Online Extra: Holidays Around the Globe – – Roanoker

October 26, 2021
12:39 PM
Courtesy of Mary Jo Fassie
Editor’s Note: This is an online extra from our feature of « Holidays Around the World » including more stories that didn’t fit in print! You can read a preview of that feature here.
In Mexico City, where Edgar Ornelas grew up, Christmas is more than just a 24-hour holiday. In fact, for families like his own, it can mean a whole series of celebrations that last more than a month.
“It’s definitely a season, not just a couple of days,” he says.
Mexico’s holiday season is heavily influenced by both Indigenous cultures and Catholic traditions by way of Spain. Drawing from those rich backgrounds, the colorful festivities often kick off in early December and, for many, extend all the way to January 6, when Ornelas grew up celebrating Dia de Los Reyes, or Three Kings Day, with gift-giving and the much-loved “king cake,” Rosca de Reyes.
Ornelas–a Realtor and the founder of the popular local dance group, Guia Salsa ‘Noke–remembers the way the season built in his community throughout the course of the winter months, and he has vivid memories of las posadas, in particular. A nine-day series of neighborhood processionals leading up to Christmas Day, the posadas are meant to reenact the Christian story of Mary and Joseph’s search for an inn, Ornelas explains.  Children walk from house to house–with Mary and Joseph “turned away” again and again–finally arriving at a preselected home that welcomes the whole processional.
There, in Ornelas’ memories, the crowd of children and adults sang songs, sometimes participated in prayers, and capped off the night with warm food and drink–like tamales, Ornelas remembers, a cozy cup of pozole (that’s hominy stew, usually flavored with pork) and, of course, a steaming glass of ponche, “a real, legit fruit punch with sugar cane and fruits. Obviously, adults might spice it up and add a little tequila to their drink,” he says with a laugh.
And of course, no celebration was complete without the piñata–a final chance for children big and small to swing and slam their way into a rain of candy and treats.
Perhaps sweetest of all, though, is Ornelas’ memories of the friends and family who would return home and reunite with each other over the long holiday season–particularly those folks who had immigrated to the United States and elsewhere.
“A lot of people will leave the U.S. around Thanksgiving to get ready for the season in Mexico,” Ornelas says. “They may live in California; Ohio; they may live in Virginia… but you see each other in [your] little town and walk around the plaza… It’s like a family-and-friends gathering.”
By the time New Year’s Day arrives each year–along with the dancing and music Ornelas can’t help but love best–it’s been nearly a month of festivity, special reunions and joy.
Ask Purity Osoro about Christmastime in Kenya, and her face practically glows.
“Oh, Christmas is everything,” she gushes. “Just the food and families coming together … that joyous moment!”
Osoro–a local caterer who sells her popular samosas at the Grandin Village Farmer’s Market–grew up in the urban centre of Nakaru, about two hours from Nairobi. During the holidays, however, as a member of the Kisii people group, she traveled upcountry to celebrate in her local village.
“Every holiday when the schoolyear ends, we travel to the village to see the grandmothers and grandfathers and cousins,” she says. “When we go to the village, it’s just [like] being children again … going to swim in the river, going to pluck fresh fruits from the trees … You forget about your problems, forget the city life.”
And of course … you eat!
“The food … oh my goodness!” Osoro says. “Food brings people together.”
During the holidays in her village, food preparation is a community effort:
“One person would be in charge of the fire, the firewood … My task was chapatis,” or flatbread, she says. “I didn’t enjoy it at the time. It’s hard. But now, that’s one of the biggest foods I sell.”
Many of the holiday dishes she grew up eating and preparing are ones she now makes for catering events.  Christmas dishes include the aforementioned chapati; a rich chicken stew served with thick ugali, or cornmeal; savory rice pilau; and a dish of grilled goat called nyama choma.
“Any Christmas function, any holiday, nyama choma was always there,” she remembers.
These days, Osoro is grateful to share her cooking and culture with others … and to share Kenya’s story, as well.
“When I first came here …  it really, really used to bother me, because people think in Africa, we don’t have food, we are poor – [from] pictures on the TV,” she explains. “I want to share my story, Africa’s story, Kenya’s story … It is a beautiful country!”
She hopes to one day open a restaurant where people can experience the Kenyan atmosphere she misses from home… and where she can perhaps host large holiday gatherings. “Just for Americans to have that feeling … that would be awesome,” she says. “A spectacular with Kenyan food!”
Jojo Friday–a local marketing consultant and founder and CEO of Sisters of Change–grew up in Central American nation of Belize, where Boxing Day is celebrated, and where the Yuletide season is a tropical affair. Palm trees might occasionally find themselves spangled in holiday finery, Friday says,  and since seafood is an ordinary menu item in this coastal nation, the luxurious Christmas food she remembers most is one that might surprise you: ham.  “It’s extremely special,” she says.
But perhaps her most vivid holiday memory is that of the intensely rhythmic and colorful Jankunu dancing, with masked and costumed revelers spilling out into the streets and dancing door to door.
“It’s only danced for Christmas and New Year’s,” Friday explains. The dance is one of Afro-Caribbean and Indigenous origins, with special meaning for the Garifuna people, of which Friday is a proud descendent.
These days, Friday enjoys Christmas complete with Hallmark holiday movies and a toy train chugging under the tree. She says she’s also excited about a newer family tradition: the Festival of Lights at Hermitage Roanoke, which offered a drive-through display for the first time in 2020, and where this year, CHIP will be holding drive-up visits with Santa.
Meanwhile, she hopes to keep her family’s Belizean heritage alive through storytelling and sharing, which she learned in Belize from an early age:
“Since the only way we pass down our history is through word-of-mouth and stories, special holidays are always spent in fellowship at the end of the day,” she says, “often at night with the crashing waves and beach nearby.”
Shaqueena “Chef Queen” Snyder, owner of Queen’s Vegan Café, will be the first to admit that she likes to do things a little differently. Whether she’s veganizing her favorite soul foods or finding meatless ways to achieve the authentic East African flavors of her heritage, she’s used to putting her own spin on things.
“I reinvent everything! Everything’s a Queen tradition, because traditionally a lot of things aren’t vegan,” she says.
But don’t think for a minute that this means she takes her family’s Eritrean holiday customs lightly.
“I am first-generation Eritrean American,” she says. “My lineage is important.  I am responsible for passing down tradition and restoring heritage.”
Snyder is quick to point out that the East African nation of Eritrea is a diverse country, with wide-raging cultural and religious influences, so holiday traditions are wide-ranging, too. For Snyder’s family, though, the main components of Christmas are simple: “It’s all about food and family!”
And those values are in play from the moment a family like Snyder’s sits down at the table.
“We typically eat in a family setting, which means there’s one big plate, essentially a platter, where everyone shares and eats,” she says. “It’s another bonding element.” On that platter, you’ll find an enormous round of soft and spongy, communal injera. “Injera is our flatbread or tortilla, if you will – the base of all things to encompass deliciousness!”
On the injera, like spokes on a wheel, you’ll find dabs of vividly colored stews and fragrant side dishes–“foods that are made with love,” Snyder explains. In her family, those foods might include a dish called, alternately, tsebhi derho or doro wat–a thick, spicy stew traditionally made with chicken – alcha or kik alicha–a golden-hued dish of split peas–and tsebhi timtimo or tikil gomen, a cabbage dish with potatoes and carrots.
Sitting down for a meal like this one is a time to laugh, commune and reflect. “You would be with your family, enjoying pastimes, remembering elders, paying homage,” she says.
Wondering what to wear for a traditional Eritrean holiday? The dress for the day might include traditional wear, Snyder explains–long, flowing cotton dresses, traditionally hand-woven–or, “if you’re having a lazy Christmas, you can be in your coffee gown, which is a dress designated for coffee,” she says.
That coffee ceremony is another central moment of the holiday, and it’s served at the same round, communal table where dinner was eaten, Snyder explains. Like many facets of her heritage, she says, the coffee takes time–and that’s a good thing:
“Everything in Eritrea or Ethiopia typically takes a little bit longer, because they’re making everything by hand,” she says. “Even the clothing is hand-stitched … Everything comes from the land.”
And of course, there’s one more critical component of Christmas in Snyder’s family: “Dancing! Put that in bold,” Snyder says. “That’s extremely important.”
Depending on the mood, dancing might come before or after coffee, but whenever it happens, it’s sure to be an upbeat affair: “It’s a joyful dance, a celebratory dance,” she says. “We’re going in a circle and everyone’s doing it; it’s just a joyous occasion.”
All of this–from the communal table to the dance circle and the honoring of elders–reflects Snyder’s own deep desire to treasure the place where her family once made home.
“So many people of African descent or Black Americans, they have no sense of where their true traditions or true legacy begins… So for me personally, that is very, very important,” she says. “If we’re not paying homage or acknowledging or even continuing the smallest traditions, then it’s all lost.”
That’s why it’s worth the time and the effort, she says, even it means making each traditional side dish lovingly by hand … with a few key swaps to make it vegan.
Learning about new holidays is a fun way to explore other cultures – for kids and adults alike! Here are a few winter holidays you may not have celebrated before … and ways to find out more about the celebrations.
Kwanzaa celebrated its fiftieth birthday in 2016. Created in 1966 as a way for Black Americans to celebrate their history, heritage and culture, much of Kwanzaa is modeled after various African harvest festivals.  In fact, the word “Kwanzaa” itself comes from the Swahili phrase that means “first fruits.”
Each year, families who celebrate Kwanzaa enjoy reflecting, gathering and learning together from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1.  Each of the seven days commemorates a different principle:  unity (umoja), self-determination (kujichagulia), collective work and responsibility (ujima), cooperative economics (ujamaa), purpose (nia), creativity (kuumba) and faith (imani). A daily candle-lighting ceremony at the kinara honors those principles and creates a space for families to discuss what the day’s principle means to them.  At a culmination dinner, a banquet can be shared among family and friends. To find out more about Kwanzaa, consider exploring the website of the National Museum of African American History and Culture at
Boxing Day
If you live in Britain, Canada, Australia, or one of the many regions around the world heavily influenced by British culture, you might know December 26 as Boxing Day – a relaxed holiday in which, according to some British traditions, domestic staffers historically received a much-needed day off after working through the holiday festivities.
Why the name “Boxing Day?”  Differing theories abound, but one popular explanation is that the name originated when wealthy landowners sent their staff home with “Christmas boxes” containing holiday food, treats and gifts. And while those boxes are more or less a thing of the past, the day still places emphasis on charitable giving, especially since December 26 is also celebrated as Saint Stephen’s Day in some communities.  Regardless of where you live, however, if you observe Boxing Day, you’re likely to spend it watching football (that would be soccer here in the U.S.), eating festive leftovers and enjoying a little extra R&R… and that’s a holiday tradition we can all appreciate!
Lunar New Year
In many regions of the world that feature a lunar or lunisolar calendar – China, Vietnam and South Korea, for example – you might find yourself celebrating the Lunar New Year in late January or early February.
Traditions vary widely from country to country and culture to culture, but depending on where you are in the world on New Year’s Day, you might see red paper lanterns glowing in windows, hear the pop and crackle of firecrackers and confetti cannons in the streets, or find yourself roped into a good game of Yut Nori with your relatives.
To learn more about Lunar New Year celebrations, consider checking out a book at your local library, and watch for festivities right here in Roanoke. In years past, the Lunar New Year has been featured at the Taubman Museum of Art, in association with Local Colors and Roanoke Sister Cities.
October 26, 2021
12:39 PM

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