Traditions and holidays from a different perspective

Baklava is a common dessert that Somalis eat during holiday dinners. PHOTOS BY JADE JOHNSON | THE SIGNAL


By Jade Johnson

During the holiday season, Americans aren’t the only ones who celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas. A variety of people with different cultural backgrounds have embraced the American traditions while maintaining their own identity. It might be a surprise to some that it’s not all about turkey, ham, yams and macaroni and cheese. It’s also a time to blend different cultural customs and practices within the American heritage.

However, there are some groups of people who do not recognize Thanksgiving and/or Christmas due to religious beliefs or other reasons. For example, some individuals of the Islamic faith will keep their own practices and not immerse themselves into westernized rituals.

To counter this, there are plenty of cultural backgrounds that have assimilated themselves into the lifestyle. The following cultures interpret the holiday season in a unique way comparable to that of the quintessential American style.




Bosnia is a European country located in Southeastern Europe. Only for a few families will Bosnian meals not be made. Instead, they stick to a standard American dinner with turkey, stuffing, gravy with mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie for dessert.

Members of the Bosnian community have adopted Thanksgiving even though is it not formally celebrated in Bosnia. Some families here in the States will do a big dinner the day of.

Many will take advantage of the free time off from work, the highly discounted shopping prices and simply enjoy the company of family members. However, their Thanksgivings aren’t what most people would expect.

“Comparably, the feasts are similar to American Sunday dinners but with a little more food. Turkey may be served but more so than not, Pita is made. Pita is usually a dough wrapped around with different ingredients inside,” said Georgia State student Esmir Karic, a computer information systems major.

“These ingredients could contain meat, potatoes or a variety of other options,” Karic said. “Burek, pita specifically wrapped with meat inside, is my favorite dish.”

Burek recipe

What you’ll need: ground beef, 1 chopped potato, 1 chopped onion, 1 package of Phyllo dough, a quarter of butter, ground allspice, paprika, salt and pepper.1.) Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.2.) Put ground beef in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat for 5 to 7 minutes. Drain fat and stir in allspice, paprika, salt and pepper. Then transfer the beef to a large bowl and stir in potato and onion.3.) Unroll the Phyllo dough and transfer 2 sheets of the dough to a clear, flat surface; stack the sheets on top of each other. Spoon 1/8th of the ground beef mixture down one long edge of the dough. Roll the dough into a tube, encasing the beef. Shape the tube into a snail shape.

4.) Place the roll on an ungreased baking sheet and brush melted butter on top. Repeat and placing finished rolls up against one another to keep them from unrolling.

5.) Bake Burek in preheated oven until golden brown for 20 to 30 minutes.



Christmas is arguably a little different. Many Muslim Bosnians do not celebrate Christmas, but there also non-Muslims who do. Other Bosnians are Catholic or Orthodox and celebrate Christmas on its respective day: The 25th of December for Catholics and the 7th on January for Orthodox Christians.

“I have known Bosnians to exchange presents during Christmas but don’t traditionally celebrate it in the American sense. I would say this is only because of assimilation by living here in the States,” Karic said.




Thanksgiving. Somalia is an African country bordering Ethiopia. Somalia is a predominately Muslim country, so a handful of Somalis do not celebrate Thanksgiving, a day acclaimed for giving thanks. They believe they should be thankful everyday not just for one particular day.

For finance major Layla Aden, her family doesn’t do anything “special” for Thanksgiving.

“Normally we’ll eat American based foods like lasagna, baked fish, chicken and apple pie,” Aden said. “A couple [of] Somalia dishes that we eat during dinner are Injera with chicken stir-fry and baklava for dessert.”

Baklava recipe

What you need: 1 package of Phyllo dough, 1 cup of butter, 1 cup of water, 3 cups of white sugar, 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, half a cup of honey and chopped nuts1.) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter the bottoms and sides of your pan.2.) Toss the chopped nuts with cinnamon, then set aside.3.)Cover Phyllo dough with a dampened cloth to keep from drying out as you work. Place two sheets of the dough in pan, butter thoroughly. Repeat until you have 8 sheets layered.Then sprinkle the top layer with the cinnamon covered chopped nuts.

4.) Next, top with two more sheets of the Phyllo dough, butter thoroughly again and sprinkle the nuts on the top sheet.

5.) Using a sharp knife cut into diamond or square shapes all the way to the bottom of the pan. It’s now ready for the oven.

6.) Make the sauce while the baklava is baking. Boil sugar and water until sugar is melted. Add vanilla and honey. Simmer for about 20 minutes.

7.) Remove baklava from oven and immediately spoon sauce over it. Let it cool and serve.


Because a majority of Somalis are Muslim, they do not celebrate Christmas. They associate the holiday with Christians. Instead of celebrating Christmas, Muslims celebrate Eid al-Fitr and Eid al Adha. These holidays are not always in the winter, as they move around based on the Arabic calendar.

Eid al-Fitr signifies the end of Ramadan and Eid al-Adha is the celebration at the end of Hajj, the last month of the year when Muslims make the pilgrimage to Mecca to fulfill the 5th pillar of Islam.

“Every Eid, we go to the mosque in the morning to attend a mandatory Eid prayer. Once we fulfill that, I personally spend time with my family,” said Georgia State student Abdulrahman Mussa, a computer information systems major.

Kids stay up the night before Eid waiting to open gifts from their parents. This is similar to the Christmas tradition of staying up all night on Christmas Eve waiting to open presents.

“Only difference is there is no Santa during Eid,” Mussa said. “The children will receive their gifts knowingly from their parents or from other relatives.”

The Philippines



A lot of food is cooked during Thanksgiving in a Filipino household, especially Adobo, a traditional meal cooked with meat (often chicken or pork) in vinegar, salt, garlic pepper, soy sauce and other spices. Usually one family is the host and cousins of the family are invited.

“Regardless of where we go for dinner, my dad is the one that cooks the food with some assistance from everyone since he is a great cook,” said chemistry major Luigi Pangilinan. “I’m not sure about other Filipino families, but I wouldn’t doubt that they do the same thing as us. Filipinos love to cook food and have a great time with family and friends.”


Christmas is one of the biggest holidays in this island country.

“Filipinos are actually recognized for celebrating the world’s longest Christmas season,” said Pangilinan. “They start with Christmas carols in September and last until Epiphany, a Christian feast day that falls on Jan. 6.

Various Filipino ethnic groups celebrate the Christmas traditions differently. On Christmas Eve, Dec. 24 is observed with Midnight Mass and a traditional Nochebuena feast. Christmas day is typically when all family members attend several Masses; even non-church goers attend this.

Time is usually spent at a family member’s home, opening presents either early in the morning or after lunch. Family pictures are taken and a huge dinner is cooked.




The Mexican way of celebrating Thanksgiving is pretty similar to the American way. Families will get together at one family member’s home. One person cooks or at least everyone contributes something to dinner.

“Traditional Mexican cuisines to be made are Tamales. Drinks like ponche, a fruit punch beverage made up of boiled fruits, is served,” said student Ali Salcedo, a speech major. “Flan or buñuelos, fried pastries with sprinkled cinnamon and sugar on top, is served for dessert.”

Families will usually sit together and everyone will talk and catch up with who they haven’t heard from in a while. After dinner, conversations are continued over coffee.


Religion can play a big part in celebrating Christmas for Mexican families. Some families will celebrate Christmas on the 24th of December, instead of the traditional 25th. They will set up the scene of the birth of Jesus at church, pray and have a celebration with dancing.

“Mexicans who are very religious will participate in an event called Las Posadas, a nine-day celebration that originated in Spain,” Salcedo said.

The event is celebrated by Catholic Mexicans from the 16th of December to the 24th. Those engaging in the event walk around their neighborhoods and reenact Mary and Joseph looking for shelter in Bethlehem. Songs are sung and another celebration is had.