Exchange students share their Christmas traditions


Ana López del Punta '23

Exchange students from Austria, Italy, France, and Spain discuss their holiday traditions.

Whether students are visiting each other during the holiday season or they are celebrating in their home countries, the Sacred Heart Greenwich Network Exchange Program encourages students and their exchange students to learn about each other’s Christmas traditions.  Juniors Annie Cornell and Martina Bernal, as well as sophomores Emma Marvin, Julia Randolph, and Ellenor Breitenbach’s exchange students shared their Christmas traditions.  

Annie’s exchange student, Leonor Pérez de Ayala, is a junior at Santa María del Valle in Sevilla, Spain.  One of her school’s celebrations is a “Belén Viviente.”  This is a living nativity scene in which students take on the roles of Biblical persons.  Through this performance, the school collects donations for children in different countries have limited educational opportunities. 

Coline prepares a Christmas crib with her family every year.  Courtesy of Coline de Gentil

“I think it is a great day because we make something together to help people in need and we also have fun while doing it,” Leonor said.  “Something remarkable about this day is that not only do we participate in the Belén Viviente, but also our family and friends get to see us, and the more people that come visit, the [more] money we collect.” 

Leonor is currently spending two weeks with Annie and her family.  She looks forward to learning about American holiday traditions and visiting the Christmas decoration displays in New York City, New York. 

Coline de Gentil, Martina’s exchange student, is a junior at La Perverie Sacré Coeur in Nantes, France.  Although Coline will not visit the United States during the holiday season, she and Martina still virtually share their respective holiday traditions.  Coline commented that, as traditional foods are important to French culture, the meal on Christmas Eve is one of the most important celebrations. 

“Sometimes my family and I go to the church on [December] 24 for the Christmas celebration and after we eat a great meal,” Coline said.  “For the French people, the meal is one of the most important moments because in our culture food has a big place.  For example, the typical food you can find at a Christmas meal is foie gras, oysters, smoked salmon, and the most eaten is the turkey with chestnuts.  For dessert, it’s a Christmas log (une bûche de Noël).”

Also a native of Nantes, France, Charline Deuquet attends La Perverie Sacrè Coeur as a sophomore.  She is spending the holiday season with Julia in the United States and is excited to take part in American Christmas traditions.  Together, Julia and Charline have watched American holiday films and decorated her first gingerbread house.  

Ottavia Casale, Emma’s exchange student, is from Rome, Italy.  She is a sophomore at Sacro Cuore Trinità dei Monti, where Ottavia and her fellow students donate clothes and food for Christmas.  Additionally, they make hand-crafted decorations to sell at the school’s Christmas market. 

Ellenor’s exchange student, Caroline Klein, lives in Vienna, Austria, where she attends Sacred Heart Vienna as a sophomore.  Every year, her school celebrates Saint Nicholas’ Day with an advent concert in which students sing, dance, and play instruments.  Similar to Leonor and Ottavia, Caroline’s school also celebrates Christmas by donating to those in need.  

Caroline and her sister celebrate Christmas with their family. Courtesy of Caroline Klein

“Many [school] classes have their own advent wreaths and decorate their classrooms,” Caroline said.  “On December 6, the day of Saint Nicholas, we receive sweet treats, tangerines, and peanuts.  During December our school donates food or hygienic articles to the poorer people in our country.  Two days before Christmas, all students go to the church and celebrate a Christmas mass.”



Featured Image by Ana López del Punta ‘23