Exchange students discuss holiday traditions

by Jesse Meeks and Audrey Martin

The GC foreign exchange program started around 1994. “Every year about nine students from other countries come to Greenfield Central High School to see what our school and the United States is all about. They stay for a full school year with families from the school called ‘host families,’ said Mrs. Myra Dye from the counseling department.

The students do not all come from the same country. They are spread throughout the world. Robin Siminski, 11, for example, is from Cologne, Germany. Siminski explained his holiday traditions at home. “Our Christmas traditions start on Dec. 1. Most families have a calendar that has 24 tiny doors and on each day through the 24th you get to open one of those doors and it has chocolate or a little present behind it. On Dec. 5, the little children of Cologne put their clean shoes in front of a door or in front of a fireplace and overnight their parents put little presents and a chocolate ‘Santa Claus’ in their shoes. This is based on Saint Nicholas from Turkey who was a famous, compassionate priest.”

American Christmas traditions are a new and different experience for some exchange students. Aziza Shamyrbekova, 11, for example, is from Kyrgyzstan. In her country only about 15% of the population is Christian; the rest is Muslim. Instead of their big holiday being Christmas, their big celebration at this time of year is on New Year’s. “We have something in common with America because we also decorate a tree. It looks the same as a Christmas tree, but we don’t exchange gifts. We have a family dinner on the Dec. 31 watching New Year’s TV shows and movies until 12 AM. Once the clock hits 12, we celebrate and start to listen to the live TV program about how our president wishes good things for next year. After this, we do fireworks outside in the yard.”

Another student whose traditions are different are Lutfiye Cam. “My country (Germany) does celebrate christmas, but my family does not because of my religion. I am a Muslim, and we don’t celebrate any holidays beside New Year’s in December.”

Another example of how end-of-the-year holidays can be different between America and other countries is that in Germany, instead of saying “Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year,” some families say, “Merry Everything and Happy Always.”  

Ignacio Molina, 11, said, “In Spain, Christmas is very different from America. We are Catholic, so we follow Catholic Christmas. We don’t have (Santa), we have the Three Magic Kings.”

In regards to what host families are doing for the holidays, It’s both similar and different. For Cam, this is her first experience of an American Christmas. “This is a very new and exciting experience for me. As far as I know we are decorating the Christmas tree, decorating the house with lights, making a gingerbread house and buying presents for each other.”

“I am very excited to be spending Christmas with my host family this year. We will be having a big family dinner and doing a gift exchange,”Shamyrbekova said.

Holidays away from home can be tough for anyone, but for exchange students being away from their culture for a year can make being away for the holidays harder. Molina was upbeat about it, though. “It’s hard being away for the holidays but when we had our first holiday this year, Thanksgiving, instead of being sad I stayed positive and thought about how it reminded me of my family.”