By Nafissa Bia (YES 2018-2019, Cameroon, hosted by BFF in Durham, NC)
Holidays were an important part of my journey to the United States, because not only were they an occasion to spend a lot of time with my host family, but also the best way to learn about American culture and cultural diversities.
Two months after my arrival to the U.S., I celebrated with my host family, and particularly with my host sister Hazel, a really interesting holiday that we don’t have back home: Halloween. I really loved Halloween, because it was something new for me, and it kind of reminded me of a holiday in my home country where kids pay visits to all the neighbors and receive candies or some money. On the day of Halloween, my host sister, Hazel, and I walked, shouted, ran, and sang (kind of danced too) in our neighborhood.
Once we were home, my host mum told me about a tradition that they had in my host family: They used to gather all the candies that each person got on that night, and trade some candies. For example, I loved M&M’s whereas Hazel (and my host mother) loved Snickers, so I traded all my Snickers for her M&M’s. That tradition was really fun and very surprising for me. So far, Halloween remains my favorite American holiday, because it was an occasion for me to get to know many people from my host community, just by ringing at their door and receiving some candies!!! Thanks to Halloween, I got to know many people in my neighborhood, and afterwards I got to volunteer sometimes at their house.
After Halloween, it was now Thanksgiving, which I really enjoyed too, because I got to know the extended members of my host family (host auntie, cousins, nephews, nieces etc.), and I felt just like at home (because I have a really big family). A day before Thanksgiving, my host family and I took a road trip from North Carolina (where we lived) to Florida (where my host extended family lived). I really enjoyed Thanksgiving too, because it has a really interesting origin, and I got to finally have turkey (a lot actually)! It was also a tradition for my host family to spend their Thanksgivings in Florida and have dinner with everyone. Something I also liked was that most people at that dinner spoke Creole, which has a lot of French words, and since I can speak French, it was fun trying to speak with them.
About two months later, it was Christmas! I enjoyed Christmas too, because even though people celebrate Christmas in my home country, I actually didn’t know much about it since we don’t celebrate it in my family (we are Muslim), so I got to actually know what Christmas is, and what it means. The part that I liked the most about it was decorating the whole house, and exchanging gifts. We also spent Christmas in North Carolina; another part that I enjoyed about Christmas was watching Christmas movies with my host mum and sister (and also baking cookies!). Finally, I also celebrated the feast of sacrifice (in August) and the feast of Ramadan (in June) with my host family. These holidays are Islamic holidays, and I was really excited about them, because this time it was my turn to teach my host family about holidays that we have back home. For both holidays, I went to the mosque with my host family. I really appreciated that my host mum who is not Muslim wore a veil just to go to the mosque with me! There, we had some candies, and listened to some stories behind these holidays. For the feast of sacrifice I made a traditional dish from my home country that my host family really enjoyed!