Snow, nightlife, and shopping. Those are indeed the best elements for this holiday season. But that’s just Christmas from the outside. Christmas from the inside is a whole other story, and let me tell you about it.

Hiba (second row) at her church’s Christmas concert.

To begin, Christmas doesn’t start on the 24th as Christmas Eve. It actually starts on the first of December when all the family comes together to do the cleaning and the decorating, which welcomes the season. The warmth of red and the energy of green is now filling our house . The season comes with a jolly sound. Christmas songs are the best to hear, but they sound even better when you sing them (even if your voice is not the best).

After eating so many cookies, mom said, “It is time to build some muscles – we’re going shopping.” Christmas is approaching, and that definitely means it is shopping time. I had a whole family and many new friends to wrap gifts for. It wasn’t a competition, but I know I won the title of Slowest Gift Wrapper.

Hiba with her friends after they surprised her with her first ‘Friendsmas.’

Speaking of friends, the basketball team and I turned our last day of practice into an ice cream party. To my surprise, my friends had turned this into my Christmas party. It was so kind of them to do such a thing. That day was my first Christmas ever too!! I won’t forget their reactions when they got their gifts.

Now, it is almost Christmas Day and the tree is stuffed with gifts. Everyone is home and ready for the biggest day. After eating pancakes the next morning, everyone is in the living room and it is time to open presents. This is what Christmas looks like from the outside – gifts, family and food, but the real spirit of Christmas is so much more.

When talking about her family, Hiba said, “I came her as an only child. Now I have 11 brothers and sisters and more family than I can imagine.”

It’s when granny spoils the surprise, but dad keeps acting like he doesn’t know about what he is getting for Christmas. It’s when mom is hoping all her kids make it home for Christmas Eve traditions. It’s dad wrapping his gifts with his underwear and everyone knowing my sister and I will never stop arguing but still manage to make mom and dad the best gift we can come up with.

My name is Hiba Hakkour. I am an exchange student from Morocco spending a year in Iowa. This was my Christmas experience; tell me about yours.

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