Away from home: Exchange students talk about holiday traditions

December 2009 Posted in School

Interviewed by Cambria Roth

What are your family’s Christmas traditions?

MELVIN SARASUA, Belgium

We have a Christmas tree that we decorate and a big family supper that my grandparents and mother cook. We eat roast beef and a traditional cake called Buche.

On midnight of Christmas Eve, we open our presents.

How do Belgium’s holiday traditions differ from those here?
We have shoes instead of stockings and for the week before Christmas, we always wake up and there is candy in them.

What is it like being away from your family for the holidays?
I usually have two weeks of holiday and so we usually stay with family and see everyone; uncles, aunts, grandparents and go on skiing trips after Christmas Day, but this year it will be completely different but Christmas is fun in every country, I think, so it will still be nice.



CLARA MATTHIESSEN, Germany

On Christmas Eve we sleep in and have a big breakfast and then take a long walk around a big lake in our district that we live in.

We go out for lunch and go sledding until it is time for church. After, we decorate the Christmas tree and then my parents ring a little bell for us to come in and see our presents after they have set them out.

Christmas Day is family day and we go to a smaller city and walk through the city.

The day after Christmas is when we go see our relatives in other parts of Germany by train to celebrate with them.

What is a fun story that your parents told you about Christmas?

Well, they told me that the children that don’t have parents have a Santa Claus that comes and takes care of them and gives them presents. But for the children that do have parents, they just call and talk to Santa about presents for the children.

What will you miss the most this holiday season?
I miss my family, but I also will miss the Christmas bazaars in Germany and walking through the city streets and tall buildings that are decorated with lights and everything.



ANJA PTACNIK, Austria

We have a big Christmas tree that we decorate on Christmas Eve. We also eat fish every single year for supper.

How do Austria’s holiday traditions differ from those in the U.S.?
Our presents are under the tree but Austria does not have a Santa Claus but instead, a Christmas child. This is a holiday tradition that represents Jesus as an angel.

What is it like being away from your family for the holidays?

I think that this is probably the hardest part of the year for all exchange students. I will definitely miss my family and chocolate.


KATA LAITINEN, Finland

On the 23rd, we decorate the tree and Santa comes and gives us presents.

My family goes to our grandparents’ home on Christmas Eve and we eat ham, mashed potatoes and mashed carrots.

On Christmas Day, most families in Finland go to the sauna, which is a place for mental and physical relaxation for families to bond and converse.

How do Finland’s holiday traditions differ from those in the U.S.?

They are similar but we do not have the stocking ritual and most families are reliant on saunas and use those on Christmas Eve or Day.

What is it like being away from your family for the holidays?
It’s very hard because I am so used to being with them throughout the holidays and I miss them and the sauna very much.

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