.m. mass. There, three men would dress up as the kings and they would read out of the Bible.
Cabello said he stopped believing in the Three Kings when he saw his parents putting the presents out when he was 8 or 9 years old. But his 7-year-old brother still believes.
Back to Front Page