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The holiday season is an exciting time, as the semester winds down and everyone begins to think about family get-togethers.
At the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, students come from a variety of places and backgrounds—which means they have been, or will be, celebrating in many different ways this season. Here's a look at a few of their celebrations:
Aziz Alharthi, junior in electrical engineering, came to Tennessee from Saudi Arabia three years ago. He's been home to visit twice, but not during the Eid al-Adha holiday, because it has fallen during the semester. This year, Eid al-Adha was celebrated on November 6, corresponding with the lunar calendar.
"Eid al-Adha is one of the biggest Muslim celebrations," Alharthi said, explaining that everyone takes off work for two weeks so family can get together. "We always see my grandpa, his brothers, and extended family, we visit neighbors, friends, and older people, even if we are not related, and call the ones we cannot visit."
Traditions include sacrificing a sheep, giving one third of the meat to the poor, one third of the meat to friends and family, and keeping the remaining third for your own family. Family members usually give money gifts to their children.
Alharthi has fond memories of his mother making all of his favorite desserts and getting to see family that lives far from their home.
"I miss the times. This year, to celebrate I got together with friends. We cooked traditional food and brought candy that we shared with all of our neighbors in our apartment building."
Moe Nagata, junior in anthropology, and Yumika Mitomo, senior in anthropology, both from Japan, have been in the US for a year. This time of year, they would normally be looking forward to one of the most important annual festivals, the Japanese New Year.
"It is a much larger celebration than here," Nagata said. "Everyone takes off work for three days and celebrates in their hometown with their family."
On the first day of the year, people often make a trip to pray at shrines. During the celebration, people eat traditional dishes, especially mochi, a dumpling made from sticky rice cooked by the family's mother or grandmother. All of the dishes have meanings like happiness, longevity, or prosperity.
This year, the girls plan to celebrate "American-style New Year," since they will not be home in Japan.
Rajesh Jena, from India, came to the US in 2007 to get his master's degree in biosystems engineering, and he's now working on a doctorate in food science. Earlier this fall, he got together with friends from the Indian Student Association to celebrate Diwali, the festival of lights.
As part of their celebration, they went to the Hindu Community Center in Lenoir City, Tennessee, where the traditional use of fireworks is permitted.
This year, Diwali was on October 26. The tradition had very religious beginnings, but has become a time to celebrate friendship and family. People usually decorate their homes for the holiday and put lamps in front of their houses. Everything is cleaned, new clothes are worn, and people give sweets to neighbors, friends, and family.
Fireworks are a major part of the celebration.
"The entire country is lit up and there is so much noise," Jena said. People celebrate the festival by lighting fireworks and firecrackers. "As a child, I remember I was scared, and I did not want to light firecrackers until my dad taught me how to do it."
Menjie Chen is a sophomore from China majoring in mathematics. She has been in the US for two years, and will be here for three more years. For her, the Chinese New Year is one of the most exciting parts of the year.
Occurring in January or February, the celebration lasts fifteen days, during which no one works or goes to school. The first week is spent preparing, decorating the house, getting new furniture, and going to temples and local religious places to give thanks for what has been given and to pray for the coming year.
All generations of family members get together to eat and spend time with each other. Everyone wears new clothes and stays up all night to welcome the new year, and kids go around to ask family members for "lucky money," which Chen said was always her favorite part of the celebration.
People take time to go to different family members' houses to visit and catch up on what all has happened in the year.
"I miss it so much," Chen said. "We celebrate here a little, but it is not as fun."
Fiona Njororai, junior in accounting, and her family left Kenya six years ago. A few years after coming to the US, they began celebrating Thanksgiving as a family, but with their own spin.
"We keep the turkey, but no corn," Njororai said. They serve pilau, a dish of fried rice, and goat meat, traditionally served as a specialty in Africa, along with vegetables, chicken, and beef. Also missing from the spread is the dessert table. "We don't really eat desserts, just a lot of fruit," she said.
She spends the holiday at home, and they all go shopping on Black Friday together.
Njororai recalls that in Kenya, Christmas is very important. For the month of December, no one goes to school or work. Everyone spends a lot of time with family and neighbors. They have Christmas trees and dinners with family, but there is no big tradition of gift giving.
"For Africa, the biggest thing is community, not just family. Neighbors, friends of neighbors, everyone is invited."