Finding the holiday spirit through traditions

Draven Jackson

Staff Writer

Winter and the holiday season seem to just make the world a little bit louder, happier and brighter.

The joy spreads so far that you almost forget that finals are looming right around the corner. It’s hard to be completely stressed when all your favorite musicians are coming out with new holiday-themed albums and Hallmark starts its “Countdown to Christmas” movie marathon.

A significant part of the holidays has to be annual family traditions. The holiday season is full of exciting traditions, such as decorating your home, watching your favorite movie or making your grandma’s secret recipe for chocolate chip cookies.

In my house, my family and I spend Black Friday avoiding the violent crowds at Walmart by decking our house out in Christmas decorations. We drink apple cider and eat Hickory Farms sausage and cheese while we listen to Nat King Cole sing Christmas carols.

Every year, we always manage to have more decorations than the last. My sister still fights with me about who gets to hang the cuter ornaments on the Christmas tree.

For Liz Ogden, a junior interpreter training major from Montgomery, the holiday spirit is found in musicals and “pecan fingers.”

“My family makes these cookies — they are called ‘Mexican wedding cakes’ —  but we make them homemade and call them ‘pecan fingers’ because instead of rolling them into a circle, we roll them into finger shapes,” Ogden said. “Then we always watch Christmas movies, but my favorite movie is ‘White Christmas,’ so I make sure we watch that at least twice.”

Ogden isn’t the only person who finds the holidays in food. Priya Menon, an associate professor of English, said she always associates December with a special cake she ate growing up.

“In Kerala (India), the food item that is associated with Christmas is this lovely cake called ‘plum cake,’” Menon said. “I still remember every year our friends and neighbors just sending so much cake, Christmas plum cake.

“I haven’t been able to find it anywhere else in the world except in Kerala. It’s a very special sort of a tradition, which is very rich and very high-calorie, no doubt about it.”

In my home, we also had a tradition when I was growing up that every year we would make cookies for my teachers. My mom and I — and later my sister — would make five or six types of unique cookie recipes, like lemon ricotta cookies.

We would have anywhere from 50 to 200 cookies, filling our house with the smells of baked goods. I was always very popular with my teachers around the holidays.

The holiday season isn’t just about food; there’s a sense of camaraderie and peacefulness that comes with the cold. It could be the snow or the lights, or maybe it has to do with the inescapability of the music that fills the air everywhere we go, but there’s something about the holidays that brings people together.

“(December is) a remarkable sort of setting because irrespective of what religion you follow, there is this beautiful tradition of partaking in each other’s festivities and joys,” Menon said. “Whether you are religious at all, it is time for celebration.

“It doesn’t matter as to whether you are a Christian or a Muslim or a Parsi or Hindu or a Buddhist or whether you follow any religion at all. It is just a time for celebration … When we moved to the United States, too, it’s been similar — friends always inviting us over for lunch. I’ve never felt out of context.”

The holidays have a kind of sadness to them, too; sometimes, as we grow older and move away to start our own lives, we can lose the traditions we made in our childhood. My mom and my sister have our annual cookie extravaganza without me now because I live and work in Troy, which is three hours away from my hometown, so I can’t go home as frequently anymore.

Don’t worry too much, though — as old traditions leave, new ones find their way.

Maybe your new tradition is the annual dinner you eat with your friends to cut the stress of studying for finals. Maybe it’s staying in and watching stop-motion animation films about Rudolph and Santa with your cats.

No matter how you decide to spend your winter months, the spirit of the holidays will find a way.

Happy holidays, everyone.

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