Americans start getting into the crazy Christmas spirit way too early. I remember picking pumpkins with my host dad a week before Halloween when all the stores were already fully decorated for Christmas. It was more festive than back home. We're not that crazy about holidays in Poland, almost no one decorates their houses like they do in the US. If you saw my neighborhood, you wouldn't know what time of the year it is, when in America you can take a look at any house to know exactly what holiday is upcoming. Also, I learned many new traditions that I never thought existed.
I think the first Christmas activity was a white elephant party with other exchange students. I've never heard of that tradition before but it's very common here and I can't wait to share it with my family next year. Then, I had a sock exchange party which was basically the same thing. I really liked the way my host family buys Christmas gifts. Each of the kids had $5 to spend on every sibling. They decided to pick presents for me first so I was wandering around waiting for them to finish. Then, we switched roles and the next kid got to go away so we could buy something for them. It took a while because there were 5 of us.
On the 22nd we went to my host dad's family where we stayed till Christmas Eve. And of course, we had another gift exchange but this time it was a cereal exchange. They do that tradition every year. I don't know what other types of gift exchanges Americans do but I'm guessing there would be something weird like towel exchange or blinds exchange because why not? It's America.
We got home on the 24th evening and before going to sleep, we all gathered in a living room where my host mom gave each of us a box with socks inside. I don't even know whether it was random or she chose who gets which ones. Next, we took a family photo of our feet with the socks on. That night parents and the oldest children stayed up late to wrap very last presents and make monkey bread.
The next morning we could finally open our Christmas gifts! First, we opened the stockings that were full of candy and little toys and next we gave each other gifts we bought. There wasn't anything special happening in the next 2 Christmas days.
A couple of days after Christmas, I had one more white elephant party. My second host family (I had three) was also there and they gave me a box with Polish candy which was very cute.
My Christmas in Poland looks completely different. We have Christmas Eve on the 24th during which one adult dresses up as Santa, seats next to the Christmas tree and gives everyone their gifts. Before receiving a gift, you have to sing a song or recite a poem to Santa. I also noticed that in Poland, we get into Christmas spirit later than Americans but we stay in it longer. My host family got rid of the Christmas tree a few days after Christmas was over when in Poland we keep it till January. Same thing with decorations. I didn't see any decorated houses shortly after the 26th.
I feel like the point in American Christmas is giving presents. I can't even count how many people gave me something, even though they didn't have to. I got 4 blankets, around 10 pairs of socks and so many big and heavy things that I have no idea how I'm gonna pack them all when I have to leave. I'm thankful to all the people who made my first (and not the last) American Christmas unforgettable.