International students’ Christmas – at home and away from it

Photo illustrating the news item

Spending Christmas in another country means also adapting to the new traditions, such as having different meals on Christmas Eve, or developing new routines, such as taking the initiative to invite friends to your place. However, for most international Kaunas University of Technology (KTU) students, the greatest difference between Christmas in Lithuania and at home is the weather.

“In winter in Lithuania, all the landscape feels like a decoration,” says Gerson David Pinto Chica, a bachelor’s student at Mechatronics coming from Colombia and Tanzania. According to him, Columbians and Lithuanians have a lot of similar Christmas traditions – sharing food, joy, and spending time together is very important to all of us.

For a Hungarian doctoral student Nóra Emilia Nagybákay, the most surprising thing about Lithuanian Christmas is our Christmas Eve traditions: “I was surprised that Lithuanians do not eat meat or other food of animal origin during Christmas dinner, except for fish, but the next day, during Christmas, they eat everything. Besides, a tradition of placing straws under the tablecloth and having each member of the family pull a straw – the longer the straw is drawn, the longer life will be – is also unheard of.”

She describes that in Hungary, the Christmas tree is decorated only on December 24th, and small, beautifully wrapped chocolate-covered candies are hung on it, which children attempt to “steal”. One more difference with Lithuanian traditions is that the presents on Christmas to Hungarians are brought by baby Jesus, and Santa in Hungary does not exist.

*Food connects people across nations”

For a Nicaraguan architecture student Alejandra Gutierrez, in Lithuania holidays are a lot quieter than at home, where there is music in the streets, everybody likes to get together, sing, play games and feel the “energy of the renewal”.

However, appreciating special festive foods is something that unites all during Christmas. Nicaraguan Christmas essentials are turkey, salads, mashed potatoes, Christmas bread with seeds, and raisins, and a dessert – usually traditional vanilla cake with fruits in a flower shape. The main dish besides the turkey is the traditional food called Relleno (stuffing), which is made with three types of meat: pork, beef and chicken and also has raisins, capers, and plenty of other vegetables.
“It is quite a secret recipe and usually takes hours in the making. That’s why I always start two days before with my mother to make it. Relleno is food that signifies Christmas for us,” says Alejandra, a student at KTU.

Giovanna Andino Villalta, a mechatronics student from Honduras, Central America describes Tamaleadas – tamale-making parties, a tradition spread in the whole region from Mexico to Costa Rica. Recipes and key ingredients vary from family to family.

“Tamaleada is taking place a few weeks before Christmas. The whole family gathers to make nacatamales, a dish of steamed dough stuffed with vegetables and meat that is wrapped in a plantain leaf. Preparing and assembling the ingredients of a dish takes up to 3 hours, cooking takes up to 8 hours,” explains Giovanna.

For Hungarians, similarly to Lithuanians, the most important festive dinner is Christmas Eve. However, the foods are quite different.

“On Christmas Eve, we eat at least one fish dish and a dessert with poppy seeds or walnuts – it is believed to bring future wealth. Other popular dishes are stuffed cabbage, chicken or duck. Among the desserts made, there are beijgli (roll with walnut, poppy or chestnut filling), chestnut puree with whipped cream, gingerbread, zserbó (walnut and apricot jam layered cake) and others. The trend in desserts is obvious: they are often with walnuts, poppy seeds and jams,” says Nóra Nagybákay.

Christmas celebrations last longer than one day

n many Lithuanian cities, Christmas trees in the city squares are decorated and lighted at the very beginning of December. That’s when people are starting to appreciate the festive mood and wait for the coming of the holidays. The long festive period is characteristic of many countries in the world.
In Colombia, Christmas officially starts on December 7, on Día de Velitas, or “Little Candles Day”. It’s a magical time to stroll through residential streets, as many families and houses will line the streets with candles they light to bring good fortune. According to Gerson David, Columbian cities are massively decorated and there is a tradition to make better decorations each year. Another tradition is to prepare special meals in December called Comidas Navideñas such as custard, cakes, and tamales.

In Honduras, the festive period lasts the whole month of December.

“I come from a large family: my mother has seven brothers and sisters; my father has four. Each year in December, each sibling holds a Christmas gathering called a Posada. During the gathering, the host family cooks delicious food, and offers games and entertainment,” says Giovanna, who studies at the KTU Faculty of Mechanical Engineering and Design.
Another special Honduran tradition is Los Nacimientos, which is based on the Christmas story, i.e. the birth of Jesus Christ and the Catholic story of the Bible. People make clay figurines and place them in their homes to remember the birth of the baby Jesus; they also create entire cities with these figures, drawing inspiration from their hometowns.

In Nicaragua, during the festive period many people go to the beach every day, says KTU architecture student Alejandra. On Christmas Day, the 25th, there is a tradition to visit the cemetery: “We give roses and prayers to our loved ones that have passed.”

22 Dec 2023