Thursday, January 30, 2014

Atlanta And Snow: Not A Great Wintery Mix

 Shana Yavari /
From an apartment in Buckhead, a city on the northern side of Atlanta, a view of traffic clogging the highway on Tuesday.

By Johanna Boedenauer
Junior Reporter
NORCROSS, Georgia, U.S.A. – As I tread through my neighborhood and observe children scrape together snow, in an effort to create a perhaps doll-sized snowman, I can’t help but shake my head at what people are calling Atlanta’s “Snowpocalypse.”
Two inches of snow was all it took to create statewide turmoil.
On Thursday morning, Georgians were still waiting to get home. Drivers are just beginning to retrieve abandoned vehicles, as the ice gradually melts under the southern sun.
A now rather shamed Mayor Kasim Reed tweeted early Tuesday morning, “Atlanta, we are ready for the snow,” a statement which turned out to be far from the truth.
According to the Associated Press, more than a dozen people died and more than 175 more were injured in the more than 1,460 crashes that state police responded to during the storm.
Madeleine Soultz /
Five car pileup in an Atlanta
neighborhood on Tuesday.
In a “Newsy” broadcast on The Weather Channel’s website, the mayor and Gov.  Nathan Deal got blamed for poor planning, and a less than adequate response. Reed and Deal are accountable for “turning Metro Atlanta into a parking lot, and schools into hotels.”
The reason for such a terrible delay? Schools and businesses, which usually always remain closed at the first warning of snow, stayed open until about noon.
At that point, the storm was already underway and everyone was let out at the same time Wednesday afternoon, causing one of the worst traffic jams in American history. This prevented snowplows and salt trucks from getting to the roads, making travel throughout the city virtually impossible.
As the snow turned to ice, cars were unable to maneuver through certain areas, which caused hundreds of accidents, blocking off more roads.
Eventually, cars ran out of gas and conditions worsened. Hundreds of people were forced to spend all night camping inside their vehicles in temperatures below freezing.
Many children remained in school for the night, while some were stranded on the interstate in buses. Stories of six to 14-hour commutes home were not at all uncommon on Wednesday.
Shana Yavari /
Middle and high school students at the Atlanta International School take to the snowy soccer field Tuesday.

Just three years ago, Atlanta suffered a similar snowstorm that incapacitated the city for days.
Deal mentioned during a news conference Wednesday that they were prepared with much more equipment than in the previous storm, but couldn’t implement it due to blocked roads.
Julia Balte /
Snow covers Buckhead, a city on the northern side of Atlanta,

on Wednesday.
The upside to all of this is that the disaster managed to unite people, young and old.
Throughout the night, southern hospitality shone like never before. Strangers helped strangers push cars and buses, people handed out water and free hot chocolate, and some kind families even opened their homes, giving stranded people a warm place to stay for the night.
Photo courtesy of Bettina Dorsch
On a snow day off from school Wednesday, Anna Fritz and Julia Dorsch, both 15, scraped enough snow together to build doll-sized snowmen.

What’s more, more than 46,000 people joined SnowedOutAtlanta, a Facebook group used to provide information on the storm and even connect with affected motorists, to give them resources or a place to stay.
Officials admitted to mistakes and apologized for any inconveniences their actions caused. Reed said they should have staggered when people went home, first releasing schools, then businesses and finally government workers.
It seems that with each storm that hits the south, we learn a little bit more. Hopefully, by the next one, we’ll get it right. 

Chinese New Year Is Red, Festive And Fun

Yiping Holly Wang /
A Spring Festival decoration in Hong Kong

By Yiping Holly Wang
Junior Reporter
ZHUHAI, Guangdong, China – Spring Festival’s red packets, firecrackers, couplets, dragons and lions all make up the one and only Chinese edition of “Christmas” while decorating with more red color and a warm atmosphere.
The bustling train station and airport is a mirror of why Chinese people put the Chinese New Year front and center. No matter one is a migrant worker, a white-collar worker, a boss or a governor, this is a time for gathering, a time to reunite and share the fruits of the past year with family and friends.
What foreigners rarely consider is that the true picture of Spring Festival may not be the same as the big family gathering they imagined. It may be a little less enthusiastic. The real condition varies from place to place.
For the people in the city, Spring Festival does mean going back to their hometown, since Chinese society has been pushing citizens to leave the hinterlands where they’d lived for years and move to coastal cities or central cities. Then work becomes a stumbling stone that makes return visits inconvenient, if not difficult.
So staying in the city with merely one child due to the one-child policy is the choice for more than half of the city population. Compared to the city, those in the countryside are never alone.
Yiping Holly Wang /
The red festival decorations in front of the historic border between Macau and the Chinese mainland.
China has a large proportion of peasant workers who are not limited by the one-child policy and more often than not have more than three or four children which means that Spring Festival in a village is far more complicated, solemn and traditional than in the city. 
Those who live in the country have even more customs.
While getting together with relatives, those who settle down in the village need to do the house cleaning, which represents ducking doom; stay up late, which reflects the upcoming happiness; explode firecrackers, which represents long-standing joy; welcome the god of wealth, which, as its name implies, can bring people fortune, go to the mountaintop, which expresses the wish for the family, and so on.
It’s no exaggeration to say that there are many Spring Festival rites in the country – more than 20 kinds, depending on the different regions and nations.
The celebration of Spring Festival in the city, at least in my city, is simpler, but not chill. It’s instead an intermingling of simplicity and meaningfulness. Since I was born, I’ve lived in Zhuhai, Guangdong, located in southern China next to Macau and near Hong Kong. It’s rather international and hospitable.
Yiping Holly Wang /
Red lanterns line both sides of a roadway in Macau, signaling the Spring Festival.
My parents are from the north part of China, though. Unlike my friends’ families, we do not care about whether it is the right time to eat the jiaozi, or dumplings, which by all accounts are the quintessential Spring Festival food. What we do care, akin to others, is whether we spend the festival satisfyingly as well as ecstatically. I meet my parents’ friends and they give me the customary lucky money. The amount of the money is tied to the intimacy of our relationships. Out of tradition and courtesy, my parents give them back if they have children who are under 18 years old.
We paste banners called spring couplets and “fu” (which means blessing in English) on Chinese New Year’s Eve. The deep red papers with dark black calligraphy take on not only the new aspect of the unpredictable year but also the endless hope of all matters and issues or a Chinese dream, if you’d like to view it with political overtures.
Yiping Holly Wang /
Di Zhang, 17 and a student at No. 1 High
School of Doumen Zhuhai and Yukai
Huang, 16, a student at No.2 High School
of Zhuhai, make jiaozi. 
Reclining on the sofa, watching TV and making jiaozi, my parents and I await the midnight bell. My mom is well versed in making jiaozi. She usually adds chives and egg, my favorite, into dumpling wrappers. No one sets limits on the filling of the dumplings, and meat and vegetables are the most popular and ubiquitous combination.
The day after Spring Festival Eve, a litany of new visiting gets under way. If one has relatives in the city, then they will call on each other on the first day of the lunar month and oftentimes, a meal is enough. Subsequently, we pay a visit to our close friends in droves for days on end unto the seventh day.
And that’s how a family celebrates the most important festival of a year for the Chinese.
In cities, everything is embellished with red. The trees wear red overcoats made by illuminations, the lampposts are covered with red lanterns and red banners are strung on every building saying “新春快乐”(which means “Happy Spring Festival.”)
All restaurants, whether they are fancy or casual, put advertisements in red papers on the walls or windows for the specials for the holiday. Everywhere, as long as you are in China, has “red ambience,” a phenomenon that can only be seen during the Spring Festival. It’s a feeling of warmth and love, of euphoria and comfort and of power and expectation.
In America, Chinatown celebrates the Spring Festival, too. The difference between the holiday in China and in America is that outside of China, all the Chinese people grow nostalgic during this time. Nonetheless, people in China show happiness as if we live for the moment, along with pride in the rise of our own country. It is this pride that provides us with a sound reason for celebration. We aim for a fresh start, for being someone better, for enjoying the results of our efforts, for turning might-have-been into a coup, for setting out on a brand long journey toward our dream in the coming year.
Most importantly, Spring Festival is less a review of a year than a new step in the next landmark of life filled with perseverance. We make ourselves happy with the color red, burning and shining like we’ll never stop.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

U.S. Aid To Pakistan: No Simple Approach

By Waleed Tariq
Associate Editor
KARACHI, Pakistan – While the right-wing political forces of the country under the leadership of the political party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) insist on blocking trucks carrying NATO supplies towards Afghanistan, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel reportedly ‘warned’ Pakistan that in such circumstances, maintaining American aid might be difficult.
What PTI and its allies fail to understand is that the U.S. has been the biggest bilateral donor – a nation that provides direct support – to Pakistan for years, supporting both economic and military initiatives in the country.
The United States got off to a good start with economic support to Pakistan under former Pakistani President Ayub Khan. Having ambitious plans for economic development, Khan began a long partnership with the U.S. And thereafter, Pakistani leaders time and again have won American support, receiving huge amounts in economic and security assistance.
Some estimates put the figure at more than $45 billion to date.
Since its formation in 1961, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has addressed the bulk of U.S. bilateral aid. It is directly responsible for most of the development initiatives including economic development through building infrastructure, bringing new ideas into the economy, strengthening education, environment and political systems as well as investing in global health support. It is managed through government contractors, consultants and non-governmental organizations.
American aid proved to be fundamental during the 1960s and it focused on both military and civilian economic institutions. This era is particularly known as the “decade of development,” which recorded unprecedented levels of GDP growth and industrialization. Foreign assistance was undoubtedly crucial in spurring this development. Huge investments in power, irrigation and infrastructure were made which led to the completion of the Mangla and Tarbela dams.
Economic assistance through USAID helped finance local education projects such as the establishment of the Lahore University of Management Sciences and the Karachi-based Institute of Business Administration.
U.S. military assistance supports Pakistan’s military through loans and grants for defence equipment, training exercises and military operations to resist external aggression and maintain internal security. It is jointly administered by the U.S. State Department and Department of Defense. Over the years, the U.S. helped an initially ill-equipped Pakistani military develop infrastructure, improve command, control and communication as well as intelligence capabilities. Pakistan’s army, navy and air force to date has received more than 100 Sabre F-86F aircrafts, several hundred M47 and M48 Patton tanks and artillery equipment, 17 F-16 aircraft and PNS Alamgir Frigate, helicopters and two P-3C Orion Surveillance and anti-submarine aircraft.
Despite all this, the issue of foreign aid effectiveness is loaded with disagreements. While U.S. aid to Pakistan was fundamental in spurring economic development during the 1960s, there have been major faults in aid strategy since the U.S. began its withdrawal from Afghanistan, which included slow release of funds, lack of transparency and capacity, and not having any high profile projects for the Pakistani society. The flip-flops and structural breaks involved in civilian aid delivery have affected existing programs.
In recent times, rather than development, the unspoken intention of aid has actually been to improve the image of the United States – lessening of the growing anti-American sentiment among Pakistanis. While there is a lack of commitment and effective strategy to check if the money is being used appropriately, most of the programs are concentrated in the Fata region where security concerns, limited resources and high administrative costs have hampered U.S. goals.
And the distribution of funds has not been transparent, resulting in corruption – money mostly ending up with contractors and political actors involved.
Military aid, on the other hand, has in fact dis-incentivised democracy in the country. U.S. support and maximum aid for the military rather than civil projects has limited the government’s control and its ability to react to economic challenges. Research shows that while Pakistan’s military received aid, the economy suffered. This is primarily because military aid has no developmental priority and whenever there is a huge aid inflow to the military, it gets involved in a border exercise, which indirectly proves to be much more costly than intended. In the War on Terror, Pakistan’s economic loss reached $68 billion as of 2011, an amount much more than the mere $19 billion it received in aid since 2002.
To make U.S. aid work in Pakistan, a two-tier – internal and external – strategy needs to be adopted to avoid the misuse or mismanagement of foreign aid. While there is a need for policy reform on the part of the Pakistan government, the United States must also ensure “effective” aid delivery.
The U.S. mission needs clear goals and must be separated from the security program. We need to move beyond military and covert operations, and a closer scrutiny to eliminate corruption and ineffectiveness is now needed. Transparency can breed trust, change public opinion and bring about concrete results. Another way is to strengthen the civil-political institutions of Pakistan – civilian aid should never be utilized for military purposes.

All in all, I believe, economic development in a fragile country like Pakistan is not easy, and if the U.S. wants to make a meaningful contribution to our economy, it has to give us an opportunity to recover from errors, reduce the corruption in the process and ensure continuing civilian aid as promised.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Get Out The King Cake - Mardi Gras Is Here!

Kaley Willis /

A popular Mardi Gras tradition is eating King Cake 

By Kaley Willis
SULPHUR, Louisiana, U.S.A. – It’s the beginning of a new year, and while that may mean resolutions and new beginnings for most, it means a two-month long party for those of us in Louisiana and other states along the Gulf Coast.
Mardi Gras is a celebration leading up to Fat Tuesday, the day when Cajuns can indulge in their favorite guilty pleasures one last time before the Christian season of Lent – and its custom of abstaining from life’s riches – starts the next day.
The Easter holiday, which falls on a different Sunday each year depending on the spring equinox, ends the season of Lent. So Easter determines when Lent begins, and also dictates the timing of the Mardi Gras season. This year, Fat Tuesday falls on March 4.
While the party begins on January 6th, or Kings Day, the real festivities do not fully transpire until the last two weeks before Fat Tuesday, when you’ll find a different parade every day.
Elaborate and exciting, Mardi Gras parades are standard in the south, however it is not as common to see them in the early weeks of Mardi Gras. In the beginning of the Mardi Gras season, many changes take place to make way for Fat Tuesday, the first being the widespread consumption of King Cake.
King Cake is quite possibly one of the most popular traditions of Mardi Gras, given how many people participate.
Kaley Willis /

A King Cake with the baby
on top, complete with Mardi
Gras beads.
Available in many different flavors, King Cake is similar to a large cinnamon roll, covered in green, purple, and gold icing and sprinkles, representing the official colors of Mardi Gras. The unique thing about King Cake is that each one contains a tiny plastic figurine of a baby, representative of the baby Jesus. The catch is, the person who gets the baby in their piece of cake must buy the next King Cake for everyone.
Although getting the baby may seem unlucky, it is actually a sign of good luck for the Mardi Gras season, and some people even believe that the person who bites into the plastic baby will become pregnant.

Kaley Willis /

A table covered with Mardi Gras decor includes a tree topped with a Mardi Gras mask. Many families leave their Christmas tree up during Mardi Gras and decorate it with purple, green and gold beads.
Another holiday tradition is participating in a Krewe. A Krewe is an organization that hosts Mardi Gras balls, parades, and many community service projects throughout the year.
The balls that Krewes host are another standard Mardi Gras festivity. Many balls are invitation only and feature Mardi Gras royalty, a chosen panel of people who represent the Krewe for that season.
While costumes are common for many people participating in events, Krewe royalty don the most beautiful and elaborate costumes of anyone.
While it is not common to see a Louisianan in a lavish, jeweled costume in a parade eating a King Cake on many days of the year, it is an everyday occurrence during Mardi Gras, the one last hurrah before Lent.
Kaley Willis /

Mardi Gras King and Queen costumes from the Krewe de la Famille are on display at Louisiana's Lake Charles Visitor's Bureau.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Eagerly Awaiting Nina Nesbitt's 'Peroxide'

By Robert Mooney
RICHMOND, North Yorkshire, U.K. – Over the last few years, a lot of catchy tunes have come from the British music industry but very few singers who are truly great.
Just as I was about to lose hope that the United Kingdom could produce another great vocal artist, my faith in the industry has been restored.
Nina Nesbitt, a Scottish singer/songwriter with four hit singles restored my hope. Signed to Universal Music since 2011, Nesbitt has so far produced material which is catchy, honest and sounds good.
A talented British artist, Ed Sheeran, noticed Nesbitt, who started in the music industry as yet another YouTube star. She released her first single, “Live Take,” in December 2011. I imagine this was quite a big step at the time, having only just left school.
Despite Nesbitt being a newcomer, both Nesbitt and Sheeran have to be two of the most talented and hardworking recording artists in the British music industry. They are also the sort of artists I admire, writing their own material and recording songs that sound good.

I find myself listening to Nesbitt almost every day, enjoying the catchy but raw sound in many of her songs. The real test for me is whether the artist sounds as good when performing live as they do on the recording.
Usually I find that the artist sounds nothing like they do on the recording and this is the moment I get disappointed.
But with artists like Nesbitt, it’s very different. Far from being disappointed, I find myself wanting to listen over and over again.
It’s not something that happens too often.
There are not many artists that will get me listening to them almost daily, but Nesbitt is an exception.
I say that I like her music because it’s catchy, but to be an artist that I really enjoy, it has to be more than that.
One, the performer should sound as good live as they do with a backing track. Two, they have worked hard to get where they are now and three, that they do not get carried away with fame. I know this may not matter to some when just listening to music, but for me, Nesbitt fulfills all these.
On February 17th, Nesbitt will release her debut album, Peroxide, and I can tell you now, I will be one of the first to get it.
“Selfies,” a single from Peroxide and a song that makes fun of photographs of the same name, will be released Feb. 9, just a few days before the album. A sneak preview on YouTube has already convinced me that her material is consistently good.
The song’s music video, despite being released before any other new material, has more than half a million views on YouTube, so I await the real product with great anticipation.
Nesbitt is not the only talented singer/songwriter to come into the British music business, but she is one of the best and without a doubt, one of the most hardworking.
What Nesbitt has produced to date is not far from outstanding. I look forward to hearing her future material and any news on the new album is likely to be music to my ears.
Peroxide is certainly one to look out for in the future and I’m sure that we will be hearing more from Nesbitt in the months and years to come. It would be a huge disappointment to lose such a talented singer due to lack of popularity, so I suggest we get behind our artists and support them as much as possible.

Monday, January 13, 2014

In 'Mitty,' Some Dreams Don't Come True

Ben Stiller in "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty"
By Cara Maines
Junior Reporter

HOUSTON, Texas, U.S.A. - Although “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” has the potential to be a contemplative, thought-provoking film, it ultimately fails because director Ben Stiller attempts instead to make it a feel-good classic.
“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” follows Stiller in the title role for over two hours as he chases after the love of his life, Cheryl Melhoff (Kristen Wiig) and a special photograph from acclaimed photojournalist Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn).
Mitty frequently “zones out,” disconnecting from whatever he is doing to daydream.
Some of Mitty’s encounters are awkward – sometimes painfully awkward, especially when he stops interacting with another person and begins fantasizing. It is uncomfortable to watch his encounters with Corporate Transition Manager Ted Hendricks (Adam Scott) in particular. Hendricks is a caricature of a demonic boss, constantly ridiculing Mitty.
The other characters are not much better.
Despite her importance to the plot, we don’t learn anything about Melhoff, except that she is recently divorced and has a young son. Similarly, Odessa (Kathryn Hahn), Mitty’’s sister, is portrayed as a stereotypically flaky and unsuccessful struggling actress.
Ben Stiller, daydreaming
Mitty himself would be two-dimensional if it weren’t for his imaginative dreams, which allow the viewer a glimpse inside his mind.
Stiller attempts a trite romance between Melhoff and Mitty, combining it with action stills from Mitty’s dreams and words of wisdom from Penn. This combination is obviously impossible and it comes off as if he is trying to make the film something it cannot be, a satisfying, feel-good family movie.
Plus, two hours is too long to watch just Mitty’s awkward encounters and lonely journeys through the wilderness.
Despite its flaws, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” contains a few gems.
Mitty encounters stunning scenery in his travels across the globe. The landscape in Greenland and the Himalayas are breathtaking; the best scenes feature little-to-no dialogue but instead Mitty traveling alone in the mountains or on winding trails.
The best scene is a deeply meditative conversation between Mitty and Penn in the Himalayas as the photographer views a majestic snow leopard through his camera lens.
“Beautiful things don’t ask for attention,” Penn offers. It’s not really relevant to the rest of the film, but it is a calm, thoughtful scene which stands out.
Finally, the soundtrack is fantastic. It combines old classics like “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” and eclectic new hits from stars such as David Bowie and Of Monsters and Men. It’s just too bad the action-packed and clichéd rom-com plot of the film doesn’t match its contemplative soundtrack.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Craving The Old Mystery In New 'Sherlock'

BBC Photo

John Holmes' wedding scene in the third season episode, "The Sign of Three." 

By Arooj Khalid
Senior Reporter
LAHORE, Pakistan – Sherlock Holmes has been out in the streets, solving crimes for centuries. The BBC resurrected the great detective as a 21st century super sleuth in the television show Sherlock.
After the tragic last episode of the second series that ended in a cliffhanger, fans have been waiting for the third season since 2012.  Sherlock Holmes had to jump off a building in order to stop his worst enemy’s evil plans and save his friends – but survived.
The long-awaited show came back to the screens in the UK on January 1, 2014 and the third episode will air today.
The biggest concern for many of the show’s fans was how Sherlock survived falling from the rooftop of a building, and the reaction of his best friend and colleague, Dr. John Watson, who had mourned his death for two years.
In fact, sleuthing fans – taking clues from the show itself – developed many theories.
The third season’s first episode included some of the most famous and ridiculous theories in a series of possible ways Sherlock could have survived, but it turned out to be one character’s imagination.
Holmes himself was back in London, ready to reveal himself, but before that he needed to visit his friend.  Watson, however, who was proposing to his girlfriend, didn’t welcome Holmes’ news that he was “not dead.”
Watson hilariously tried to kill Holmes multiple times in the episode for letting him grieve.
Then the duo were back to solving crimes together and found themselves in a train with a bomb about to explode the British Parliament. Holmes made Watson think that he didn’t know how to dispose of a bomb – which he had already done – and there was a vague flashback of how Holmes actually tricked the whole world into thinking that he died by jumping off the roof.
The episode had an overall comedic approach and it seemed that many of the scenes were based on the theories of the show’s fans.  Although it was nice to see the interaction between the characters and the introduction of new ones, it lacked what is really expected of a Sherlock Holmes show. It was too far away from the criminal drama that made the first two seasons so enjoyable.
This season’s second episode, “The Sign of Three” came out three days later and mainly starred Watson’s marriage.
Sherlock was best man, and during his speech solved another case. The episode focused on Holmes and Watson’s deep-rooted friendship. The parts involving the self-described sociopath finding himself in emotional situations and Watson’s bachelor party were extremely amusing. The sign of three included the appearance of Major Sholto, who has appeared in Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel The Sign of the Four but nothing besides the name was similar.
As a whole, the first two episodes were mainly comedy and disappointingly far away from the show’s main theme. They lacked what Holmes calls “the thrill of the chase, the blood pumping through your veins.”
As a fan, I was amused by and liked both episodes, but to someone watching it for the first time, it could appear boring. The mystery and thrilling plots that are classic Sherlock Holmes are missing.
However, I expect all of the mystery and excitement will return for “His Last Vow,” the third and last episode of the season. The word is that there is a new villain on the program based on the book character Charles Augustus Milverton, king of blackmailers.
I expect he will be quite cold and serious.
Milverton is featured one of Doyle’s short stories, where Holmes described that no murderer repulsed him like Milverton, who blackmailed women from wealth or position. “With a smiling face and a heart of marble, he will squeeze and squeeze until he has drained them dry,” Holmes said.
Hoping that this villain will be as loathsome as he is in the books, I am expecting an episode that brings back what the show so far lost this season.
The villain, who will be known as Charles Augustus Magnussen on the TV show, was shown at the end of first episode watching Sherlock in a video with an evil eye, while at Watson’s wedding there was a mocking telegram for the bride, an orphan, from “CAM” saying “wish your family could see this.”
Could the third episode have a lot more in store for the viewers? Holmes made a vow that he would always be there for Watson, his wife and their child. It is viable to say that Magnussen might target Sherlock’s friends in order to finish him, but I doubt that as that is exactly what was done by Sherlock’s enemy in the previous season.
It wouldn’t be a wrong assumption to say that the last episode has a lot in store for us, and it is worth mentioning the rumor that it might be a cliffhanger again. 
But according to the great detective himself, it is a capital mistake to theorize before we have enough data, so all we can do is wait for today’s episode to find out what really happens.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

A Sweet Russian Orthodox Christmas

Yelena Samofalova /
A box of special candies for Russian Orthodox Christmas.

By Yelena Samofalova
Senior Reporter
WEST HARTFORD, Connecticut – As a Ukrainian immigrant, I know that Eastern Europeans celebrate their winter holidays differently than Americans, as they do most things.
Our holiday season starts off with Saint Nicholas’s Day on December 19th. I can see how it connects with the American Christmas, since Santa Claus is sometimes referred to as “Saint Nick.”
On Saint Nicholas’ Day, I get my first huge box of Russian candies of the year.
They sell these at a small shop near our house called the Delicacy Market which sells exclusively traditional Russian foods.
Yelena Samofalova /
Pretty candy wrappers arranged in a design.
Saint Nick puts them under our Christmas tree, just like he does in the American tradition. Living in a small apartment, we’ve had a plastic tree, although real trees are not uncommon in Russia, Ukraine and probably other Eastern European countries as well.
In Russia and neighboring countries, kids would buy these small, individually wrapped candies by the kilogram for a few dollars, and still do.
There are all kinds of candies, including chocolates and hard candies, which all have different names that everyone knows. Some of my favorites are chocolates called “Daisy” or Romashka in Russian and “Squirrel” or Belochka.
There’s even one named after me! It’s called Alenka, which could be a nickname for my name “Lena.” It’s a tasty solid chocolate with a little girl’s face on the wrapper.
Yelena Samofalova /
The wrapper of the Alenda candy.
Buying loose candy by weight like this isn’t something I’ve seen much of in America, where kids typically buy candy bars or hard candy like Jolly Ranchers. The names of the candy are common knowledge to kids across the country as well, though.
On the 19th, my family also goes to a Russian Orthodox Church, although they usually get home before I wake up. For the rest of the day, though, I am scolded for swearing or yelling and told, “It’s a big holiday today.”
On December 25th, while most of my friends are feasting with their whole families, I usually just stay at home.
Our huge feast commences on New Year’s Eve, which is also when “Grandfather Frost” brings another host of Russian candies in a pretty box. Our whole family usually comes to our house, and we have Russian-Ukrainian foods such as mashed potatoes and salad with mayonnaise.
Yelena Samofalova /
Christmas candies in their natural habitat - eaten!
We watch a mix of the ball dropping in New York and Russian comedy acts and singers and ring in the New Year just like Americans, but better, because we also get presents!
The holiday season ends on January 7th with “Razhdestvo” or Christmas.
Since this is a religious holiday, Russian Orthodox Christians like my family and others celebrate it on this day.  It’s 13 days difference between the normal Gregorian calendar, which puts Christmas on Dec. 25, and the Russian Orthodox religious calendar, where Christmas falls on Jan. 7.
This is also a day when my family and other Eastern Europeans go to church.
Although my holiday season might have become a mesh of American and Russian-Ukrainian customs, I’m glad I know about the traditions in my native country. I’m also glad America is so diverse and I get to learn about holidays in other cultures.