For international students, Christmas celebrations are unique – By Katy Olewiler

Two very different Christmases. Two worlds apart. From the rich soil of Uganda to the splashing waves of Okinawa, two international students at The Master’s College open up about their Christmas traditions and favorite memories.

Emma Hurley is a sophomore Bible major from Kubmittwe, Uganda. Her parents have been missionaries in Uganda for over 10 years. Growing up, she would visit the United States every other year as her family raised support.

“I’m looking forward to being with my family on this coming Christmas Day because last year I didn’t go home,” says Hurley. She can’t help but grin as she adds, “I fly out right after my last final.”

Christmas day is a busy hubbub at the Hurley house in Kubmittwe.

“For Christmas day we wake up so excited in our pajamas, and we run to our living room. We open the socks and after that we have breakfast. Then we go get ready for the day,” Hurley says.

There are always plenty of guests over at her house, and visiting is enjoyable.

“It’s just fun because there are so many people already walking around,” Hurley says. “It’s so fun to get mixed in the crowd and pretend like you know what you are doing.”

A family meal is served in the late afternoon and after that the community of three villages comes together to celebrate. The men play soccer and the women play volleyball.

Hurley looks forward to the events of the evening the most.

“I like the whole day but probably my favorite is at night when we are all singing songs, worshiping God, and being reminded of Christ’s great love for us that He would give up His heavenly home to come and dwell among us. It’s always exciting to be reminded of that,” Hurley says.

With everyone in their cozy pajamas, the living room comes alive with a music concert as Hurley and each of her siblings play a memorized song on the piano.

Her mom reads a Christmas story and then homemade pumpkin pie and cookies are handed out.
“We also make a cake with candles and sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to Jesus,” Hurley says, recounting a memory they’ve done ever since she was a little girl.

Leaving Uganda and crossing over to the island of Okinawa, one comes to see another way Christmas is celebrated.

Shion Uza is a sophomore math major from Okinawa, Japan. She lives with her parents as well as her grandma and uncle. Being an only child, family is very important to Uza.

Christmas in Okinawa is celebrated very differently than in the United States.

“It’s funny because I realized something few years ago. I feel like for America, Christmas is a family thing and New Year’s is a couple’s thing, but in Japan it’s the opposite. Christmas has a lot to do with couples and New Year’s is all about the family,” Uza says.

Although New Year’s is the bigger celebration, this does not disregard the importance of Christmas Day.

Instead of placing gifts under a real tree, Uza’s family has a plastic tree and presents are stacked next to people’s beds.

“I would wake up to the gifts, instead of walking out to the Christmas tree.”

As a young girl, Uza believed in Santa, but there was one dilemma she had to wrestle with.

“I believed that Santa Claus came from the chimney,” Uza says, “But in Japan we don’t have chimneys so I was like ‘how does he get in?’”

Christmas Day for Uza includes a trip to the beach. Because the Island of Okinawa is so narrow, it is accessible in about 10 minutes from her house. Past Christmases have included an exciting, illuminating light show in Children’s Park, Okinawa and braving the crowds for an all day trip to Tokyo Disneyland.

Despite preferring the festivities of New Year’s over Christmas, there are many things Uza enjoys about the season. The holiday treats, for one, include apple pie, mom’s homemade hot chocolate, coffee, and special seasonal chocolates. Dinner includes roasted chicken and the celebratory dishes of sushi.

Although the music during the holidays may not be as wide a variety as in the States, Uza says she “feels like it’s Christmas” when certain Christmas tunes (in Japanese) are heard.

Something Uza has grown fonder of as she’s grown up has been giving gifts to relatives and good friends.

“As I got older it was more fun to give gifts than receive them,” Uza says. “I always got my mom a Starbucks coffee tumbler and I started exchanging gifts with my best friend.”

Although you may notice differences in how your international friends celebrate Christmas, consider it an opportunity to learn from a variety of cultures about how they create and maintain their traditions.

These two students from different geographical spots on the map may help to open your eyes to the cultures around you.

Perhaps you may even want to start a new Christmas tradition yourself after hearing from your international friends.

By Katy Olewiler

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