Campus and community celebrate holidays around the world

Students and staff gather at the Holidays Around the World event on Friday, Dec. 2 in Rowe Hall.

Nearly 500 students, faculty, staff and community members gathered for Holidays Around the World, an event in which participants were invited to taste international foods and learn about holidays in different countries on Dec. 2 at the Central Michigan University Museum of Cultural and Natural History.

Those in attendance had a chance to try traditional dishes from over a dozen countries including Cuba, India, Nepal, Columbia, Mexico, Argentina, Bangladesh, Lebanon, Syria, Germany, France, Japan and Korea.

Alejandra Rengifo, a professor of Spanish, Latino studies and cultural and global studies at CMU, said she came up with the idea for the celebration. Once an international student herself, Rengifo said she wanted current international students to feel welcome andl be a part of the CMU’s community.

“My life is my students,” Rengifo said.

Rengifo said she wanted to put the event together after speaking to Jay Martin, director of the CMU Museum Studies program and professor of History.

Martin said he spoke with international students at CMU while developing job positions to work for them at the museum. Martin shared that the students told him they didn’t have an opportunity to meet many American students – or celebrate American holidays.

“We really wanted to do something in the very beginning that would help international student to know that first of all we appreciate them, we welcome them,” Martin said. “And then we also wanted to bring them together. And I think we did a pretty good job with that.”

Rengifo and Martin worked together to host the event. Rengifo took on organizing, marketing and fundraising. Martin handled museum-related setup; for example, he scheduled museum employees to work the event.

“This is for and with the international student,” Rengifo said. “We all care for our international students.”

Over 15 tables of food, sourced from Midland and Lansing, offered attendees samples from many different countries. Students and faculty volunteered to serve food.

President Davies, also in attendance at the event, said he was there in support of students, faculty and community at the event.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for our students to experience different cultures from around the world (and) how they celebrate the holidays in many different forms,” Davies said. “It is amazing to see all the different things so far."

Nancy Mathews, Provost and Executive Vice President, said she appreciated the variety of cuisines and cultures.

“It is exciting to see so many students coming together," she said. “And everybody is just enjoying having to taste so many cultures. Smiles on everybody’s faces are just amazing.

Jennifer Evanuik, executive director of the OGE, visited the event. Evanuik said OGE sponsored the event to support, celebrate and recognize different cultures.

“(It is) wonderful to see so many students, faculty and stuff coming together to just enjoy different food from different countries (and) learn about different cultures,” Evanuik said. 

She said it was especially nice to have an event with so many people in one place, like this, after the COVID-19 pandemic.

ISO President Deepmala Rana Bhat worked together with Rengifo to gather food, decorations and international students to help before and during the event.

Rana Bhat said working with her was her favorite part.

“(Rengifo) was like our mother,” she said. “She did all the managing and everything.”

During the event, presentations were shown about holiday traditions in Mexico, Japan, France, Germany, Columbia, the United States, Nepal, Hong Kong, the Philippines and the Jewish culture.

Rana Bhat recruited students to host discuss their native countries in these presentations. Rana Bhat shared facts about her home country, Nepal, and its popular festivals.

“It was good doing the event and people showing up,” Rana Bhat said, “It would be much better if every (international student) were here… I wish everyone would come here because this is a time when international students can come together… This is all for them, and I want more participation.”

Second-year graduate student Marian Cardwell helped with event logistics, recruiting, managing presentations and food. She said it was her first time organizing an event as big as Holidays Around the World, but she was very excited about it.

“I love holidays and I love learning about other cultures,” Cardwell said. 

Syrian and Lebanon culture was presented by Michelle Azar, a second-year graduate student with family from Syria. 

“I am really happy that we get to share our culture with other people,” Azar said. “A lot of people have come here and said that they love Mediterranean food.”

Azar’s table had baklava, hummus, peanut bread, spicy potatoes and meat pie. Azar said, in Syria, people celebrate Christmas similarly to Americans. She said a large difference between the two countries is food – for example, a traditional Syrian milk-based lamb soup.

Juniors Josephine Braunroth, from Germany, and Emma Russold, who's dad is Austrian, presented German and Austrian traditions including Saint Nicholas Day.

In celebration of Saint Nicholas Day, on Dec. 5, children in certain European countries will leave shoes on a doorstep, window or fireplace in hopes Saint Nicholas will bring a treat, if they are good, according to The Local, an online news site that offers Germany's news in English. For bad behavior, a stick or something similar is left behind.

Sophomore Valentina Memije, who's parents are Mexican, presented Mexican culture and introduced posole – a spicy pork soup.

“I think it’s a great event,” Memije said. “I love the food. It is exciting.” 

Isabella Restrepo gave a presentation about Columbian winter holidays. Día de las Velitas, or the Day of the Little Candles, happens on Dec. 7 and begins the Christmas festivities for days to come. The tradition is celebrated by people lighting candles in honor of the Virgin Mary.

From Dec. 16 to Dec. 24, Columbians welcome baby Jesus and gather with family. Each of the nine nights, a different family member hosts dinner.

Restrepo said, during this time, people eat, pray, dance and sing together. The traditional dish is a Christmas bowl of cheese with caramel, called Bunuelos and Natilla.

Christmas celebration starts on Dec. 24. Restrepo said unlike in the U.S., children do not ask Santa for gifts. Instead, they write letters to baby Jesus. A big part of Columbian Christmas, Restrepo said, are nativity scenes, with which people even do competitions with.

Senior Liz Visscher said she learned about the event from her professor.

“I really liked it,” Visscher said. “It is really awesome learning about other cultures while also getting to enjoy all the food from those cultures.”

Rengifo and Martin worked with and received support from the College of Medicine (CMED), Department of History, World Languages and Cultures (HWLC), International Student Organization (ISO), Latinx/Hispanic Studies Engagement, Office of Global Engagement (OGE), Office of Research and Graduate Studies(ORGS) and various colleges on campus.

“I’d very much like to thank all the different people and the groups that sponsored this event because without them we wouldn’t have been able to afford to do all what we have done or to mobilize that many people who participated, who made it a success,” Martin said.