A freshman set tea lights around the colorful sand design on the ground, careful not to disturb the flower-petal design she created in front of the Hotz dormitory with her Indian friends. This rangoli design would be the first tradition of her extended holiday season, beginning with Diwali and ending with Christmas.
Freshman Aashiyana Patel celebrated Christmas and the Hindu Festival of Lights, Diwali, during the holiday season because her parents have different religious backgrounds. One of her holiday season traditions is making a rangoli design, which is a colorful sand design decorated with tea lights left outside of the house prior to Diwali, she said.
Not all UA students celebrate Christmas and the holiday season in the same way. For many, unique cultural experiences and different backgrounds influence how people celebrate Christmas. By bringing their own influences, they create a special holiday experience unlike traditional Western perspectives.
Patel and her family celebrate Christmas and Diwali because Patel and her father do not follow a religion, and her mother is Hindu, she said.
“I definitely think you can celebrate (Christmas) without being connected to the religion whatsoever, Patel said.
Patel tries to attend every Indian celebration, including Diwali, and also loves the Christmas season, she said.
Diwali is on the first Wednesday of November. To celebrate, Patel created rangoli designs and went to a big party the Saturday before, she said.
She recreated the same design she always makes with her family in Bryant in front of Hotz with her friends, she said.
“Diwali is the Indian new year,” Patel said. “Right now, it’s on the year 2075 because the way their year is set up is based off moon cycles, so they’re very far ahead.”
Patel’s family celebrates Christmas in a very traditional way, especially by decorating their house, she said.
“We always have our entire family, extended family and everything come to our house for Christmas every year, which is really fun,” Patel said.
Her family enjoys participating in two cultures, Patel said.
“We all do everything together. There’s no division whatsoever in anything that we do,” Patel said. “We’ll all celebrate Christmas, and we’ll all celebrate Diwali. It’s a family thing, so no one’s ever on their own.”
For freshman Olivia Torres, it is also a priority for her entire family to celebrate the holidays together, despite the distance between them. Both of Torres’s parents are from Durango, Mexico, and half of her extended family remains there while the other half lives in Springdale, she said.
“They’re kind of spread apart, but we never fail to get together for the holidays,” Torres said. “Everyone always comes together during this time.”
In Mexico, many people will throw lots of parties leading up to Christmas, Torres said.
“One or two weeks before Christmas, they have these things called posadas, which are like parties everyday,” Torres said. “Since all the neighborhoods are so tight, and all the houses are connected, they assign one family every day to cook and throw a party.”
The hosting family will make food, set up a bonfire, make piñatas, and the whole party will sing songs and socialize, Torres said.
In Arkansas, her family’s parties look a little different than the parties they attend in Mexico and are just for family, Torres said.
“We’ll all get together and stay there until very late – too late. That’s how all the family parties usually go,” Torres said. “We’ll usually leave around 4 a.m.”
Her family gathers to celebrate Christmas Eve. Her parents cook food like tamales and posole, a traditional Mexican soup, while Torres and her sisters make desserts. At their party, everybody dresses up, sings karaoke, eats tons of food, tells family stories and exchanges gifts, Torres said.
“I think we really try to incorporate the Hispanic culture in everything we do when we celebrate Christmas,” Torres said.
The International Christmas Fest and Festival of Flavors was organized by several on-campus ministries and designed to share the biblical story of the birth of Jesus while acknowledging the different ways cultures celebrate Christmas, said Cory Garren a minister for Christ on Campus.
“While celebrating our own holidays we want to make sure we’re not keeping other people from celebrating their own holidays as well,” Garren said.
It is important to incorporate and acknowledge other cultures and how they celebrate Christmas, whether it be by caroling, eating special foods, or lighting Christmas trees, Garren said.
“I don’t think there’s one correct way to celebrate Christmas,” Garren said.
The meaning of Christmas revolves around Christianity's core belief in Jesus’s birth, Garren said.
Celebrating the birth of Jesus means “celebrating the fact that God sent him to the world to be born so that he might live, he might give us life,” Garren said.