Amid the flurry of shoppers, lights and music, it can be easy to forget that Christmas isn’t the only holiday on the calendar.
For international student Prerana Singh, Christmas is a reminder of the holidays she celebrated back home. A nursing student at Santa Rosa Junior College, Singh arrived in the United States five years ago from her hometown of Boudha, Nepal.
Boudha lies within the limits of Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, and is home to one of the largest Buddhist temples in the world. “My hometown is really diverse,” Singh said. “There are people from many ethnic groups like Tamang, Sherpa, Newar and Tibetans.”
Singh, 23, chose Santa Rosa because of extended family who lived in the area. She arrived with a friend from Nepal in 2007, and together they began classes at SRJC.
“I came here to study, but I’m not only learning in school. I’m also learning new things from people I meet, new culture and new traditions,” she said. “America is very diverse, and it’s like learning a new chapter of life every day.”
Singh enjoys the multi-cultural environment at SRJC and has connected with Hispanic students whose traditions and culture she found similar to those in Nepal. She is part of the Newari ethnic group, which recently celebrated with a New Year’s day party in Santa Rosa.
“Nepali New Year is somewhere around mid-April, but Newari New Year was on Nov. 14,” said Singh. “It was Newar’s New Year 1133, ‘Nhudaya vintuna 113’ as it is called in Newari language.”
Singh has found a large community of Nepali people in both Santa Rosa and the Bay Area. “We have a Nepali culture program once a year where we perform dance or songs, and this year it was on Newari New Year 1133,” said Singh. “Once in a while, we get together in birthday parties, too, but not every festival as everybody’s busy with their lives.”
This year, she celebrated at home, cooking up a full menu of Nepali foods and calling immediate family members who remain in Nepal.
“I love the holiday season, Nepali and Western as well,” said Singh. “I love shopping and spending time with my family. My aunt lives in Alameda, so I visit her every chance I get.”
Singh says the Western holiday season reminds her of many of the holiday traditions at home, including celebrations for Dashain and Tihar, two of Nepal’s most important festivals.
Dashain is the country’s longest festival, which in Buddhist tradition celebrates the victory of the gods over wicked demons. Dashain often occurs around October and November.
“During Dashain, our elders, Grandpa, Grandma, Mom and Dad put a tika (a mixture of rice, yogurt and vermilion) on our forehead and give us blessings and some money so we can buy stuff,” said Singh. “We look forward to counting the money we receive.”
Singh says Dashain traditions are similar to those of Christmas, and Nepali parents also buy their children clothes, shoes and new items during the holiday. The five-day Tihar festival comes soon after Dashain.
“Here, it’s more fun during Christmas, and it reminds me of Tihar in Nepal,” said Singh. “At Tihar, we also light our whole house. It’s the festival of lights.”
Celebrating Christmas in America brings a fresh perspective. “Having a get-together with family and exchanging gifts is new to me, but I love and respect the Western tradition of togetherness and love,” said Singh. “It indeed is the most wonderful time of the year.”
Singh graduated with an associate’s degree in natural sciences in 2011 and is now working to complete nursing pre-requisites at SRJC. After finishing her degree, she said, “I intend to return back to Nepal after graduation. I plan to implement the things I have learned here.”