WHITING | Not long ago, Angel Argandona knew one thing about the country of Estonia. And his knowledge wasn't going to put him at the No. 1 spot on the TV game show JEOPARDY.
"I knew it was located somewhere in Europe," said Argandona, a seventh-grade three-sport athlete at Whiting Middle School. But now, after taking part in his school's Christmas Around the World program, the youngster could soon be telling Alex Trebek, "Haid Joule," which means Merry Christmas in Estonian.
On Wednesday evening about 90 Whiting middle schoolers displayed their projects of the holiday season from cultures all around the world.
A crowd of 500 was expected at the event, which was held in the gym.
"I learned a lot," said Argandona, who plays football, basketball and baseball for the Oilers. "Their Christmas trees have mittens on them and not ornaments. And on Christmas day you can't leave your home. You have to spend the day with your family."
Former Highland all-conference football player Alex Evon is in his tenth year of teaching at WMS and leading this program. The seventh-grade boys basketball coach oversaw the learning experience, with a lot of help from the entire staff.
"It's great to see what this looks like now compared to when we started," Evon said. "This is a great time of year and the kids are excited. They take that and learn a lot of different things about places they don't know a lot about.
"It's neat to see how proud the kids are once they're done."
Students made poster boards with pertinent information on the culture they were assigned. Students, often with help from their family, made Christmas treats that smelled as good as they tasted.
"I made ginger snap cookies with my mom," Argandona said with a smile. "They are pretty good. Real good."
The packed gymnasium was a kaleidoscope of color, with a table of goodies and several tables filled with Christmas knowledge. With only two days left before Christmas break, spirits were high.
Whiting senior girls basketball player Citlali Lopez recalled her Christmas Around the World project several years ago. Her culture was Poland.
"Me and my mom made a cake," Lopez said. "We have our own family traditions. We always put a star on top of our tree. The whole family gets together and had a great time. My mom is a great cook. She makes tamales and ham."
Argandona's mother is also known for making great tamales. After a tough loss against Lake Station recently, coach Evon needed some comfort food with a little kick.
"Those were the best tamales I ever ate," Evon said. "I ate eight of them. That's how bad the loss was."
Many cultures on the planet have their own Christmas traditions unique to the people and climate. Evon knows hundreds of them by now, but one stands out.
His sister-in-law is from Hiroshima, Japan. Christmas is a holiday there, but without the religious significance of the West. Still, the Japanese have a holiday tradition, Evon said.
"They eat (Kentucky Fried Chicken) on Christmas day," Evon said. "It seems kind of crazy but that's what a lot of them do."
First-year middle school principal Kevin Spitler arrived in Northwest Indiana from Princeton, a community outside of Evansville whose boys basketball team went undefeated and won the 2009 Class 3A state championship.
Spitler took in the multicultural flavor of his new environs.
"I'm fascinated with the different cultures and what they do during the holiday season," Spitler said. "The kids worked hard to learn and put on a great event. I've only been here one semester but I'm proud of this tradition and want to see it for many years to come."