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Traditions : 'I'm Getting Homesick'

December 20, 1993| Compiled for The Times by Trin Yarborough

THE REV. ENOCK LEE DRATI

Inner city missionary, St. James Episcopal Chruch, South-Central Los Angeles

When I first came to the United States from Uganda 14 years ago, I couldn't understand why everybody had trees in their homes at Christmastime, with all the gifts piled under them. I thought they were worshiping the trees. In parts of Africa, some groups have sacred trees. One year, American friends came to our home and when they saw we had no Christmas tree, they bought one. I thought, "Oh no, do I have to worship this?" So I asked more questions and learned my fears could go.

On Dec. 24, we would wake up at midnight and go around singing until dawn, then slaughter our best animals and prepare our best crops for a big feast later on Christmas Day after church. We would have goat, cow and chicken meat along with millet, and special green peas called burusu that grew on trees, and cassava mixed with sorghum. We would decorate our faces with sesame seeds to show the joy of Christmas.

There is no Santa Claus in Uganda, but we give gifts and have the Christmas feast with our clan. Last year I went back and heard that some people there are also beginning to have Christmas trees. The world is getting smaller.

JAMES MEDLIN

Entertainment TV editorial director, Marina del Rey

Every year at Christmas, I go back home to Odessa, Tex., or my mother comes here. One year, I sent a friend to Odessa at Christmas and he called to say he'd accidentally landed at a nuclear test site, teasing me because there's nothing alive in Odessa in the winter, just flat frozen plains. At a Christmas dinner in Texas, all the food is the same color, sort of a brownish gray--turkey, corn bread, dressing, gravy, mashed potatoes. It tastes great, though. And it keeps your weight up.

We always have a big Christmas Eve party here in Los Angeles for all the Texans in exile. Everybody brings a wrapped gift under $10 and then we draw numbers to see who gets what. That's how I got my lamp made out of a gas meter.

PINKY CHIONG

Registered dental assistant, Burbank

In the Philippines, they start playing Christmas songs on the radio in September, including some sad songs like "Pasko Na Sinta Ko," about missing a sweetheart at Christmas time. People begin putting up decorations in October--like big Christmas stars made of sticks glued together and covered by red or green paper with lights inside. By early December, you can hear fireworks and groups of carolers almost every night.

On Christmas Day, everyone in your family gets together. If you have a large family, you might roast a suckling pig stuffed with guava leaves and good-smelling tanglad leaves, which are 3 feet long. I am from a Chinese-Filipino family and we also serve a special Chinese-like noodle dish. My mother is a religious Catholic and often took part in Simbang Gabi at Christmas--going for nine consecutive days to 5 a.m. Mass.

I haven't been back home for the entire four years I have lived in Los Angeles. I belong to First Evangelical Church here, where many people are Chinese from the Philippines, and we do Christmas caroling and have get-togethers. But it's not the same. You know there are people somewhere else, your family, that you miss, and when they start to play Christmas songs here, I feel an emptiness, like something is missing. I'm getting really homesick thinking about it.

NAZIK SARKISSIAN GHEYVANDIAN

Computer typist, Glendale

We are Armenian Christians, born in Iran. I came to Glendale in l987. I don't really miss my country but I miss my family there, especially my oldest sister, my aunts and cousins. We celebrate the Armenian Christmas on Jan. 6, when Armenians go to church and then visit their families.

On Dec. 24, I will celebrate with my family here--my husband, my mother, my brother and sister. Our special Christmas food is called kookoo, which we have with fish, red wine and an Armenian cake called nazuk. We cannot find this cake in the Armenian market in Glendale, so my mother makes it just as she did when I was a child--it's yummy, looks like a pizza and has yogurt in it. We sing Christmas hymns and songs like "Jingle Bells" in Armenian.

JOSEPH CHOI

Manager in a Koreatown advertising agency, West Los Angeles

This Christmas I will invite all the members of my group from L.A. Young Nak Presbyterian Church to my home. We will cook delicious food that Koreans like, like hot boiled kimchee and japche with sticky noodles. We will share food, share things about our lives, have praise and worship and fellowship. Then all night long we will go to the homes of other church members, and of our pastor and church elders, stand in front of their gates holding candles and sing Christmas songs for them in Korean and English. I will also take part when our church reaches out to orphans and convalescent homes with gifts and visits. And our church is sharing Christmas visits with an African American church.

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