The Daily Northwestern

Students of different cultures, religions share how they spend Christmas

Catherine Kim, Development and Recruitment Editor

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Instead of traditional Christmas provisions, Weinberg junior Dragon Yu said his dining table is filled with fried rice, festive buns and other Chinese dishes. There is no Christmas tree, and in place of presents, elders hand out red envelopes containing money for good fortune.

“It’s very interesting how we took red envelopes, which is very much so like (Chinese) New Years, and started giving it in lieu of presents and gifts,” Yu said.

Though his family does not celebrate Christmas in a religious sense, Yu said they make use of the day as an opportunity for family bonding.

Like Yu, many people who do not practice Christianity have found reasons to incorporate their own culture into the traditionally Christian holiday. Communication junior Cindy Luan said her family began to celebrate the holiday to be more integrated in American culture after emmigrating from China.

“When my parents first moved to America and they had my sister and me, they realized Christmas is a big thing in America,” said Luan, whose family is not religious. “My parents decided to celebrate Christmas … so my sister and I could have more of an American upbringing.”

Now, Luan said she gathers with her Chinese-American neighbors for a Chinese-style potluck party. Christmas has become a day to spend time with family and friends and to eat good food, she said.

Some people have even found ways to take advantage of the Christmas season without observing the holiday itself, like Weinberg junior Afsar Sandozi, who goes on family vacations during the holiday season. This year, she said she is heading to Florida to enjoy the warm weather and spend time with her busy family.

She said she never felt like she was left out of the festivities growing up because as a Muslim, she had her own holidays such as Eid Al-Fitr and Eid Al-Adha.

“We get gifts, we get money, we get family time, we have religious services,” she said. “We had our own version of it, so it wasn’t like I was missing out on anything.”

Communication sophomore Hannah Hakim, who is Jewish, said her family often improvises plans on Christmas Day. Like Sandozi, she said her family takes advantage of the one time during the year everyone is available and holds their annual Hanukkah party. They also go to places that are usually crowded but are very empty on Christmas, such as the movie theater, she said.

Though they might not celebrate Christmas, Hakim said her family still enjoys the festivities of the holiday season.

“We still watch all the Christmas carols online,” she said. “It’s become so Westernized that it’s become more of a cultural thing than a religious thing.”

Sandozi said the transition of Christmas as a strictly religious celebration to more of a cultural phenomenon partially comes from the commercialization of the holiday. Stores extensively advertise sales as chances to get Christmas gifts for loved ones, and most decorations sold during the holiday season are Christmas-themed, she said. Still, anyone can take advantage of holiday bargains regardless of religion, she said.

She added that Christmas also embodies a sense of community, which is why it is so widely celebrated.

“Every religion, every group of people –– regardless of their religion –– needs something that ties them together, pulls them together as family or friends,” she said. “Christmas does that for people.”

Email: catherinekim2020@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @ck_525

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