Down Home

The SLOCA Blog

SLOCA Families’ Holiday Traditions

December 20th, 2017

{photo by Darren Coleshill}

Greetings! We hope you are thoroughly enjoying the holiday season and the break from school so far. As promised, today we are going to share the responses from our Holiday Traditions blog giveaway contest!

But first we want to announce the winner of our random drawing: Congratulations to Nancy Anastasia – you’ve won a Coffee Card from the SLOCA store! Look for your card in your family file when we return to school in January, and enjoy all that delicious coffee.

Down Home would like to thank everyone who participated. The entries were so fun to read! We love hearing from our families and want to continue to build community in this way by getting to know more about one another. In that spirit, below are the responses we received. Read on to hear some of the wonderful and interesting ways various SLOCA families either grew up celebrating, or celebrate the holidays today:


Joy Newman, Track A:

Growing up, my parents always gave us an ornament at Thanksgiving. We have continued the tradition and our kids love it! It's so fun to decorate the tree each year and see the ornaments from my childhood and hear the kids get excited as they remember each of their own.


Michele Bruntz, Track A:

We drive around looking at Christmas lights.


Maureen Nibecker, Track B:

We started when the kids were just born collecting fun Christmas books that we keep in a basket which only comes out during December.  We also started a few years ago a kindness box, which family members can deposit special kindnesses they have seen or experienced in December.  And lastly, we celebrate Christmas with the Jesse Tree, a special tradition that highlights stories throughout the Bible about Jesus.


Philippine Christmas parols
{photo by gigi_nyc on flickr /CC BY-NC-ND 2.0}

Cheryl McCabe, Track B:

I was born and raised in the Philippines and we are known for celebrating Christmas as early as September! You'll begin hearing Christmas carols being played in shopping malls, Christmas decorations like "parols" begin to emerge and just a general excitement in the air. Christmas officially begins about halfway into December when we begin going to a daily mass with the last mass being on Christmas Day. We have lots of traditions but my two most favorites are: Christmas Eve and Noche Buena. Most people stay awake on Christmas Eve into Christmas Day! On Christmas Eve, we all go to church in the evening to hear the last "simbang gabi" or the Christmas Eve mass and then it is followed by a midnight feast, called Noche Buena. Noche Buena is a huge open house where a bountiful feast is laid out on the table and family/friends/neighbors basically just drop in unannounced throughout the night to wish everyone a Merry Christmas! We usually have several dishes out including lechon (roasted pig), ham, fruit salad, bibingka/puto bumbong (rice cakes) and other types of sweets, and of course, steamed rice. Aaah...writing about this brings back such fun memories! Maligayang Pasko (Happy Christmas)!


Jeannett Gibson, Track A:

Our family loves Christmas, both for the spiritual meaning, but also for the kitsch.  When it comes to Christmas, we have absolutely NO CHILL.  My husband insists on being a 2017 version of Clark Griswold, and bedecks our home in enough twinkle lights to be seen from space.  This year, the count is 20,000 lights (4000 watts!  Thank you solar power!)... nevermind that we live at the dead end of a private street with only three neighbors and a sign at the bottom of the road that says "No trespassing.”  The tree must always be freshly cut, and as large as our living room will allow, watched over by none other than Ms. Tinkerbell herself.  There's a gingerbread village and embroidered stockings, bells, and wreaths, and Christmas music on the surround sound for hours a day.  But there is also a collection of nativities I've gathered from around the globe (from Thailand to Mexico to Germany to Estonia), and on December 1st, we begin our beloved Jesse Advent tradition.  While dad is emptying his staple gun into our eaves, I'm shopping with an almost obsessive need to be completely done by December 1st.  From shopping, to wrapping, to stocking stuffers collated by recipient, I do not buy or wrap a single thing after November 30th.  Why?  Because all of that kitsch, and all of that reveling in His glory takes time, and I want to savor every moment I can during the month of December.  December is for Luke Chapter 2, baking cookies, rolling Pioneer Woman cinnamon rolls, watching Elf 56 times, and sipping cocoa in front of the fire.  December is for resting in His goodness under the magical glow of teeny lights on the tree.  December is for finishing the year well.


Ji Wei, Track A:

Growing up in Australia, the holidays signaled the end of school for the year and the start of summer! We usually celebrated Christmas Day by having fresh seafood from the seafood market that would stay open for 72 hours (to keep up with all the demand). My mother was not fond of heating up the kitchen, but Australians also had some English traditions of Christmas pudding and fruitcake. The afternoon was spent staying out of the heat in air conditioning or heading to the beach in the early evening. The next day, Boxing Day, was also a public holiday and named for when households would give gifts to the milkman, the postman, and in the old, old days, the poor guy that came to empty out the outhouse! Our Boxing Day was usually spent watching the cricket or if it was really hot, heading to the movies to watch the premiere of the latest Lord of the Rings or James Bond movies. 

We have created our own traditions in my family today. I may cook a seafood dish sometimes, but as my parents were immigrants to Australia and didn't have any traditions of their own I felt like I had a clean slate when it came to my own family. Every other year or so we will have Christmas over there and I honestly enjoy relaxing without the rush of baking and cooking! 


Nancy Anastasia, Track B:

Besides the traditional drive and look at the lights, ugly sweater party, hot cocoa as often and seasonal movies every weekend... we purpose to be intentional in the giving of our time and spread love during this season to others and create a loving atmosphere in our home. The last Friday of November we spend an evening taking down fall decor and that night when the kids are asleep the parents decorate. The kiddos wake up to twinkling lights, a cozy living room and a festive breakfast table with Daddy's eggnog French toast! That first weekend of December we stay home and set the pace for the season. We plan our family's theme: this year it's Create, which translates to crafts, cookie baking, and mess making etc. We also make our winter fun list (think bucket list) which includes a separate food list. Food is one our family's love language and we do much centered around food, what can I say when we're Mex-Italians!

Example of RAOK bags for kids, from See Vanessa Craft}

We plan our RAOK (random acts of kindness) and the kids make a few RAOK snack packages with notes that say "you are loved or seen" for our transient community. We donate to the food bank and fishes and loaves. And my favorite is fulfilling the Christmas wish lists for two local foster kiddos same age as ours. As our kiddos have gotten older it's been amazing to have them look forward to this and become aware of the abundance in our lives and embrace giving wholeheartedly.

Our way of celebrating is slightly unconventional. It's a mixture of a small house, a blend of two cultures and our belief in being purposeful and a tad off beat. We have never done a tree, Santa, the naughty or nice list, elf on the shelf or more than 2 gifts for our kids. Disclaimer. We don't think it's the right or perfect way, it's what works for us. Yet this year we are doing quite a few more gifts and our kids have no idea! We always discuss our family's way, get a sense of how they feel and strongly encourage our kids to respect, learn how others celebrate by reading folklore and tales of the many traditions around the world. Our fave is our trip to my folks' in LA for a long weekend. The kiddos make tamales with grandma just like I did growing up and they hear the stories of Mexico and the tales of Rabbit and Coyote that have been passed on through generations. The weekend is loud and colorful and the things my kids verbalize they look forward to are cousins, ice skating and the family white elephant exchange that everyone participates in!


Jill Richert, Track A:

We have a special meal where different dishes represent various participants in the Nativity story. (Dessert is always a birthday cake for Jesus!)


Julie Smith, Track A:

From age 2 - 11 the Elf on the Shelf would appear December 1st and leave daily notes & or small gifts inside the advent house.  The elf didn't come this year because my daughter can no longer hear the Christmas bell :(   When she was about 8, we were out of town for the week arriving back home on the 1st.  She was so excited to get the advent house out from under the house and see what the first note was - that took some serious diversion and scrambling (as the elf always wrote in a particular red font).  Like the Elf on the Shelf tradition, I have found that our family traditions continue to ebb and flow with the changing needs of our family and our extended family. 


Erin Augustine, Track B:

Our family celebrates Christmas, and one of our favorite traditions that I have carried on from my childhood is setting part of a day aside during the week leading up to Christmas to go visit the residents at a nearby retirement home. We share cookies, hot cocoa, homemade cards, and conversation. The gift of our time means so much to the residents, and the kids see how it really brightens everyone’s day. Another favorite tradition is going to the beach on the day of Christmas Eve to make a sand-man. We are so lucky to live on the Central Coast, and while I like the idea of a white Christmas, I’m so grateful for our sunny day at the beach Christmas.


Jessica Harper, Track B:

We always do the Angel Tree and/or Toys for Tots where we buy gifts for children in need. We also do a lot of family activities - decorating the Christmas tree, baking Christmas cookies, doing Christmas crafts, and attending community events.


Corin Koren, Track A Primary teacher:

As many of you already know, my family is Jewish, so while many of you are putting up your trees and singing songs about Santa, we are getting out our menorahs and spinning our dreidels!  Chanukah (which can be spelled Hanukah, Channukkah, Hannukah, etc...) is a celebration of the miracle of lights.  The roots of Chanukah actual fit in perfectly with our history this year, as the holiday stems from the time of ancients.  In the year 168 B.C.E., the Syrian tyrant Antiochus Epiphanes sent his soldiers to Jerusalem. The Syrians desecrated the Temple, the holiest place for Jews at that time.  Antiochus also abolished Judaism, outlawing the observance of Shabbat and the Festivals, as well as circumcision.  Altars and idols were set up for the worship of Greek gods and he offered Jews two options:  conversion or death.

On the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev in 168 B.C.E., the Temple was renamed for the Greek god Zeus. A resistance movement— led by a priestly family known as the Hasmoneans, or Maccabees—developed against the cruelty of Antiochus. The head of the family was Mattathias, an elderly man.  His son, Judah, became the chief strategist and military leader of the resistance. Though outnumbered, Judah Maccabee and his fighters miraculously won two major battles, routing the Syrians decisively. 

According to the legend, when the Maccabees entered the Temple and began to reclaim it from the Greeks, they immediately relit the ner tamid (eternal light)which burned constantly in the Temple and has a parallel in our synagogues to this day. In the Temple, they found a single jar of oil, which was sufficient for only one day. The messenger who was sent to secure additional oil took eight days to complete his mission, and miraculously, the single jar of oil continued to burn until his return. The rabbis of the Talmud attributed the eight days of Hanukkah to the miracle of this single jar of oil.  (Information taken from this website).

Chanukah is typically celebrated by lighting a menorah (candle holder), one candle for each night and a helper candle.  Candle lighting is then followed by singing, dancing, playing, and/or eating.  We eat latkes (fried potato pancakes) and sufganiot (jelly-filled doughnuts) because of the burning oil.  One of my kids’ favorite parts of Chanukah is playing dreidel - a spinning top with Hebrew letters on it.  The letters stand for "a Great Miracle Happened There.”  The game is played with gold chocolate coins, called gelt, and can have a very delicious outcome!  For me, Chanukah is a time of light during the dark winter months.  It brings family together and celebrates freedom.  Today, Chanukah represents much more than just freedom of religion, but of human rights in general.  I love that the story teaches us to stand up for what is right and to believe in miracles.  May your winter holidays be full of family, light, and miracles!! 


Finally, I (Jenny) will share one quick tradition I grew up with and continue to this day: every year on Christmas Eve my mom would read the story “Mr. Edwards Meets Santa Claus” from Little House on the Prairie. One year she even put the exact same items in our stockings as Mary and Laura received in their stockings in the story: a tin cup, a long stick of peppermint candy, a little heart-shaped cake sprinkled with white sugar, and a bright shiny new penny! (We had a good laugh about this.) As we got older we would often tease her about this tradition or act like we didn’t want to hear this “kid” story again, but she always insisted. And now I read it to my kids every Christmas Eve, even if they protest.


Thank you again for sharing these traditions and memories with us, everyone! We wish you joy as you treasure all these special holiday moments with your loved ones.

 
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