Celebrating Holidays

The USF Office of Multicultural Affairs hosted a recent event to recognize the different holidays that cultures celebrate.


The Holiday Celebration event took place at the amphitheater outside the Marshall Student Center.                               Photos: Laura Kneski | USF News


By Laura Kneski

USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (Nov. 7, 2012) – On a recent morning outside the Marshall Student Center at the University of South Florida, dozens of students mingled and explored the exhibits representing a spectrum of cultures.


The Holiday Celebration festival, sponsored by the USF Office of Multicultural Affairs, offered dance, music, food, displays and – most importantly – conversation. Arriving students were given a Bingo card with the 18 represented cultures printed on the card. Completing a row by meeting the various representatives provided a pass to the food buffet.


“We want to demonstrate that diversity is fun,” Stacy Koshko Pippen, assistant director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs, said of the Oct. 25 event. “It’s interactive. It’s engaging. It’s safe.”


Stereotype was a common topic among the different groups at the event. Hiba Fatima represented the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Fitr, which takes place after the last day of the fasting month, Ramadan. During Eid al-Fitr, practicing Muslims celebrate their month-long purification by praying in congregation, feasting and hanging out with friends and family.


Yet that wasn’t all Fatima and her friends wanted to share at the festival.


Voicing her dismay over the stereotype that has surrounded Muslims since 9/11, Fatima was glad that the people of USF don’t let stigma blind them.


“It’s good because people have been asking me questions, not just to get the tickets or the food, but they’ve been asking me genuine questions, but like they’ve actually been genuinely curious, and it’s good to see that people want to understand and it can break the stereotype,” she said.


P.R.I.D.E. Alliance (which stands for People Respecting Individual Diversity and Equality) president Shanice Thompson talked to visitors about the holiday Freedom to Marry which celebrates marriage equality by holding mock weddings. Thompson said that Freedom to Marry is celebrated on Valentine’s Day on the USF Campus, and anyone from sorority sisters to romantic couples may come and exchange “vows.”


Thompson shares Fatima’s desire to grow outside of stigmas.


“Being gay isn’t the first thing we are when we wake up in the morning. It’s being a student, it’s being a poor college student, it’s going to class, it’s not just about being gay,” Thompson said.


Celebration implies freedom, and sometimes it may even arise from it. The African American holiday Juneteenth celebrates the emancipation of African Americans from slavery in 1865. Every June 19 is a day for dancing, singing and an overall appreciation of freedom. Just as well, Haiti’s Independence Day falls on Jan. 1, which is a day for the people of Haiti to eat Soup Joumou. The squash soup was reserved for the slave masters, so as a symbol of their independence, Haitians eat the soup.


Emmanuella Focault, representing Haiti’s Independence Day at the event, said her favorite part about the day was learning how to make Soup Joumou from her mom. Mikellcie Molin, another representative, compared the holiday to America’s Thanksgiving holiday in terms of the togetherness and feasting that takes place.


The same holiday may even be celebrated differently from region to region, sharing some religious aspects, but using its own traditions. Although Christmas in the Philippines substitutes parols (hand-crafted, star-shaped lanterns which symbolize the Star of Bethlehem) for decorated evergreens, they still spend time together as a family. Caroling is a must, and children will receive food or money as gifts. The same goes for the contents of their Christmas presents, opened at midnight with loved ones.


Alvyn Dimaculangan shared that he misses celebrating Christmas in the Philippines, and still goes back every two or three years to see his relatives.


“It’s an eye-opening experience, to celebrate a holiday that you think one way but you go to a different country and it’s a whole ‘nother way,” he said.


Diwali is a festival of lights that brings in the Hindu New Year. Families make Rongolis to decorate their homes in the form of geometric patterns composed from colored, powdered rice. Family and friends bring in the New Year with feasts and new clothing.


Holiday Celebration at USF has been around since 2002, and it started out celebrating just the holidays during November, December, and January. It was expanded to include events throughout the year.


Coming up from the Office of Multicultural Affairs is The International Festival, which is the largest international festival that happens on campus. On Nov. 15 from 11:00a.m. to 2:00p.m., the Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza will be filled with Italian street artists, dancers, performers and thousands of people representing different cultures from across the globe.


Also coming up in November from the office is the iBuddy program, which will pair international and domestic students together in order to bridge cultural gaps, acclimate the international students to USF life, and create friendships. 


The Office of Multicultural Affairs calendar of events and iBuddy signup may be found on their website at multicultural.usf.edu. Their Facebook is Facebook.com/MulticulturalUSF.