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Visiting Students Experience Holidays in New and Expanded Ways

by Julia Ann Friedman –

EF students in Tarrytown come to this country from all over the world, seeking an education in which they learn and utilize the English language. For these students, an enticing aspect of being in the New York metro area is all of the holiday traditions, especially during the winter months. Christmas in New York is a wonderful time of year to explore the city and to see attractions such as the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center, the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall, and the beautifully decorated store windows on Fifth Avenue.

EF runs trips for the students to all the holiday activities, and also gives them detailed information about what to do on their own during the holiday time, according to Diana Duque, Student Activities Coordinator at EF Tarrytown.

“It is a lot of fun to see the excitement of our international students during the holiday period and to see New York at Christmas time through their eyes,” she said. For some EF students, Christmas is not celebrated as much in their home countries, so for them Christmas in New York becomes a new and truly exciting experience. Other EF students enjoy a New York Christmas and then share their own holiday traditions that go beyond December 25. For example, the Italians and the French celebrate Christmas through January 6, Three Kings Day.

Outside of EF Language School, in local public school districts, students are creating two alternative holidays and celebrating them just before the real ones. “Friendsgiving” is celebrated just prior to Thanksgiving, where middle school and high school friend groups gather together and celebrate how thankful they are for each other. Often there is no turkey to be had because, supposedly, no one will eat it. Instead, a potluck dinner combines everyone’s favorites. Friends say this “Friendsgiving” was born out of Thanksgiving, since Thanksgiving is a meaningful holiday that makes you think of what you are grateful for and everyone is grateful for friends. This Friendsgiving is usually held the Saturday before Thanksgiving.

Similarly, around the Christmas/Hannukah holidays, a “Secret Santa” tradition has taken hold. This tradition is for teenagers of all religions and takes place every year just before Christmas. First, a group of friends, between 10 and 20, writes all of their names on pieces of paper; the names are put into a container, and each person picks a name. Usually, friends know what the gift recipient they have randomly chosen would like for a gift, and a common price range for these gifts is $30-40. After about two weeks, the friend group gathers for a nondenominational holiday breakfast or dinner and the gifts are laid out. Each person opens his/her gift and everyone tries to guess who the recipient’s Secret Santa is. As Sleepy Hollow resident Casey Oppenheim said, “I love to celebrate the holidays with my second family—my friends—for whom I am very thankful.”

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