The Keene State College Office of Diversity and Multiculturalism hosted the Multicultural Holiday Celebration in the Mabel Brown Room on Dec. 3.
The event brought KSC students and faculty from a variety of different cultures together to share their traditions, while also learning about others’ cultural heritage. Students and faculty from different parts of the world talked about holidays they celebrate in their homes, such as Kwanzaa, Hanukkah and Diwali. There were also five student and faculty members who spoke of Christmas traditions relative to their country of origin.
Annie Clark, coordinator of Multicultural Support, said the event is meant to celebrate students’ religious and cultural differences, but to also bring them together despite these differences.
“At this time of year, so many different cultures have celebrations,” Clark said, “so we thought, ‘Well, we have such a diversity here at Keene State of things that people celebrate at this time, so we just thought, why don’t we all learn from each other?’”
KSC student Jok Leek and Dottie Morris, the chief officer for Diversity and Multiculturalism at KSC, shared the empowering holiday of Kwanzaa with the audience.
Leek explained that Kwanzaa was first created as a celebration of African American culture in the 1960s, but has now evolved into a non-religious cultural celebration that can be enjoyed by all people.
“A lot that goes on during Kwanzaa has to do with family and core values,” Leek said before introducing Morris to explain more about the holiday.
Morris said Kwanzaa is similar to Hanukkah in that there are seven candles that are lit, each of which has a different meaning. She said the seven candles represent unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith. She also talked about the celebrations of Kwanzaa, which often include lots of singing, dancing, drumming and “of course, fun.”
Morris said the Multicultural Holiday is an important event because Keene has such a diverse population.
“A lot of these celebrations are about being festive and connecting with one another, caring about one another and they are all about lights,” Morris said, “I think there’s this whole idea about enlightenment, like how can we all come together to be enlightened and I think part of that is sharing our different traditions.”
KSC student Harpreet Kaur told the audience about her religion Sikhism and how it ties into the celebration of Diwali, the Festival of Lights in India.
She told the story of Guru Hargobind Singh and how he gained the release of 52 Hindu Princes who had been imprisoned. Kaur said she traveled to Amritsar and celebrated Diwali with his peers and followers.
“It’s like a week span — you celebrate, you party, you eat really good food and you pray everyday,” Kaur said. She said people pray to Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity, not only for their own good fortune, but for their neighbors’ as well.
Hanukkah is a pretty familiar holiday for most Americans, but KSC student Molly Vallejo told students the story behind Hanukkah and some of her own traditions that her family practices.
Vallejo explained that gifts are given on each of the eight nights of Hanukkah to symbolize the miracle of a days worth of oil burning for eight days. She also talked about the way people celebrate Hanukkah in Queens, her hometown.
“Everyone gets really excited over Hanukkah,” she said, “You can fry anything in the world in olive oil and people go crazy for it over Hanukkah because of the oil that burned for eight days.” Vallejo said Hanukkah is about hope and believing that good things can come out of even the worst situations. KSC student Stephanie Gonzalez introduced Christmas to the crowd with a short retelling of the birth of Jesus Christ, as well as explaining the usual Christmas traditions of decorating the tree, hanging stockings and giving gifts. Gonzalez also told the audience about a tradition in El Salvador, where her mother grew up.
“They would have a little plant and they didn’t have much, so they would give fruits as gifts, but other than that it wasn’t very different from American traditions,” Gonzalez said.
Sandra Garcia, the other coordinator of Multicultural Student Support, talked about what Christmas in Guatemala is like. Garcia said Guatemalans actually celebrate on Dec. 24, which they call Noche Buena, meaning “the Good Night.” She said Guatemalan families enjoy an elaborate dish made out of pork, corn flour and a blend of herbs and spices. Garcia said after the meal is when the real fun begins.
“At midnight what I used to look forward to were the firecrackers all over the place, and there were fireworks too and the children would go outside to play,” she said.
KSC students Sandra Kayira and Georgina Temeng both talked about Christmas traditions in different parts of Africa, Malawi and Ghana.
Both students emphasized the fact that meat and other foods we take for granted in the United States are a holiday treat for families in these countries. They also talked about the strong emphasis on community during the holidays and how everyone comes together to celebrate and enjoy each others company.
KSC student Jessica Pierre said in Haiti there are huge block parties that can often last all night. She said people get to enjoy their favorite foods that they otherwise wouldn’t have. Pierre also talked about one of the religious traditions her family followed.
“At midnight the church bell would ring,” she said, “and all the families would walk to the church for mass, or if they missed it they would go early in the morning.”
Though this was not the first Multicultural Holiday Celebration that has happened at KSC, it was the first in a couple years. KSC student Gianpaolo Colasacco said he enjoyed the celebration and learned some new things at the same time.
“It’s really fascinating to hear about everything that goes on with different holidays, different religions and different traditions,” he said, “But it was overall a good experience and a good time.
Jesse Reynolds can be found at email@example.com