By Carla Bumstead


The holiday season can be so … crazy. It can wear me down sometimes — especially with having to listen to all the ho-ho, jingle-jingle, buy-buy barrage of commercialism that starts in November and seems to build to a deafening crescendo by the time Christmas actually rolls around. The older I get, the more it bothers me.
So I decided to reach out and get a different, fresher, view on the holidays by spending a little time with the foreign exchange students currently attending Eaton Rapids High School. We gathered in the library last week for a quick photo and a quick chat.
There are currently six exchange students at the high school — Federico Raponi from Terni, Italy; Iskandar Kimsanov from Tajikistan; Yejin Lee from South Korea; Alex Casal from Tiana, Spain; Julian Katebini from Marburg, Germany; and Charli Sharam from Mackay, Queensland, Australia.
They all agreed they were looking forward to experiencing America’s “big holiday,” i.e., Christmas. Most said they expect things to be somewhat similar to the way they celebrate Christmas back home.
Julian, who comes from a big family, with five siblings, said Christmas is a big deal back in Germany too. He said their celebration includes the days leading up to Christmas. And they don’t have to wait until Christmas Day to get presents.
“We all exchange gifts on Christmas Eve, instead of having to wait until Christmas morning,” Julian said.
This will be Iskandar’s first time experiencing Christmas, as it is not celebrated back home in Tajikistan, a primarily Muslim country.
“Our big winter holiday is New Year’s,” Iskandar said. “And in March, we have a really big celebration known as “New Day.”
Alex, from Spain, said he is definitely looking forward to Christmas and wonders how it will compare to Thanksgiving.
“Thanksgiving was interesting, especially learning about where the tradition came from,” Alex said.
For most of the exchange students, the “temperature” of our Christmas season has not been a huge shock — although Alex and Federico are used to much milder Decembers. However, it is quite different for Charli, as it is full summer down in Australia at Christmas time.
“I am excited about the cold because I feel like it will feel more festive and more ‘Christmassy,’” Charli said. “I see snowmen and snow and reindeer on ornaments and cards, but we celebrate Christmas by swimming and playing in the sand, so it doesn’t really feel like Christmas.”
I talked with the kids about a few other things aside from the upcoming holiday, including how they’ve handled being away from home for so long. They all report “so far, so good.” But they do know things might get tougher — as the long, cold, cloudy Michigan winter is far from over.
So when mid-February rolls around, I shall have to remind myself that at least I am used to it. I will think of these kids, stuck in the middle of Michigan in the middle of winter, and hopefully I will feel a little less sorry for myself.