Holiday Issue: 2016
Christmas in America
Kristián Houdek, 17, is a foreign exchange student from Slovakia spending the school year in America and attending Kings High School. While keeping busy with cross country, indoor track, and his studies, Houdek claims that he isn’t at all homesick. Surprisingly, since the true holiday season is now in full effect.
“I’m fine really. I don’t miss home because I have all this stuff to do,” Houdek explained. “There’s a small difference here because the people are so nice. Also, I always travel a lot.”
By travel a lot, he means getting to work as a bartender in Germany this past summer for two months, then arriving in the United States to start his exchange year on August 28.
His host family, the Gostels, have enjoyed introducing him to many new experiences and holiday traditions that aren’t celebrated in Slovakia. So far, Houdek has gotten to participate in Halloween and Thanksgiving. Next up, he’ll get to see what an American Christmas is like compared to the ones he knows back home.
Slovakia celebrates a holiday around Halloween each year that may seem, to some, spooky in its own special way.
“We don’t have Halloween in Slovakia, but we have a celebration like it. It’s a day where we pray and remember the spirits of our dead family members.” Houdek shared. “For Halloween this year, it was really fun. I dressed up as a statue holding the candy bowl, then scared little kids when they walked by.”
“Another holiday we celebrate in Slovakia is the Slavic Nation’s Uprising, remembering a great World War II battle to bring all the communists we had out of our country.” Mentioned Houdek.
Camryn Gostel, a member of Houdek’s host family and a senior at Kings, shared an already-favorite memory of hers involving a Slovakian tradition of Houdek’s.
“In Slovakia, every name is given a day on the calendar and on that day you celebrate people that have that name. On Kristián’s name day, October 19th, we made him a cake with his name on it and he was so happy. The meaning of “Name Days” is to wish each person prosperity and celebrate them for being who they are,” Gostel said.
Houdek also experienced Thanksgiving for his first time too. Gostel noticed how much of a good time he had at their family’s celebration.
“He really likes to eat food. He told me he liked all of the foods because most of them were different from what they typically eat during holidays where he’s from.”
After Thanksgiving was celebrated, the Gostels decorated their family Christmas tree with Houdek, something he is very familiar with since Slovakians celebrate Christmas pretty similar to the way Americans do.
“We have both old and new ornaments in Slovakia too,” Houdek said. “But the biggest difference in the celebrations here and there would be that we open presents on December 24th, not 25th.”
Christmas in Slovakia begins on December 24th when families attend church together. Then they eat big meals of usually fish and cabbage soup. Family time is spent the rest of the evening exchanging gifts and watching Christmas movies or doing other activities.
When Americans think of Christmas they usually picture Santa Claus in a red suit and white beard. In Slovakia though, there is no such thing as Santa. It is believed that Jesus brings gifts to children who behave well, and leaves them in their stockings.
This Christmas, Houdek will travel with the Gostel family to visit their relatives in Florida and Georgia, although the trip is still pending.
Houdek explained what Christmas means to him. “When you buy a gift for someone, it’s because you saw it and bought it because you want to do something good for that person. It’s to say that person was thinking of you.”
When Gostel asked Houdek what he wanted for his Christmas present from her, he responded, “I just want a thoughtful gift is all.” It’s the thought that counts, not the gift itself.
by Madison Lunsford