How to Spend Your Holidays in the USA: A Guide for International Students

Tis the season to gobble and be thankful. 🦃

Tis the season to decorate and be jolly. 🎄

Tis the season to celebrate Joy and Hope. 🌟

Tis the season to appreciate and look ahead. 🔜

As the holiday season approaches, you might be wondering what to expect and how to make the most of this festive season. Whether you’re here for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year’s for the first time in the United States, we’re here to help you navigate the unique traditions, cultural nuances, and opportunities for enjoyment during this special time of year. 

1) Thanksgiving: A time for gratitude 💞

For many Americans, Thanksgiving is about giving thanks and enjoying a hearty meal with family and friends. Here’s what’s up:

  • It’s the 4th Thursday in November, and most Americans have the day off work/school. Usually, families come together for a traditional meal of turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie. It’s a feast that’ll leave you in a food coma, for sure!
  • Joey-thanksgiving-pants GIFs - Get the best GIF on GIPHYFollowers of Jesus use this time to thank God for all he has provided. You could take this holiday to share what you’re thankful for with others or create a ‘gratitude’ journal entry. 
  • Oftentimes, people take this seasonal holiday to give back to their communities by volunteering at local charities/nonprofit organizations, food pantries, soup kitchens, or driving around delivering turkeys/thanksgiving meals to people in need. So, you may consider one or more of these options to give back and practice hospitality!
  • You can participate in a “turkey trot”! You won’t be trotting with turkeys, don’t worry; but you will be trotting with other people who want to get a run in before feast time! They’re a fun way to celebrate the holiday while getting some fresh air and exercise. 
  • Lots of families tune in on T.V. to what’s called The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, an annual parade in NYC put on by the U.S.-based department store chain, Macy’s. 
  • Black Friday isn’t a day for mourning, as the name might suggest. Black Friday is actually the day after Thanksgiving that has been considered the start of the holiday shopping season. Many stores will use the day to create special deals and discounts. 
  • Expect a lot of fall flavors, such as pumpkin spice, apple cider, and maple. 

2) Christmas: Lights, decorations, and gifts 🎁

In the States, Christmas is celebrated by putting up decorations, lights, and buying/receiving gifts. Here’s what’s up:

  • The name “Christmas” came from the fact that it’s a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, God in human form, coming down to earth as a newborn baby. To learn more about this Christmas story, read Luke Chapter 2 in the Bible! 
  • Your surrounding environment’s gonna look a lot different than before, as streets, homes, and shops are filled with bunches of colorful lights and Christmas-themed decor. Bigger cities, such as NYC and Chicago, are known for their grand displays. 
  • Friends-christmas GIFs - Get the best GIF on GIPHYAmerican families oftentimes go Christmas tree hunting. It’s a tradition brought by the Germans where real or fake Christmas trees are placed in family’s homes as decoration. Many welcome the Christmas season by putting up their trees and placing ornaments on the branches.  
  • Similar to Thanksgiving, the Christmas season is a time for shopping to have presents, which are typically put under the Christmas tree. Families will either wait until midnight of Christmas Day to open their gifts or wait until the morning of. 
  • Many cities have cute Christmas markets where you can try seasonal treats, shop for handmade/local gifts, and soak in the festive atmosphere. 
  • Lots of churches have events called “Christmas Shop/Store” where people in their communities can buy Christmas gifts for their families at a drastically reduced price. This provides families with dignity and love– consider finding one to volunteer!
  • Expect a lot of winter flavors, such as peppermint, eggnog, and gingerbread. 

3) New Year’s: Ringing in the New Year 🎆

New Year’s Eve/Day is for celebrating the year gone by and welcoming the year ahead. Big cities, such as NYC and LA, are famous for their grand celebrations, which include the “ball drop”, lots of fireworks, live music, and parades. 

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  • People will typically gather for a countdown party, where they’ll celebrate the midnight countdown together to welcome the start of the new year.
  • Many cities host wonderful firework shows as midnight strikes. Find out where they’re happening and go with your friends.
  • New Year’s is seen as a time to restart, a time to throw out the old and embrace the new. People usually make “New Year’s resolutions”, which can be cheesy and seen as a joke; however, you can choose to take it seriously and reflect on what your goals, hopes, and dreams are for the year ahead. 

The upcoming holidays in the US are a unique experience for international students, so take it easy and be open to learning new traditions. And be careful of falling into the trap of indulgence, as holidays tend to bring that out through marketing and consumerism tactics. (I’m not telling you not to shop and search for deals! Just want you to be self-aware. 😉) 

Rather, try embracing them for what they truly are– practice gratitude and compassion during Thanksgiving, go beyond the presents and dig deeper into “the reason for the season” during Christmas, and take the time to reflect on the past year and set personal goals/dreams for New Year’s. 

Wishing you a season filled with warmth, joy, and unforgettable memories! 🎉

Until next time for some of my memories during the holidays… 😏

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