OSU Brazilian Scholar Shares Thoughts On An American Christmas

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Baking gingerbread cookies with your grandchildren; greeting the neighbors with a hearty “happy holidays” and giving presents to everyone you know including your mail carrier may all seem pretty traditional to you this time of year. But for people who are from other parts of the globe such customs are not so ordinary. WOSU talks with a Brazilian scholar about their thoughts on an American Christmas.

Valdeni Reis, who is from Brazil, has been in the United States since May. She’s a second-year Ph.D. student at Ohio State’s School of Teaching and Learning.

Reis is Christian. But this will be her first Christmas in America. Reis’s description of her family’s celebration is similar to the way many American’s commemorate the holiday with midnight masses, big family dinners with turkey and the exchanging of gifts. And they have Christmas trees, too, but…

“I think here, I don’t know, I think you’re used to decorating more, you know, streets and homes and all. So, you have so beautiful trees. I guess this tradition, Brazil is not that so strong anymore,” Reis said

For international scholars like Reis, Ohio State holds weekly conversation groups. Rosemarie Jackson works in the office of international affairs and leads the sessions. She said the meetings try to let the students practice English. But the sessions also teach American customs. And recently, Jackson said they addressed the December holidays and its diversity.

“Talking about, you know, why it may not be appropriate in every case to wish someone a merry Christmas because that is a Christian holiday. And so in the U.S. there’s the approach of respect of people who may not be celebrating that. And so you still can wish them happy holidays and that covers every single holiday they may be celebrating whether they’re celebrating Santa or just the New Year,” Jackson said.

And Jackson said they are introduced to words associated with the holidays they may not learn in their regular English classes.

“You know some real specific things or even getting into specific foods like cranberries. You know, maybe you’re going to learn strawberries in English class, but you’re not going to learn cranberries. So another thing we do in preparation of the holidays is give people ideas about how they can, if they want to, in a traditionally American way,” she said.

In America, at least, it would not be the holidays without homemade goodies. And scholar Valdeni Reis has noticed the never-ending supply of cookies cropping up everywhere from the office to friends’ parties.

“Everybody’s talking about I have to make cookies. And I think it’s so interesting. Of course you do not have this tradition in Brazil. So I think it’s so exciting,” Reis said.

So has Reis given in and baked some herself?

“Oh, not really. But you know what? Everybody is giving me a lot of, is giving me a lot of cookies. So I have a lot of cookies. Well, maybe it could be a good experience, as well, but I don’t think I need. I have too much. Many, many cookies,” Reis laughed.

And Reis has picked up on the infinite amount of holiday treats for the eyes and ears that often start before Thanksgiving.

“Every time you turn on your radio or television you have, you know, music, songs, movies about Christmas. Of course I can also understand they have a lot of advertisement so you have people getting all the time crazy about buy, buy, buy. I think it’s not a good thing,” Reis noted.

Reis admitted the music and movies get her in the spirit of the season, but the commercialization of the holiday in her words bothers her. She said American friends even have expressed to her a pressure surrounding this time of year.

“Christmas it’s much more than that. Of course it’s cute when you think (of) somebody and you buy something, but it’s much more than that. I really think it’s give ourselves to each other. It’s much more important,” Reis said.

So how does Reis plan to weave her Brazilian traditions into her American Christmas this year?

“Well first of all I have to go to the church. I mean, it’s not because it’s something, you know, obligation, but it’s because I really miss. And I think I’m going to have turkey as well because a friend of mine they invited me to have lunch with them the Christmas day. And also I’m going to enjoy the cookies,” Reis laughed.

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