Drawing nearer to loved ones is tougher to do when Christmas is being spent thousands of miles away from home.
Edidiong Udonyah and Diana Castillo are two international students and roommates in Corner Brook about to spend their first Christmas in the colder regions of North America.
They will miss their respective subtropical homes of Nigeria and Belize, but will make do by spending the holiday season with one another, other foreign students and their newfound friends from the local community.
Udonyah, who has spent two Christmases in Jamaica, came to Corner Brook last January to study English as a second language. She is now pursuing a general science degree at Grenfell Campus, Memorial University and has plans to eventually apply for nursing school in western Newfoundland.
Castillo is an exchange student from Belize who came to Corner Brook for one term in September and will head back home to complete her marketing degree before the new year is rung in.
The Grenfell Campus residence roommates are planning to host a potluck dinner on Dec. 27 to celebrate the Christmas season with friends. A church group has invited them to a traditional turkey dinner for Christmas Day.
Not doing their event Dec. 25 will also allow their invited guests the opportunity to enjoy the big day however they plan to.
Christmas in Corner Brook will be a little different from the Christmas celebrations in their home countries. While they are embracing what Christmas has to offer in Newfoundland and Labrador, they won’t have a tree in their residence.
“Back home, we don’t see a need of a tree, so it’s out of our plan,” said Udonyah. “We won’t decorate that much because it will be more about coming together and having fun. I can’t wait for that day.”
In Nigeria, explained Udonyah, Christmas is all about families, including extended family, getting together for meals.
So, the potluck celebration won’t be too far off that.
“I really miss my mom, my siblings and going to see my grandma, my cousins, aunts and uncles,” she said. “We are just going to have fun with our friends here and make ourselves happy because they are our families right now.”
Udonyah will also miss the Nigerian Christmas masquerading tradition, which involves dressing up in costumes that can often be quite colourful and elaborate.
Food and family get-togethers are also the central theme in Belize, Castillo said.
“We celebrate Christmas more on Christmas Eve,” she explained. “We usually wait for midnight to go all out.”
At the stroke of midnight on Christmas Eve, continued Castillo, it’s common to have fireworks light up the sky and to see kids out in the street setting off firecrackers.
They string up lights, decorate trees and distribute presents, similar to what is done in North America.
Castillo is going to miss the most festive part of the Belizean Christmas, but is looking forward to getting back home in the days shortly after.
“I’ve only been here a short while and I have not felt the strains of being a long distance from my family, but I do miss them at this particular time,” she said. “I was told my gifts are waiting for me on my bed. I won’t have long to wait and that consoles my soul a little bit.”
Some special foods eaten during a Nigerian Christmas celebration
- Fried rice
- white soup and pounded yam
- chicken or goat’s meat stew
- Nigerian egg roll: a breaded boiled egg
- Meat pie
- Dodo gizzard: a stir-fry made from gizzards and red plantain
- Pepper soup with chicken
Source: Edidiong Udonyah
Some special foods eaten during a Belizean Christmas celebration
- rice and beans
- empanadas: a stuffed bread or pastry filled with a variety of ingredients such as meat, cheese or corn
- Belizean cold cake: layered dessert of Maria biscuits, cream and fruit cocktail
Source: Diana Castillo