by Ambur Wilkerson

One of the beautiful parts about the holiday season is how diverse celebrating it can be. As someone of African-American and Mexican descent, I take great pride in my culture and how I express it during the holidays. The taste of my mom’s menudo and the sound of my dad playing Boys II Men’s “Let It Snow” comes to mind. My traditions are what make my holidays so special to me and I know that’s the case for other people too. I had the pleasure of speaking with a diverse group of the University of Arizona community about how they spend their holidays.

Tianna Tso, a front desk assistant at the University of Arizona’s Native American Student Affairs, is currently a fourth-year student majoring in public health. Tso is a member of the Navajo tribe based in New Mexico, which she credits for being very family-oriented. In Navajo culture, the first day of fall is considered the beginning of the new year. Also, the first sign of snow falling marks the beginning for string games. “String games are, they just have, like a yarn and you make it into a circle, and – there’s certain ways that you can make the string into a different object and each of those objects that you’re making, it pertains to a creation story or a different type of story and then usually our elders tell us about that story too as well,” Tso explained.  “We only play it during the winter.”

The games begin after the first snowfall hits. Since Southern Arizona isn’t well-known for snow, the question to be asked is what signifies the beginning of the games? “I go by where my homeland is,” Tso shared. “So, since it’s in New Mexico, basically where I grew up, even if you’re in Arizona, and kinda don’t get snow here, it’s just based off of where you come from, where you grew up, and where your homeland is at. And that’s what you just base it off – when the snow falls over there.”

Angelica Hill, a University of Arizona junior majoring in public health, works as a front desk assistant for the university’s African American Student Affairs. Hill, who proudly identifies as African-American, shared how much the fellowship of women plays a big part in her holiday celebrations. “My immediate family, we go over to my aunt’s house, and my aunt, and my mom, and I, all the women, we will just help make Thanksgiving dinner,” Hill said.

As the holiday season goes by, family remains the focus, as well as the true meaning of the holidays. “For Christmas, we just give each other presents and talk about what the meaning of Christmas is and then we spend time with family members,” Hill said. Hill’s family all seem to have their own separate ways of ringing in the new year, but only after midnight strikes. “On New Year’s, we celebrate when it hits midnight, and then after we kinda all do our own thing,” Hill explained. No matter what, family is the priority for Hill.

University of Arizona alumna, Andra Soria, works as a coordinator for the school’s Chicano/Hispanic Student Affairs & Resource Center. Soria is originally from Mexico City and she moved to Arizona when she was 13. She majored in political science and French before graduating from the university in 2014. She went on to get her masters in higher education in 2016.

When the topic of the holidays came up, Soria reminisced on doing posadas when she lived in Mexico City. “Posadas are like a party, sort of gathering. They start 12 days before Christmas, and there’s one every evening. It represents the 12 days that Mary and Joseph were looking for somewhere to stay for her to be able to give birth,“ Soria said. “You sing songs, and in more traditional neighborhoods, you go around knocking on different doors and then those people reject you and that’s like representing what happened to Mary and Joseph.”

The end of the posadas results in finding a place, much like Mary and Joseph did. The celebration ends with food, a pinata, and singing. Soria mentions it’s harder to hold posadas in America and hasn’t had one in a while. “It’s something that I have very fond memories of, and now I’m just looking forward to having family visit and spending time with my loved ones,” Soria shared.

Every culture has their own beautiful, diverse way of celebrating the holidays, but one thing remains constant: family.

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