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How Students From Around the World Celebrate Holidays

How Students From Around the World Celebrate Holidays

by Erika Clark and Claire Alloway

While Thanksgiving is an all-American holiday, where families come together and memories and meals are shared, your exchange student probably has their own “Thanksgiving.” This holiday is special in their home country and probably not one that is acknowledged in the U.S. Whether your Asian exchange daughter misses the moon cakes and decked out streets for the Lunar New year, or your Dutch exchange son misses the incredible orange spectacular of Queen’s Day, the holiday is sure to be a tough one for them. To ease that pain and learn a little more about their culture in the process, here are some of the holidays celebrated around the world and ideas for making them special in your home.

Lunar New Year (China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Korea)
Because the Chinese calendar is lunisolar, the Chinese New Year is celebrated at a different time than the New Year we celebrate. In 2014, Chinese New Year begins on January 31. Just like our Thanksgiving, Lunar New Year is a time when people return home to their families.  The New Year travel rush accounts for more than 3.2 billion trip to mainland China, which may make the lines at your airport seem a bit less daunting.

Tips for celebrating

Sweep away bad luck that's built up over the year. It's tradition to clean house before the new year.

-Paint the (house) red! Red is a symbol for good luck in Asian cultures.  People traditionally wear red on Lunar New Year

-Go to a parade.  Look up whether any Lunar New Year parades are happening nearby and enjoy the firecrackers, dancing dragons and delicious food.

-Red envelopes [Hong bao (h-ong bow) or Leisee (lay-see)] are typically given by married people to children.  If you give out red envelopes, don’t give out $4, a very unlucky number that sounds like “death” in Chinese.

King’s Day – formerly Queen’s Day (Netherlands) – Celebrated on the birthday of the reigning monarch, 2013 will mark the first “King’s Day” since 1949.  Kings Day is celebrated on the new King Willem-Alexander’s birthday, April 27. Holland changes overnight into a country decked out in orange.  It is a day created to promote national unity.

Tips for celebrating:

-Wear orange

-Go out on the town. From markets to parades to parties, everyone is out and about celebrating with friends and family. We may not have the city-wide street sale here, but you might find the holiday a good excuse to hit the shops.

-Family Fun. Games, face-painting and other kid friendly events are a big part of King’s Day. Make sure the little people in your home are in on the fun.


Epiphany or Three Kings Day (Latin America, Spain, France) – January 6:  Christians around the world mark the three wise men visiting the new baby Jesus on this day.  In some countries, the holiday also commemorates his baptism.

Tips for celebrating:

-Plan a meal. A feast with friends, family and fellow church members is how most celebrate this holiday

-Bake a cake.  A centerpiece of this holiday is a cake with a small bean or baby Jesus figurine inside.  The person who gets the figurine may need to host a party or buy a gift, depending on the local customs.

Ramadan: Changes yearly – Although the dates change yearly, in 2014, Ramadan will start on June 28th and will continue for 30 days July 27th. It is a Muslim holiday celebrated with fasting, prayer and abstaining from anything that may be ill-advised. Ramadan is a chance to cleanse your spirit and start fresh with God.

Tips for celebrating:

-Daily fasts. Cleansing starts with sunrise to sundown fasts for observers. Most break the fast with dates, followed by a small meal. Support your student in their fast and have meal ready for them at sundown.

-Give of yourself.  Charity is an important part of Ramadan. Whether it is a donation of your money or time, giving to others is of particular focus during the last 10 days of the holiday.

-End with a feast. Ramadan ends with a feast where family and friends decorate their homes and come together to celebrate the end of the fast. Preparing your student’s traditional foods is a wonderful way to celebrate their dedication and strength during Ramadan.