In the season of giving and carolers singing “Peace on Earth, good will to men”, two young men are spending Cristmas far from home, in Weyburn, as Rotary Youth Exchange Students.
Felipe Novachinski, 17, and Hiroki Narita, 17, are both spending the school year acting as goodwill ambassadors in the city, and will celebrate the Christmas holidays with their Weyburn friends and host families. Novachinski is from Dourados, Brazil and Narita is from Tsushima, Japan. Both boys said Christmas is not a very big deal in their home countries, but that they like the way Christmas is celebrated in Weyburn.
“Oh! I like Christmas here. I like the artistic choirs and orchestras and the beautiful churches and that sort of thing,” said Novachinski, and Narita agreed wholeheartedly. Neither of the boys have experienced or been a part of Christmas concerts and performances in their home countries but are singing with the Weyburn Comprehensive School’s STARS Show Choir this year. They sang in the Festival of Carols on Dec. 1 with the choir this year.
Novachinski is staying with Doug and Cathie Loden through the holidays and will celebrate with them and the Lodens’ adult sons, Andrew, Stephen and Brian who will be home for the holidays. Narita is staying with Adrienne Sidloski, where his four host siblings, Ben, Michaela, Erin and Natalie will celebrate the holidays with him.
“In Brazil, Christmas is not so big, like here. We just have traditions like staying with family on Christmas Eve,” said Novachinski. He said he and his family have a big meal with pheasant or some other poultry, meat roasted over a pit and a variety of fruits for desert. His family includes his mother, Jane; father, João-Ronaldo; younger sister, Marine and two dogs, Lolita and Pipoca.
“We have a table with fruit that is decorated. We cut watermelons in different shapes and decorate with oranges,” said Novachinski, who also described gift giving traditions in Brazil as being smaller than here.
“The gifts are mostly given just in families. Parents give their sons and daughters a big present and grandparents, aunts and uncles give the children some small gifts,” said Novachinski, and added that gift giving in Canada seems to be an “expensive tradition”, to which Narita agreed and chuckled.
Other traditions and myths surrounding the Christmas holiday in Canada are found sparingly, if at all, in Brazil, according to Novachinski. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Santa are about as familiar to Brazilians as the samba is to the average Canadian.
(Samba being a traditional dance in Brazil.) Live Christmas trees and stockings aren’t found there either.
“We don’t decorate real trees. We just have plastic trees,” he said. “We know about them because we see a lot of American movies, but they aren’t Brazilian things.”
Roughly two-thirds of the Brazilian population is Roman Catholic, and most of the rest of the population is Protestant.
“Christmas is not such a big event in Japan,” said Narita who explained there are not many Christians in Japan so those who celebrate Christmas treat it like an event, not a religious holiday.
Most estimates report only one per cent of the Japanese population is Christian.
“We usually eat cake, like a birthday cake, and stay with family,” he said and added that some people decorate their homes like here and gifts are given in Japan for Christmas, but only to little children. He no longer receives gifts at Christmas.
Narita said the bigger celebration for him and his family at this time of the year is New Year’s Eve and Day. His family includes his father, Tokinori; mother, Miho; older brother, Yasuki; younger brother, Tomoki; younger sister Kotomi and dog, Kusu.
“I usually go to the temple and ring the bell,” said Narita. In Japan, bells are rung at midnight on Dec. 31 108 times to signify the 108 human sins and desires. In Buddhist tradition, the ringing of the bell symbolizes ridding themselves of those sins and desires for the last year and welcoming the new year. After that, Narita and his family eat a type of Japanese noodle called Soba, which is made from buckwheat flour and wheat flour and about the same size as spaghetti.
“January first, in the morning, we usually go to the shrine and pray for a good year,” said Narita.
Winter in Saskatchewan is also a new experience for both of the boys. Narita said that, while it is winter in Japan right now, it doesn’t get this cold and there isn’t usually this much snow.
Brazil’s seasons run opposite to Canada’s, so Novachinski said his friends and family are enjoying summer weather and summer holidays from school right now.
“We don’t have snow and the temperature in my region is almost 40 degrees Celsius right now,” said Novachinski, before looking out the window and groaning. He said his friends in Brazil are posting on Facebook about the heat and it makes him miss the warmth.
“Our school year in Brazil starts in February and ends in November, so this period of time is normally a holiday. Most people travel for New Year’s,” said Novachinski.
Narita said their winter vacation is very similar to that of the schools here in Saskatchewan.
Both Narita and Novachinski said they are enjoying school in Canada, but said that choir is their favourite class, largely because they never had the chance to take it before.
“The schools in Brazil just have subjects like maths, biology and chemistry,” said Novachinski.
“Maths and physics are easier here, but classes like English are harder,” said Narita.
Both boys said they were okay with missing the holidays at home with their families, even though they will be thinking of them.
“I miss them a little bit,” said Narita.
“I don’t really miss home. I know that I am going back. It’s a safe place I know I can go back to,” said Novachinski, who added that he is looking forward to more Christmas celebrations here in Weyburn.