Spanish Club educates on Hispanic Christmas traditions

Geneseo’s Spanish Club hosted a Navidad-themed presentation in Welles on Monday Dec. 5. Focused on the traditions of Hispanic countries during the holidays, the presentation rotated around the accounts of faculty and students alike. Too often, people falsely assume that Hispanic countries all have the same traditions when it comes to Christmas. Sharing the Spanish language, however, has not reduced the sheer diversity found in these countries’ holiday traditions. To paint all these countries with the same brush is to ignore the beauty of their individual cultures. The Spanish Club sought to correct this assumption through their presentation.

“People think that just because you know Spanish means that you know all about the other countries’ traditions,” Spanish Club president and Spanish and adolescent education double major senior Leinni Mejia said.

To raise awareness about their diversity, Mejia invited a plethora of different people to speak first-hand about their holiday experiences abroad.

“I wanted to learn. I wanted other people to learn,” she said.

Adjunct instructor of Spanish Rocio Vallejo was the first to speak. Her presentation, given in Spanish, was on Mexico. To demonstrate the importance of piñatas to a Mexican Navidad, she brought in her own. While traditional Navidad piñatas are shaped like a star with seven points—each one representing one of the seven deadly sins—hers was in the shape of a donkey.

She used the donkey to bring interactivity to her presentation, as she invited students to try smashing it with a blindfold. As they did so, she led the classroom in a traditional chant that usually accompanies the breaking of a piñata. When it finally exploded, candy rained onto the floor for the audience to grab.

Next, Arabic and English double major senior Lucia Gonzales-Aguilar—an exchange student from Université Paul Valéry—spoke at length about Spain, discussing the country’s specific separation of the Navidad celebration into days. There are days to eat meals with family members, a day to eat grapes in order to ward off the bad luck of a new year and a day to give candy to children. These all happen before the opening of presents on Jan. 6, which is a stark contrast to the two-day American tradition.

Mejia also tackled the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, the former being her original home. She mentioned a host of interesting traditions in the Dominican Republic, such as the Aguinaldos, who are carolers who not only visit and sing within homes, but also accept small cash donations or food.

And on Nochebuena—the American Christmas Eve—people cook vast amounts of food and trade it with their neighbors. At the end of the night, so much food has been exchanged that the kitchen is filled with entirely other people’s food.

In Puerto Rico, children leave letters to Santa in their Christmas trees. The country also has visiting carolers and enjoys a drink called coquito, which is their version of eggnog except it’s made of rum, coconut milk and vanilla.

Finally, Costa Rica—as presented on by childhood special education and Spanish double major senior Kimberly Smith—trades tamales like Americans do sugar cookies. There are horse parades and a Corridas de toros—or a running of the bulls, where bulls run wild through the streets and participants—wisely—run away from them.

Mejia was pleased with the event’s outcome and ended it with inspiring words.

“Especially with the bias-related incidents, I thought that maybe people didn’t want to learn about us. But I’m glad I continued with the program. I’m glad people stayed,” she said.

Everyone left Welles a little more culturally aware and filled with excitement for the upcoming holiday season.