Christmas: ‘It was a culture shock’

| Mira Pohle

With Christmas being right around the corner, the UT has put up festive decoration all around the campus. How do international students view this - originally - Christian holiday? Four of them share their experiences. ‘I enjoy the emotional warmth it brings.’

Photo by: Frans Nikkels
‘It’s all about being good to one another’

Youssef Tantawi (20), an Industrial Engineering Management student, has never celebrated Christmas. ‘When I first came to the Netherlands, it was definitely a culture shock. I’m Muslim and we don’t celebrate Christmas. We don’t have a tree or presents but being at the UT made me realise that this holiday is all about being good to one another. December is a very cosy month; there’s a loving atmosphere and light everywhere. It’s beautiful and I really respect that about Christianity.’

‘It feels excluding’

Judith Steinhauer (25), currently obtaining her bachelor in Psychology, has different feelings about the Christian holiday. ‘I’m Jewish and grew up in Germany, where you’re bombarded with Christmas all of December. People just assume that you celebrate Christmas. I enjoy learning from other religions, I just wish I could share the beauty of my own religion as well.’ Judith talks about her religious tradition. ‘The holiday Hannukah is a celebration of light, similar to Christmas. We celebrate around the same time, yet it’s difficult to find wrapping paper or decor in December that’s not related to Christianity. It feels excluding.’ Still, she appreciates the Christian tradition. ‘The dark days of December are enlightened by candles and fairy lights, and I really enjoy the peaceful Christmas mood. I just wish it was a little more inclusive.’

‘It’s a celebration of the family’

Yagizalp Coskun (21) is an Industrial Engineering Management student. He has celebrated Christmas before. ‘I’m Muslim but not very strict in following the culture and rules. Strangely, we do celebrate Christmas in my hometown in Turkey. We have a Christmas tree and exchange presents.’ Yagizalp does not see Christmas as a religious holiday per se. ‘My family is always busy in December, and Christmas is more of a celebration of family to show that we are grateful for each other.’ When reflecting on first coming to the Netherlands, he cannot recall any negative experiences with the tradition. ‘Forcing your religion on someone is never good, but I have not seen it here.’

‘I enjoy the emotional warmth it brings’

Muhammad Tsaqif Wismadi (25), studying Geo-Information Science, enjoys the Christmas season. ‘I was born and raised as a Muslim in Indonesia and identify as a Muslim to this day. Still, I enjoy Christmas movies and music; even in Indonesia, the Christmas vibe and spirit can be felt through our televisions and radios, especially during the month of December.’ Muhammed does not celebrate the Christian holiday but is familiar with it. ‘My home country Indonesia is the biggest Muslim country in the world, but we still spread the Christmas spirit in our shops, malls, and streets in winter. I don’t mind at all. Christmas, like any other religious holiday, is a valuable momentum for family time, and I always enjoy the emotional warmth that it brings.’

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