Christmas with a Foreign Exchange Student.

White, rainy or cold, Christmas is, and always will be, something both kids and adults look forward to. From decorating Christmas trees to exchanging gifts, it can be a really delightful and magical experience. For me, it was as thrilling as a brand new experience can be.

I am Douaa, an exchange student from Morocco. In case you didn’t know, Morocco is a country in northwest Africa. With a majority of 99% Muslims, it is very rare for people to celebrate Christmas, as most of them see it as a Christian holiday, and some even consider it to be a sin and against their religion. This is why Christmas was the holiday I was most excited to celebrate as part of American culture!

The middle of winter has long been a time of celebration around the world. Centuries before the arrival of the man called Jesus, early Europeans celebrated light and birth in the darkest days of winter. Many people rejoiced during the winter solstice, when the worst of the winter was behind them and they could look forward to longer days and extended hours of sunlight.

As for Christianity, in the early years, Easter was the main holiday. The birth of Jesus was not celebrated until, in the fourth century, church officials decided to institute the birth of Jesus as a holiday. Pope Julius I chose December 25, since the Bible does not mention the date for his birth. And although it was originally celebrated by Christians, it is seen now as both a sacred religious holiday and a worldwide cultural and commercial phenomenon, enjoyed by Christians and non-Christians.

The way it is celebrated faced a lot of changes throughout the years, starting from the invention of Santa Claus and the idea of exchanging gifts, decorating Christmas trees, to the production of Christmas movies and songs. Christmas was declared a federal holiday in the United States on June 26, 1870. For two millennia, people around the world have been observing it with traditions and practices that are both religious and secular in nature.

From the first day of December, I noticed that all the stores and shops started playing Christmas music, and hanging up Christmas ornaments. Most of our neighbors had already hung their lights and decorated their front and backyards. As for my host family, they got all their Christmas decorations out of the attic, and then they realized that it was still a little early, so now we have boxes and random objects scattered around the house, waiting for Christmas day.

I only got to make gingerbread cookies and wreaths so far. But seeing stores and hotels already having their Christmas trees and planning Christmas related activities and events, the streets lighting up every night, my host parents asking me for my wishlist… it all filled my blood with thrills and excitement to finally be able to experience the real thing.


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