Alina Sagimuldina is attending Custer County High School this year as part of the student foreign exchange program. She is 16 years old and from Rudny, Kazakhstan in the northern part of the country. She will celebrate this Christmas season with her host family, Steve, Wendy and Meredith Barnes. Alina is sure to get a strong dose of the holiday spirit when she accompanies the Barnes's to Missouri where they will gather together with 30 or so family members at Steve's folks' house.
In America, food is an important part of the holiday tradition. Alina says traditional foods in Kazakhstan are fairly basic meat and potatoes, and Alina's favorites run in the pasta and potato groups. She doesn't seem to care much for vegetables or meats. Her taste buds will experience something new and different if Steve's mother makes the promised oyster stew along with all the other traditional holiday favorites like turkey and ham. Steve said he never knows what his mom might make or when the big meal will be. He's the one who requests the oyster dish, and Wendy didn't imagine that Alina has ever had that particular delicacy. So far, she hasn't cared for seafood, said Wendy.
Alina and her family don't practice any type of religion, though many of the nation's citizens are Muslim, Russian Orthodox or Protestant. Actually, she said, there is no Christmas in Rudny. However, they celebrate the New Year just like we celebrate Christmas. They put up a tree and decorate it with lights and toys and ornaments. Like here, family and friends exchange gifts. Alina said she doesn't really have a wish list. "I have everything I need," she said.
The celebration goes from Dec. 31 through Jan. 2. Revelers stay up all night, watch television and go out with friends. The weather there is similar to here with lots of snow and cold, so downtown Rudny has a labyrinth and houses of snow and ice with a tree in the middle for children to play. Santa Claus brings gifts for the children, but Alina said their Santa Claus is called Ded Moroz for which the Slavic translation is Father Frost.
Families make candies and cookies and special dishes made with meat, potatoes, egg and corn.
Alina said the holiday school break in Kazakhstan is one month long because the school is so far away from where the students live. She has one sister, Nagima, 19, who lives in Almaty where Alina attended boarding school.
Almaty is steeped in history and used to be the capital of Kazakhstan until the country gained its independence from Russia in 1991. The capital was moved to more centrally located Astana. Kazakhstan is neighbored by Russia and China. The country is rich in natural resources with major deposits of petroleum, natural gas, coal, iron ore, nickel, cobalt, copper, molybdenum, lead, gold and uranium. The geography consists of vast flat steppes — semi-arid grassy plains — extending from the Volga River in the west to the Altai Mountains in the east and from the plains of western Siberia in the north to oases and deserts of Central Asia in the south.
At home in Rudny, Alina's mother Roza is a teacher, and her father Talgat is an engineer.
Alina will finish one more year of school in Almaty when she returns.
Wet Mountain Tribune