By Ed Brock

A white Christmas would truly be unexpected in Mariela Levy's native land of Uruguay.

"In my country Christmas is in the summer," said Levy. "Everybody parties outside because it's really hot."

After seven years of winter-time Christmases, Levy, a resident of Ellenwood has adjusted just as other immigrants who now live in or around Clayton County have had to adjust to the cultural onslaught that is Christmas.

When Shahir Raslan came to America from Syria 20 years ago he found something about the holiday to which he could relate.

"The funny part is when you look in people's yards you see Arabs," Raslan said. "My first impression was they're celebrating my arrival."

The concept of Christmas has even circled the globe to be celebrated in Asia, but in a different, less illuminated way.

"In Japan we don't decorate our houses for Christmas," said Naoko Sheriff of Jonesboro who moved to America in 1999.

M.A. Patel, a leading member of the Shakti Mandir Hindu temple in Lake City, has been in America since 1985 and like many Hindus he has blended Christmas into his own life.

"It's a festive celebration," Patel said.

For Levy the holiday is familiar even if the manner in which it is celebrated differs.

In Uruguay the celebration begins on Christmas Eve, usually after 9 p.m. when the family gathers for a feast.

"We start eating dinner around 10 or 11 o'clock," Levy said.

At midnight Uruguayans usher in Christmas with fireworks, much like New Year's Eve in America, and then the presents are opened.

The holiday is just as commercial in Uruguay as it is in America, Levy said, with many families running up their credit cards to buy presents.

Then comes Christmas Day.

"On the 25th everybody wakes up a little late," Levy said. "Then when everybody wakes up we start it over again."

Often in America the same traditions are maintained in Hispanic neighborhoods, Levy said, even down to the barbecues despite the cold.

Sheriff, 29, met her husband, Clayton County Police officer Blake Sheriff while he was stationed in Japan with the U.S. military. She said the Japanese people celebrate New Year's Day more than Christmas and at that time they decorate their houses by hanging a bamboo ornament at their front door. Since she's been living in America, however, Sheriff has become especially fond of Christmas trees.

"I like the way people have the little ornaments that represent their memories," Sheriff said.

Last year the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, followed by the three days of the Christmas-like celebration Eid al-Fitr, Christmas and Hanukkah all occurred at almost the same time, Raslan said.

"It was like 270 million people celebrated at the same time," said Raslan who lives in Fayetteville but is a leading member of the Masjid Al-Ihsaan mosque in Riverdale.

This year is different, however, because of the still flat economy, recent threats of terrorist attack and the war in Iraq that has so many service people overseas.

"I really feel for them. It's not easy for their kids to not have them," Raslan said.

But there is always something to celebrate, Raslan said, such as America's safety and tolerance.

"Muslims and Christians should recognize the holiday by recognizing that Jesus, peace be upon him, was sent by God as a man of peace," Raslan said.

Raslan said that, although Christmas is a Christian holiday, he feels like he is part of the holiday season and likes to share that celebration with his neighbors. Patel also said that many Hindus in America celebrate Christmas in the secular sense.

"Our children go to all American schools here and they want to know why we're not in it. They want to know what their presents are," Patel said.

So he has a Christmas tree in his home and he buys presents for his children. Next year the Shakti Mandir temple hopes to have an Indian-style celebration of Christmas at their newly built Sumant Center on Huie Road.

"It would be like our church celebrating Christmas with our Christian American friends," Patel said.