Another Year, Another Story: Cultural Milestones

by Maria Hidalgo | 1/16/19 2:00am

This year is all about celebrations on campus. With the 250th anniversary of our college, Dartmouth students and alumni are celebrating an event dear to their hearts. The celebration of Dartmouth’s milestone pops up amongst the many celebrations ccelebrated on campus ­­— different days with meaning for different people.

I am from Puerto Rico, but the celebrations that I find crucial to my identity can vary a lot from one Latinx culture to another. When I started to befriend other Latinx students on campus, I was excited to have found people that shared the same love for the events that I found important. Nonetheless, as we started to discuss some of these events, I found that many of my friends celebrated them but did so in a different way. Other friends had never even heard of these celebrations.

For example, one event that I miss from Puerto Rico is “The Night of San Juan.” Given Puerto Rico’s geographical position and Catholic culture, this involves going into the water at the beach exactly at midnight from June 23-24 and submerging three times. This is an allusion to when Saint John the Baptist, the patron saint of Puerto Rico, baptized Jesus. The ritual ensures that that person has good luck for the rest of the year and has his or her sins “washed away.” This celebration was one that I didn’t really expect to be celebrated in other Hispanic countries, given the uniqueness of such a celebration to Puerto Rico. Nonetheless, celebrations as common as the Three Kings’ Day, or the “Día de los Reyes Magos,” can change a lot from one country to another. One example is the iconic tradition of the cutting of the “rosca.” The “rosca” is a baked good that is a symbolic of the climax of the Three Kings’ Day in Latin American countries. In this celebration, the family member who ends up with the piece of the cake that has the little Baby Jesus figurine hidden in it will be responsible for organizing the meal and celebrations on the “Día de la Candelaria”— a great honor, but also a lot of commitment. However, in Puerto Rico, instead of celebrating the “Dia de los Reyes” with a “rosca,” we go outside and fill three shoe boxes with grass as a “snack” for the camels of the three kings. Before I came to Dartmouth, I took the celebrations like the ones mentioned for granted, especially since I lived in such an overwhelmingly Puerto Rican place.

I reached out to other students on campus who have similar experiences with their own cultures.

Celina Tala ‘22, a student from Shanghai, China, mentioned how for her the celebration that stands out the most is the Chinese New Year.

“The Chinese, we follow the Lunar New Year, which is divided in a span of 12 years and, according to the year you are born, you receive a specific animal,” she said. “Every 12 years, the cycle begins again. When the year of your animal arrives, they throw you a very big celebration where you dress in all red, because it is the color of good luck, and they give you food, or if you are younger, they give you money.”

Given the importance and cultural meaning that this celebration has for her, she hopes that, even if she moves to the United States, she will continue the tradition.

“For this event, family is such a big aspect of it, that to maintain that and the history of New Years is truly important for me,” Tala said.

Nonetheless, China, as have other countries in the world, has begun to celebrate some American holidays.

“Valentine’s Day is one that reminds me of this. There is a Chinese Valentine’s day, ‘Qixi Festival,’ but the American Valentine’s Day celebrations became a big thing [in China recently],” she said. “Many Western holidays, especially in big cities like Shanghai, are starting to [be celebrated].”

In a similar note, Hana Basabaa ’22, an international student from Ethiopia, mentions how some holidays, such as Christmas, that were celebrated in a unique way in her home country are starting to evolve.

“We celebrate a Christmas different from anywhere in the world,” Basabaa said. “It is celebrated on a different day and the traditions that come with it are different too. There is no gift-giving and until recently, no Christmas trees.”

For Basabaa, it is important to continue to celebrate those events that she holds dear to her heart, since it is what differentiates her culture from others.

“I would prefer celebrating the Ethiopian Christmas, rather than the American Christmas or the one that is celebrated around the world. Partly because the people I would celebrate this holiday with are family, and they would be more familiar with the Ethiopian celebrations,” Basabaa said.

I wanted to talk with someone who could tell me about his or her personal experiences with Hispanic culture and how they viewed their own communities’ celebrations. Lizmet Rodoli ’22, who grew up in the Dominican Republic, also emphasized the importance of Christmas Eve in her culture.

“Unlike the United States, the Christmas celebration is not really on the 25 but more on the 24. The whole family gathers, and we eat, drink and dance,” Rodoli said.

She also mentioned the importance of Three Kings’ Day and “Día de las Mercedes,” where Dominican Republicans celebrate the Virgin Mary by going to church to pay homage.

“I really like the idea that the family gathers on the 24 and not the 25, because it makes the whole family gather together and see each other,” Rodoli said. “Therefore, I would like to continue and pass on this tradition to my children.”