Students of other faiths find ways to cope with Christmas.
Unaccustomed to Christmas
For some OU students, Christmas and Thanksgiving break may mean free study time, but taking excused absences to participate in the traditional puja of the Hindu faith or the fasting of Ramadan means catching up on homework later. Puja, a sanskrit word for Hindu practitioners’ worship or devotional time, involves bowing, making offerings and chanting. Ramadan is the month-long fast practiced in Muslim traditions. Taking an exam on an empty stomach isn’t easy the first time around, much less the second or third time in one month. Neither of these traditional practices receive a break in the school calendar, and many students are unaware of other religious holidays.
“It’s a religious holiday, so it is one of those internal theological things,” says Janny Gandi, freshman from Muskogee. “If you are a part of that religion, obviously it’s going to be important to you but not so important to me because I don’t actually celebrate it, so it’s just kind of there.”
Gandhi and her family enjoy holiday decorations in their home and family business but they do not celebrate Christmas or Thanksgiving with gift-giving and feasting.
“We don’t know what to respond. My friends give me Christmas gifts of course but I don’t know if I should return it or if there is that kind of expectation. In return I try to bring gifts or food on my religious holidays so they can learn about other cultures and so I try to share my traditions,” says Nur Uysal, Muslim Strategic Communications doctorate student.
Nur, like Gandhi, does not personally practice Christmas or Thanksgiving in her family traditions but embraces the Christian traditions of her university friends.
“Thanksgiving is a wonderful tradition and it isn’t just in your family. You invite your neighbors and I like that idea,” Uysal says. “I like Thanksgiving because the core of the tradition is healing and friendship and neighborhood, those kind of values.”
Uysal says her kindergartener is confused by the bats and scary witches she draws in class during the Halloween season and the holiday ornaments during Christmas season. Her daughter questions why she has to draw such things in class. As Uysal’s son and daughter become accustomed to seeing Christmas decor, they ask their parents why their family doesn’t participate.
Uysal explains that she wants her children to appreciate their own unique celebrations and traditions. They must follow the Muslim traditions for now, but they are more than welcome to integrate Americanized Christian holiday traditions into their own future celebrations.
“We believe in meeting on a common ground and respect the traditions of others, accept them for who they are,” Orhan Kucukosman, the executive director of the Rain Drop Turkish house, said.
An ornate seven-armed gold centerpiece displaying oil candles, a menorah, replaces the Christmas tree for Jewish students like zoology senior Zach Evilsizer who celebrates the eight-day Jewish celebration of Hanukkah. The celebration occurs at the end of November or December each year according to the Hebrew calendar. This year the celebration begins Dec. 20 and ends eight days later.
In the past, Evilsizer has found difficulty celebrating Hanukkah away from his family in Yukon. Evilsizer is an active part of the Hillel Jewish church on campus.
“During the one weekend, and maybe sometimes I get two, I’m able to celebrate with my folks, but when I’m here in Norman instead I celebrate at Hillel with the other Jewish kids,” Evilsizer says. “It feels a lot like being at home.”
During the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah, much like the traditional American Christmas celebration, gifts are exchanged each night of the celebration. The ceremonial candles are lit on the menorah at nightfall of each celebratory day and displayed in a window or outside the practitioner’s home to the right.
Evilsizer stays involved while away from home by taking an active role in his Jewish fraternity, Alpha Epsilon Pi. The fraternity sells tickets during the Hanukkah season for all-you-can-eat latkes, matzah ball soup and various desserts traditional to the Jewish holiday.