Food and festivities


Family traditions spice up the holidays
text: Nirmal Patel / illustrations: Elena Miller

Red and green are not the only colors that represent Christmas. San José State University’s diverse campus has students celebrating Christmas in a meaningful way: integrating their ethnic tradition with some of the most popular holidays in America.

Jankee Dahya, a health science major at SJSU said that even though her ethnic group classifies her as Indian, she still likes to bring out the liveliness and spirit of Christmas.

“I like the fact that my family and I can spend more time together because of the off days we get from school,” she said.

Dahya said that during the festivities of Christmas, her family gets a little tree in the beginning of the month. She said Christmas is not about the gifts but more about doing family activities.

“On Christmas day, we make different creative dishes as a family and the most important thing is that everyone creates such a great bond with each other and we all have fun,” she said.

She said the spirit of Christmas brings her excitement.

“The colors of Christmas are just (so) beautiful that it makes you get into the picture-taking mode,” she said. Dahya said she loves to take pictures with her family and friends in front of houses and trees that depict Christmas.

Cindy Tran, a Vietnamese nutrition major, said she sees Christmas as a way to celebrate the American culture.

“We don’t really celebrate Christmas — we usually go with the flow, though,” Tran said. Although she does not celebrate Christmas, she said the holiday season excites her.

“I love walking around downtown and seeing how fast-paced everything is. There are so many people and they are all there for the same reason: Christmas shopping,” she said.

Only her immediate family celebrates the holiday and on Christmas Day, they enjoy Vietnamese food, laughs and gifts with one another.

Hispanic health science major Celeste Cordeiro said Christmas with her family lasts for a few days.

“Since my family is really big, we celebrate Christmas three times,” she said.

On Christmas Eve, her mother’s side of the family comes over and they have a family dinner and wait until midnight to open gifts. The tradition to open gifts at midnight puzzles Cordeiro, but she says it is been something they have been doing for many years.

Her family starts planning Christmas at the beginning of December.

“My family and I take a whole day to decorate our house,” she said, adding that it is a lot of work and a long process that usually includes picking out a tree and bringing it home.

Every Christmas, Cordeiro and her family make tamales, ham, rice, beans, bread and cookies. Her family puts in hard work to prepare Christmas dinner. They make around 300 tamales, enough so that her family can take some back home with them. They also play board games and have coffee and desserts Christmas night.

African-American public relations major Kalyn Johnson celebrates Christmas with her family in a way that brings back old memories and creates new ones. One thing Johnson and her family enjoy doing is giving back to the community.

“Giving back to the homeless shelter is something that’s on our minds during Christmas,” she said.

Johnson’s family dinners bring back memories from the past because each dish represents a recipe that has been passed down from generation to generation. Remembering the members of her family who created Christmas Day dinners, Johnson and her family create new dishes every year.

“My mother, sister and I usually cook homemade meals. Everything we cook is a recipe that has been passed down,” she said, including sweet potato pie and cornbread.

Most of Johnson’s Christmas dinners are celebrated at one of her six aunts’ homes. In addition to Christmas dinners, the Johnsons have a cookie party.

“Each family chooses a dessert they are going to make and we all get in one kitchen and bake,” she said. “It’s a family oriented celebration we like to keep going every year.”

With a big family, gifts are not that big of a tradition in her home. Although Johnson participates in giving and receiving gifts, she said Christmas is not about gifts — it is about giving and being grateful for what you have. For Johnson, that is her family.


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