Christmas traditions

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Christmas is a huge holiday in the United States. For many people, it’s the most important holiday of the year. (It’s much more important than Thanksgiving for most people who celebrate both.)

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However, not everyone celebrates Christmas. For many people, Christmas is a Christian religious holiday. People from other religions often have other winter holidays that they celebrate in November and December, including Yule, Diwali, Hanukkah, etc. Some people celebrate more than one holiday. Other people don’t celebrate any holidays. Some people celebrate in a non-religious way–many people follow Christmas traditions (Christmas trees, presents, etc.) but don’t consider themselves Christians. Because the United States is ethnically and religiously diverse, most people have friends, family, and co-workers who celebrate differently from themselves. That’s why many Americans who do celebrate Christmas feel it is more polite to sometimes say “Happy holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” If you don’t know what holiday someone celebrates, it’s more considerate to say “Happy holidays” instead of assuming that the person celebrates Christmas. For the same reason, a lot of Americans (including me) send holiday cards that say “Season’s Greetings” instead of “Merry Christmas,” or send different cards depending on the recipient.

There are regional differences in how Christmas is celebrated around the world. Different countries have very different traditions. In the USA, different areas sometimes have regional traditions based on where the local people’s ancestors come from. Different Christian groups also celebrate Christmas differently. Some groups, including Catholics, observe a four-week period called Advent, while most other Christian denominations don’t. Many Americans have backgrounds that include a variety of religions and ethnicities, so they may have a variety of different traditions. That’s true in my family. Our Christmas traditions include gelt, Christmas stockings, mistletoe, eggnog, Christmas crackers, holiday cards, and advent calendars. (You can look up all of these topics on Wikipedia, or just explore the many Christmas-related articles there.)

In countries where Christmas arrived more recently, such as Japan, other traditions have become popular. In Japan, it’s considered a good day for a romantic date, whereas in the USA it’s kept as a day for families and children. Fried chicken is popular for Christmas dinner in Japan, whereas Americans often prepare ham or beef at home, and British people often eat turkey, goose, or duck. Americans often have desserts such as pie or fruitcake (a spiced bread with dried fruit), while in Britain you can buy an iced fruitcake called a Christmas cake–but in Japan, a Christmas cake is a sponge cake that is beautifully iced and topped with fruit or Christmas decorations.

Anyway, I really enjoy Christmas because I like picking out presents for my friends and family, decorating the tree, seeing all of the lit-up houses in town, etc. This year, my husband and I flew to Arkansas to visit our families, so we’re doing lots of Christmas things with them. If we had stayed in California, we would have gone to our friend’s Yule party. What do you enjoy doing in December and January?

Whatever you do or don’t celebrate, I hope you have a wonderful month and a happy new year! Happy holidays!

How to be a good house guest

The holidays are coming up here in the USA, when a lot of people travel home or invite friends and family to stay with them. If you’re studying abroad, maybe some friends or a family that you know will invite you to stay at their home. This can be a wonderful experience that you’ll never forget, if your hosts are nice. Of course, everyone will have a better time if you are a well-behaved guest, too.

Everyone’s happy with a good house guest!

10 Ways to be an Excellent House Guest lists some of the things you can do (at least in the US) to be considered a good guest. For #9, I recommend that you ask your host before you strip the bed (that is, remove the sheets and pillowcases). For #10, if you forget, you can always mail a card. You can buy thank-you cards for 99 cents at most drugstores and card shops, such as Hallmark.

You should also ask if you should bring anything. If you’re going to stay with a college classmate, for example, she might not have extra towels or pillows. In addition, if you can’t eat something because of your health or religion, you should let your host know politely. You should also offer to take care of that yourself. For example, “I’m vegetarian, so if you don’t mind, could we go to the grocery store so I could buy some vegetarian entrees for myself?” It’s likely that your host will offer fix appropriate food for you, but you should be prepared to cheerfully take care of yourself if you need to.

Traditional host gifts for going to dinner at someone’s house include flowers, potted plants, wine (if the hosts drink alcohol), candy and chocolates, sweets from your home country, traditional items from your home country, homemade items such as bread, tea, and that kind of thing. If you’re staying overnight or for several nights, the gift should probably be a little bigger, such as a potted plant and some candy together. However, the cost is not as important as just remembering to bring something. You can just say “This is for you; thank you for having me over/thank you for letting me stay with you.” The host will probably say “Oh, you didn’t have to!” or something like that. But, of course, you were probably expected to.

While you’re staying with a host, don’t hesitate to ask for something if you need to. Just be polite about it. For example, if your host asks if you’re cold and need another blanket, say yes if you’re cold! Just be polite and say something like “Oh, if you don’t mind, that would be great.” Your host will feel very bad if he or she finds out later that you were uncomfortable during your visit, so it’s better to ask when you need something. It’s a good time for phrases like “Would you mind if I … Would it be possible to … Is there some way I could … Do you mind if I … Is it all right if I … I hate to bother you, but … ” etc. If your host can’t help you with the problem, then relax, be nice about it, and apologize for bothering them. (Of course, if you need something important such as medication, you should make sure that you get it somehow.)

This year I’ll be staying with my parents and my parents-in-law, so that’s a little different. They’d be insulted if I offered to help pay for the groceries, since we’re family. I’ll still try to help with some of the chores–and of course, I’ll already be bringing presents!

What do you think a good house guest should do?

P. S. Happy Hanukkah!