By Kamrin Baker
I am a white woman who was raised Catholic, who received Care Bears under the tree throughout her childhood, who stopped believing in Santa around the same time most of my peers did. Of course I was taught the basics of other religions and traditions during the holiday season, but I was raised with a privilege of having my holiday and culture most prevalent on TV commercials, Hallmark movies and storefronts. It has taken years for me—and many others in my same situation and description—to realize the beauty and diversity of those who were different from myself, of those who, well, never believed in Santa Claus to begin with.
At the University of Nebraska at Omaha, diversity is a reigning tenant of the values we as a university hold dear. While students can still spot Christmas trees in the corners of some buildings, a large percentage of students from various walks of life come to class for one purpose: to learn and grow—together.
This holiday season, it is valuable to talk to others who don’t share the same histories and traditions and to learn about all the possibilities of joy and spirit around the globe, and around the Omaha community.
UNO sophomore Aniya Greene is a Jehovah’s Witness, which means she and her family simply don’t celebrate any holidays. According to the Jehovah’s Witness website, Jehovah’s Witnesses are categorized as Christians, and there are over 8 million individuals practicing the religion worldwide. Greene says her religion “entails a ton” for her and includes meetings every Wednesday and Sunday, as well as “house-to-house witnessing” every Saturday morning.
Greene says that there are scriptural reasons behind each holiday she does not celebrate and that she gets a lot of questions about her way of life around this time of year. Although she does not celebrate any major holidays, Greene says she doesn’t mind any religious-based celebrations on campus because she believes in an inclusive campus.
Greene enjoys that the holiday season allows for time off from school so she can spend more time with her family and religious community, which she says is one of her favorite things about being a Jehovah’s Witness.
“I think a lot of people see my religion as really strict,” Greene says. “Growing up, I got a lot of comments on how ‘sad’ it was that I ‘never got to do anything fun.’ I’ve really never had those same feelings. I have never celebrated a birthday or any holiday, but I have also really never felt the need to do so. My family knows how to make the little things a celebration. Whether it be graduation, A’s on report cards, baptism, or the achievement of literally any goal—my family is always there.”
Another sophomore at UNO, Sadiya Xasan is a practicing Muslim who was born of Somali parents in Ethiopia. Her parents own and run an African grocery store (Global Foods on Saddle Creek Road), so the holiday season usually just turns out to run on a typical business schedule. The biggest difference for Xasan this year is that she lives on Scott Campus and says she is waiting to see if her roommates will put up a tree in the living room.
Although December is usually filled with helping out around the store and watching movies with her siblings, Xasan expresses pride in her Muslim faith throughout specific holidays during the year.
Xasan says the biggest Muslim holiday is Eid, which takes place twice a year and the Muslim community gathers together to perform a traditional prayer and feast with loved ones. Xasan also cited the holy month of Ramadan as a hallmark in Islam, which includes practicing individuals—1.6 million worldwide— to fast from sun-up to sundown for 30 days.
In addition to participating in traditions and holidays of the Muslim faith, Xasan is also proud to see how many Muslim individuals walk the UNO campus. She says it makes her happy to see a lot of diversity on campus and know that there are people with whom she can connect.
“I think a huge part of being a modern day Muslim is finding a balance between my American identity and my faith,” Xasan says. “I’ve had people tell me many times that they find it surprising that I have my nose and septum pierced and still wear my hijab at the same time.”
Balancing American culture and college life with religion is not unique to these two women, though. Students all around campus have opportunities to unite all of their passions in activities and events hosted by various student and university organizations.
On Thursday Dec. 7, the UNO Department of Black Studies will host a Donning of the Kente Ceremony for any student or faculty member interested in learning more about Kwanzaa.
Then, on Dec. 10, UNO Spanish students and the Joslyn Art Museum will partner together to put on a Hispanic Cultural Festival, which is not specific to any holiday, but can allow any student to partake in art, refreshments and festivities.
No matter what path students follow or which events they attend, culture and empathy can intersect with the diversity and kindness most choose to emulate. This year during the American culturally-dominated holidays, remember to be thankful for every other peer, faculty member and human being that makes UNO the welcoming and diverse place we all choose to call home.
For more information, refer to the Office of Multicultural Affairs in the Milo Bail Student Center.