As the holiday season begins, people from all cultural backgrounds prioritize family, food and leisure time in unique ways. Three faculty members shared holiday traditions from their native countries.
Department chair brings holidays from across the pond
By Victoria Gutierrez
Traveling to the U.K. for an English Christmas turned out to be a hop, skip and a jump away, thanks to Ann Bliss, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Language, Literature and Arts.
Born in London, Bliss grew up in a traditional English household before making her way to the states in the mid ‘80s. She moved to San Antonio for the job at Texas A&M University-San Antonio in 2010.
Bliss, an associate professor of English, reminisced about her English Christmas as a child and spoke delightedly about Christmas Pudding and Christmas Cake.
In England they use pillow cases instead of stockings, which allows for more gifts, she said. However, opening gifts under the tree didn’t happen until the Queen gave her speech at 3 p.m. Christmas Day. Unlike people in the U.S. who open gifts on Christmas Eve and play all Christmas Day, Bliss would play with the gifts Father Christmas had gotten her on Boxing Day, the day after Christmas.
“You get to play with all your toys, hang around in your comfy clothes, eat leftovers, watch movies and it’s great,” Bliss said about Boxing Day.
The conversation turned somber when speaking of Poppy Day on Nov. 11. The holiday remembers the fallen soldiers in World War I. Most of the war took place between Belgium and France in the poppy fields. Poppies grow where their fields have been disturbed, and a couple of years after the war the fields were completely covered in poppies, which led to them being the symbol of remembrance, Bliss said.
Bliss and her family went to the Tower of London in 2014 with her grandmother to remember her great uncle who died at the age of 19 near the end of WWI. Her grandmother was very close to her brother, George Watkins, and had kept letters the family received from him during the war. He wrote small things such as asking if they could fix his watch or telling his sister to not jump on the bed, Bliss said.
The words that, at one point, seemed so trivial now hold greater weight since he never returned home.
“I have this picture of my great grandmother looking at him in his uniform, and she has this weird look on her face like ‘this is the last time I’m going to see him’,” Bliss said.
Professor is thankful for Chuseok
By Caitlin Taylor
Assistant professor of accounting Eve Lee celebrated Thanksgiving twice this year.
Thanksgiving in her native South Korea starts on Sept. 19 and lasts for three days.
“It is very similar to Thanksgiving in the United States, but a little bit earlier. We follow the lunar calendar to keep up,” Lee said
Korean Thanksgiving, also known as Chuseok, is one of the most important holidays of the year. Traditionally, Koreans go back to their ancestral hometowns to celebrate with loved ones.
“They appreciate their ancestors and, in general, they appreciate a good harvest,” Lee said.
Koreans wear Hanbok, a Korean Traditional dress when visiting their families. They also play traditional games like “Yut” which includes a mat and four sticks.
“Now that I am teaching during the semester since I started teaching I never go back,” Lee said. “Here in San Antonio, I feel a little sad being away from home, but I also celebrate the United States Thanksgiving tradition.”
During Chuseok, Koreans eat a lot of food, and some families show their respect and appreciation to their ancestors. Lee said the holiday is almost like a memorial service; there’s a special ceremony but only depending on the family.
“There are so many special foods that we eat,” she said. “We eat rice cake, fruit, special seafood and much more,”
The rice cake, or songpyeon, fill the homes with a fresh fragrance of autumn. The rice cakes are made of rice powder and they are prepared the day before Chuseok, and each family member contributes, illustrating the importance of family.
Another tradition during Korean Thanksgiving is gift-giving. They buy gifts for not just their relatives but also for their friends or coworkers to show their thanks and appreciation.
“Big family gatherings are the beauty of the holidays,” Lee said.
Holidays teach empathy
By Eric Gutierrez and Dee A. García
Lo’ai Tawalbeh, associate professor in the Department of Computing and Cyber Security at Texas A&M University-San Antonio, shared two holidays from his native country of Jordan.
Tawalbeh began teaching at A&M-San Antonio in fall 2018. He moved to the U.S. from Jordan in 2016.
Eid al-Fitr is the first day of the Islamic month of Shawwal. It fell on May 6 this year and marks the end of Ramadan, a month of fasting and prayer.
A month of fasting builds strong empathy with those who can’t obtain sustenance daily, Tawalbeh said. He also said the fasting is done from sunrise to sunset; however, they can eat and drink from sunset to sunrise.
Giving new toys, clothes and food to the less fortunate is common during the celebration. Tawalbeh said he will celebrate next year by taking his children to buy new toys and clothes, and will take them out to have fun at parks and Chuck E. Cheese.
Eid al-Adha marks the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. Its last day in 2019 was Aug. 11.
Muslims sacrifice animals, often with the help of their local butcher, and distribute the meat to the needy along with visiting friends and family, Tawalbeh said. Whatever your neighbor’s beliefs, sharing and being together is all that matters. He will celebrate Eid al-Adha by giving out food and meat to the less fortunate
“And remember at the end of the day we are all human, sharing the same feelings, the same environment; we should care about each other,” Tawalbeh said. “In addition to Eid al-Adha being a holiday, it’s also the day I was married in 2008 so it is a double celebration for me.”