International students establish unique holiday traditions

International Christmas

International Christmas Interior

Zac Pankey|Cardinal & Cream


As many students pack their bags to spend Thanksgiving break with their families, others are a bit farther from home.

Noemi Sisalema, junior economics major, is from Quito, Ecuador. She celebrated her first Thanksgiving as a freshman with other international students.

“But this holiday is going to be more special,” Sisalema said. “It will be my first time celebrating Thanksgiving in the company of a member of my family.”

Her father has been in Memphis for a pastoral training event, and he will stay through Thanksgiving to celebrate in Pennsylvania with his daughter and family friends.

“I think Thanksgiving depicts a great part of the American identity,” Sisalema said. “I believe traditions should be preserved through generations because they are components of our cultures and give us a sense of belonging to a community.”

Sisalema said the tradition of families gathering to give thanks for the previous year has been a significant aspect of her immersion into the American culture.

In her home country, Holy Week is historically similar to Thanksgiving.

“Just like the English pilgrims came to North America, the Spanish conquerors went to South America and brought their festivities with them,” she said. “Over the years, family gatherings and the traditional indigenous food did not change. While cooking together, adults explain to the children about the history behind the holiday and the meaning of the ingredients in the Fanesca soup, such as the 12 grains which represent the 12 disciples of Jesus.”

Also similar to Thanksgiving, Sisalema’s family prays and gives thanks to the Lord, she said. Then they play games, listen to music and dance.

Sisalema said that Christmas is another family-centered holiday in Ecuador. On Christmas Eve, or Noche Buena, her extended family comes together to share a meal, sing songs, play games and top the Christmas tree with a star.

“At midnight, a toast called panettone is served with hot chocolate,” she said. “Child Jesus is put on the nativity set, and good wishes and hugs are exchanged. Gifts are not as common at Christmas in Ecuador as it is in the United States.”

Freshmen Nil Vinyals and Lucas Lopes are spending their time off next week in a less traditional way.

Vinyals, sports management major, is from Barcelona, Spain, and Lopes, business management major, is from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The two are part of a group of other international friends driving to Miami and then taking a four-day cruise in the Bahamas.

“I don’t know much about Thanksgiving traditions,” Lopes said. “But it’s a good time for us to travel and get to know more about America.”

Christmas in Brazil is a holiday that Lopes looks forward to every year, he said.

“We usually have a party—my uncles, grandmother, grandfather, everybody comes,” he said. “Normally we have a Christmas tree and a big dinner. After midnight, we exchange presents and on Christmas Day everybody sleeps in the house and then we have lunch together. It’s a holiday about family.”

Students staying in Jackson next week can contact Residence Life to get connected with one of several professors who open their homes and host Thanksgiving dinner.

Image courtesy of Zac Pankey|Cardinal & Cream
About Danica Smithwick 41 Articles
Danica Smithwick, class of 2016 journalism alumna, is former Editor-in-Chief of the Cardinal & Cream. She is now a reporter for Community Impact Cy-Fair in Houston, TX. Follow her on Twitter: @danicasmithwick.