Winter Holidays 2020 (COVID-19 Edition)
December 23, 2020
As the holiday season progresses, aside from the unconventional methods of celebrating winter holidays nationwide, many of East’s students will also find themselves in situations ranging from distanced zoom calls with family members to sending gifts overseas.
Though many reminisce on the traditions that were especially unique to them, this year they hope to seek positivity in this becomingly usual, yet unideal circumstance.
We hope that through reading these student accounts you will be able to relate with peers who come with different anticipations in this year’s holiday season. Additionally, we hope to enrich your knowledge and interest in various traditions and celebrations during this time of year that takes place internationally.
Although it may be a common fact that Christmas celebrates Jesus’ birth, historians have delved into its past and find its origins questionable. Originally, Easter was the only highly celebrated Christian holiday, but Christmas took over about 500 years later. The end of the year consisted of the mass slaughtering of cattle due to a lack of food and Saturnalia, which was a celebration of Saturn, the Roman god of agriculture. By combining these festivals together, Pope Julius I chose December 25 as the birth of Jesus, and that day is now full of celebration, giving, and family.
At the end of the fourth century B.C.E, the Greeks started ruling over Northern African and Western Asia. Many Jews who lived in this region resisted Greek rule and instead, practiced their religious traditions in secrecy. They were called Maccabees after Judah the Maccabbee. After the Greeks destroyed the Second Temple, Judah relied on his people to clean the Second Temple and light its menorah. A menorah is a candelabra with eight branches and a ninth one either to the side or in the middle. The Maccabees lit the menorah, but only with enough olive oil to light for one day. However, in what is considered a miracle, the menorah lit for eight days and a new holiday was born.
Although the current celebration of New Years cannot not be accurately traced back to a certain time in history, some of the earliest recorded celebrations were 4,000 years ago in Babylon. The Babylonians, in March, celebrated the vertical equinox and welcomed in the light after the season of darkness. Pope Gregory XIII reestablished January 1 as New Year’s Day in 1582.
Three Kings Day
This day is considered the truly last day of Christmas for the truly religious Christians. This holiday, also known as the Epiphany, marks the adoration of Jesus by the three Kings. The three kings are also referred to as the three wise men. According to a Gospel, the men found the child by following a star across the desert for twelve days to Bethlehem. The Epiphany is celebrated as the liturgical time following Christmas.
Kwanzaa is not a religious holiday, but rather an African American and black cultural holiday. It was founded by Maulana Karenga during the civil rights movement. It celebrates unity among their community in order to give well wishes to their friends and family. Kwanzaa has seven nights, each one representing a pillar of black and African American values. These values are Umoja, Kujichagulia, Ujima, Ujamaa, Nia, Kuumba, and Imani. Each of these words are Swahili. The values serve as the community’s ideals and upholdings to celebrate during Kwanzaa.
My Christmas Tradition
A holiday season that would have been filled with cooking, a crowded house, and chaos unfortunately won’t be happening for my family this year. Though many events will be taking their place, a lot of my family traditions have been canceled this year.
For the past 16 years of my life, every Christmas, my family and I would drive to Maryland to spend time with my grandparents. My cousins from New York would meet us there early in the morning and we would spend the whole day cooking. The dull Christmas tree in my grandparent’s living room would soon be tricked out with lights and ornaments. After eating together, my cousins and I would exchange presents. Lucky for me, I have 5 cousins on my mom’s side of the family so I never leave Christmas day empty-handed. Sometimes, if time permits, I will spend the night there. If not, my parents and I head back home very late in the evening.
Another yearly occurrence of ours is going to church for the Christmas Eve Service. My parents and I would normally attend service and watch all the Christmas performances that the church prepared for our congregation. We would end the night off by lighting candles and singing a song all together.
However, drastic changes have now altered this yearly routine for my family. This year for Christmas, instead of driving 3 hours to visit my grandparents, my parents and I will be staying home. The Christmas Eve Service will be held online through a Youtube live stream and instead of simply handing my cousins their presents, I will be sending them to them through the mail. Although the holiday season will be much quieter than usual, I hope that it is still filled with the same amount of love and joy that it brings to us and our community every year
Reflecting on Christmas
Christmas is my favorite time of year. I love the music, lights, and smell of pine and nutmeg. I love cozying up on the couch and watching movies, and of course having hot chocolate while I do so. Despite all this, my favorite thing about Christmas is seeing my family. I love being in a house full of people laughing and talking. It’s such a nice feeling to be surrounded by loved ones enjoying each others’ company. In years past, we’ve played games, watched movies, opened gifts, cooked, and ate, but this year everything is going to look different. This year, I’ll be spending the holidays with only my parents and younger brother. I feel that this year hasn’t felt like the holidays, let alone anything at all, to be honest.
My family has hosted Christmas Eve as long as I can remember. My aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents on my dad’s side all come over for a party. My cousins and I play games like Uno and Sorry, but my personal favorite is Twister. Somehow, we all end up on top of eachother laughing hysterically by the third round, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. To eat, we have mini hotdogs, Chick-fil-a, chips and dip, mini meatballs, punch, soda, and pretty much any other appetizer you can think of. I love standing in the kitchen and getting the chance to talk to my family that I don’t see often. It’s fun to catch up with them and compare our years. Later on in the night everyone exchanges gifts as well as tons of hugs and thank-yous. The relatives then start to file out and the day concludes.
On Christmas day, I go to my aunt’s house to visit my mom’s side of the family. I
see a lot of my relatives that I don’t usually see during the year. We all spend time catching up, and then my cousins and I escape to the basement to watch movies and listen to music. My aunt makes a really nice Christmas dinner consisting of ham, macaroni and cheese, rolls, salad, potatoes, broccoli, and pineapple bake. Although I can’t offer my opinion on the adult table, the kids table is a lot of fun. After dinner, we are presented with an array of desserts that quickly disappears. The meal is followed by gift-giving, and once again, hugs and thank-yous are exchanged.
Every year after leaving my aunt’s, I have this bittersweet feeling. I am surely grateful that the holiday was spent with friends and family, but sorrowful that I have to wait a year to do it again. Despite the fact my family won’t be celebrating Christmas like we usually do, I’m also excited for a bit of a change. My family has been contemplating doing dinner ourselves or hosting our family一after quarantining of course. Despite the current situation, I believe it isn’t permanent and there is also next year to think about. From my family to yours, I hope your holiday season is wonderful. I hope you get the chance to see your loved ones, whether that’s in person or over the phone.
Perspective on Christmas During the Global Pandemic
Growing up, as soon as my family finished roasting our signature turkey for Thanksgiving, our minds began to drift toward the holidays. Only about a month away from Christmas, we normally start organizing events and contacting family members to join us in our Christmas traditions. The ebullience in the Christmas spirit encourages my cousins, aunts, and uncles to travel from Canada, India, across the United States, and in general, places to enjoy the highly anticipated holiday.
However, in 2020 the highly contagious coronavirus compels us to take precautions. Accordingly, my family’s previous arrangements must be altered to adapt to pandemic-induced circumstances.
Customarily, with about seven other families, we participate in caroling at Christmas time. Specifically, last year we attended the ‘Atria Senior Living’ center, an assisted living facility in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Our families sang carols for the senior citizens in an effort to brighten their spirits. Also, various members of our merry group presented the senior citizens with instrumental music, playing the piano, guitar, and violin to supplement the carols.
Aside from caroling to spread the joy of the Christmas spirit, we also use the holiday to slide into a decorating frenzy. Every year, we have cousins and friends aid in decorating our Christmas tree, setting up our model nativity scene inside our house, putting up wreaths on every door we can find, and of course, adorning the outside of the house with lights. Along with the dedication of a couple of days to decorate, we also invite families over to bake and decorate Christmas cookies, make gingerbread houses, and participate in ‘Secret Santa,’ where each person receives a gift while keeping the identity of the giver a ‘secret.’ This year, in adherence to social distancing guidelines, we did multiple Zoom calls with family and friends where we still had the Christmas music and spirit, but of course, had to decorate and participate in the rest of the activities solely as a family. We use Zoom as a platform to connect with our family and friends during this distinctive holiday season, and after months of quarantine, we learned to adapt to this new take on the holidays.
Though I had my doubts about the virus still spreading so rampantly in December, it’s clear that as we now approach the holidays there is no real hope for the normalcy of inviting large groups of friends or family members to celebrate. Although the holidays are different this year, we will take necessary social-distancing precautions in order to stay safe during this magical time of year.
Celebrating this year’s Hanukkah
This year, my family celebrated Hanukkah similarly to how we always celebrate. Each night we light the menorah and play dreidel. Also, every night a person in my family gives gifts to everyone. My parents always give us gifts on the first night and then the rest of the week my siblings and I each give gifts one night to all members of the family. The only difference this year is that my family is not hosting a Hanukkah party with our extended family like we usually do. One of our family friends is still having a Hanukkah party but it is over Zoom.
Also, instead of getting individualized gifts for my parents, my siblings and I decided to get them a present from all of us. We decided to get them a fire pit because we thought it would be a great gift. This way, we can have people over in our backyard, during the winter season, without freezing.
Hanukkah was especially memorable this year because it was nice to spend time with my family during the week and appreciate a celebratory holiday with them. It made me feel fortunate to celebrate with my family near and far! My favorite night of Hanukkah was the fifth night because that night we lit candles with all of my mom’s side of the family. It was nice to still keep one of our traditions, even if we could not be with our family in person like we usually would be. It was as good as it could get during this holiday season and I am happy we did it.
Although this holiday season is unusual, and it is disappointing that we can not gather with large groups of family members and friends, there are still many ways to make it enjoyable.
Appreciating Hanukkah During the Pandemic
As the winter season settles in, I prepare myself for what I call the “eight crazy nights” of my yearly family bonding—Hanukkah. The Festival of Lights centers around a group of Jews in Syria who fought back against their religious persecution, thus, each year my family and I remember the miracle by lighting our Hanukiah, commemorating the short supply of oil which lasted eight days and eight nights for our Jewish ancestors over 2,000 years ago.
Although we celebrate the holiday for 8 days, Night One has a special meaning to my family: it’s the night that we go all out for our celebration. After the sun sets and before lighting our Hanukkah menorah on the first night, we say a prayer to bless God for enabling us to reach this season. Once the shamash is lit and the furthest candle to the right is ablaze, it is most likely that the fire alarm will go off- not because the Hanukiah’s candles are gradually melting as the fun night comes to an end- but because of the fryer on the stove boiling on full heat. To commemorate the miracle of the tiny amount of oil transcending expectations to light the holy menorah, we eat a lot of food that’s been fried in oil. My favorite, of course, latkes (sort of like a Jewish hashbrown) and sufganiyot (delicious jelly donuts).
As the nights go by, I appreciate being able to celebrate the Jewish holidays. However, this year my nightly Hanukkah celebrations were limited to my close family and connecting with others on Zoom to light the menorah, exchange presents, and sing the Hanukkah prayers together. In years past, I have celebrated the holiday with parties at my cousins’ house, polyanas gifting games, praying in front of the kotel in Israel, and even with glorious and oily feasts that stuff my stomach full for hours and bloat my skin with oily red pimples.
With debates sparking about the best way to enjoy latkes- applesauce, sour cream, jelly or jam, ketchup, or plain, the house adorned in fresh colors of Hanukkah blue, the dreidels spinning all over the living room in a foolhardy manner, or even the wrapping paper and gelt (chocolate coins) tinfoil scraps that overflow the Kitchen recycling bin, my family comes together to bond over Maccabees’ victory and celebrate our family’s Jewish identity– a family staple.
Looking in the icey living room window, neighbors may only see the traditional rusted silver Hanukkiah with blue and white candles sitting on a wooden stool to show off our faint Judaic pride. However, deeper inside my home runs the laughter characterized by the competitive Hanukkah games, the Bluetooth speaker blasting Holiday songs, and the smell of the grated potatoes and onions that my sister has fried till golden. Even though my celebration of the Festival of Lights may not have been so grand this year, I still remembered the true meaning of Hanukkah- dedication to my inner faith and my family.
Looking Forwards to the New Year
The year 2020 has truly been one that most will remember. For some, it can easily be referred to as being the worst year thus far. The traditional New Year’s Eve celebration will have to take place at home. For some, this time of year can be remembered by hosting parties or going to major cities like New York to celebrate with family and friends. Those plans including crowd-related events will have to be wiped away from the to-do list of this year. The best thing that could be done this year is to bring the New Year’s Eve spirit into our homes. We will give bigger and better gifts to make up for the gifts we can not physically hand to our loved ones.
As a family, we will stay home and play as many board games as we have available at home. Along with that, we will watch movies we have missed, and light up the fireplace to make some s’mores. We will definitely not be able to welcome the new year with friends and family as we did before the year 2020 struck, but that should not or will not discourage anyone, since times like this will only push society forward towards a stronger path.
Although we will not be experiencing the ideal New Year’s celebration this year, we have to make the best of it as much as we can. It has not been the easiest year for anyone, that is why I will mainly wish for a better year. A year that will bring hope for my family and the rest of the world, where we will face no health problems related to COVID-19.
Everyone is looking for a better year, for the normality of our lives to return. We should enter the year knowing that even with the vaccine, our lives will not return to the way it was pre-COVID-19, since this global topic is one that everyone is talking about with uncertainty. However, regardless of how many people thought of 2020, we as a community should try to find the positive in a time where some have even grown from it. After all, there is only one year of 2020 and we should all find something positive we can attach to it.
My Korean New Year’s Day Celebration
“새해 복 많이 받으세요!” (Happy New Year!)
It’s a phrase heard all around Korean households on New Year’s day. And Koreans say it to wish others a happy new year. New Year’s day for my family is a slight variation of Seollal (Korean New Year) and the modernized aspects of New Year’s Day. In my opinion, it’s the best of both worlds. Each year is the same: respecting elders, visiting family, and lots of food and fun.
We begin the day by visiting our grandparents’ house. While it is now an option in our household to wear traditional clothing, my grandparents consistently stick by it. We say our greetings and begin to filter into the dining room. Our family gathers around the table and eats 떡국 (tteokguk), a rice cake soup that is usually eaten during the Korean New Year. Alongside traditional dishes, there is always soda on the side.
After eating our fill, we gather around the living room, and my grandparents sit in the front of the room. It’s time for 세배 (sebae), which is honoring our elders by kneeling and bowing. We wish our elders a happy New Year and lots of luck in the upcoming year. In return, the elders give their wishes and 세뱃돈 (sebaetdon), or money!
We also play a game of 윷놀이 (yutnori), which is a Korean board game. Our teams are split into girls vs boys. If your team loses a game of yutnori, your team has to use the money to pay for pizza. Like most board games, the goal of 윷놀이 (yutnori) is to get all of your players to the end. To move, you throw four sticks that act as dice. You can create misfortune for the other team by capturing their players, which causes them to go back to the start. For our family, it’s the loudest part of New Year’s. After all, our money is on the line.
There is no predicting 윷놀이 (yutnori), just as no one can predict what will happen in the new year. I have my best wishes, and for 2021, we can think of this as a start for new goals. So this year, when I sit back and enjoy my pizza, you can bet my resolution is hoping for the return of my old lifestyle. So count the seconds, cherish the memories, and say goodbye to 2020!
Celebrations of Three Kings’ Day
Epiphany is often known in the United States to be a Christian holiday commemorating the Three Kings’ visit to Jesus while is also known as the day that Jesus was baptized. In Hispanic, Latin, and Spanish cultures, el Día de Reyes is a culturally expansive holiday which commemorates these Three Kings/ Wise men: Melchor, Gaspar, and Balthazar.
For Ariana Santiago Ramos (‘22), who has partaken in traditions as a child living in Puerto Rico, remembers this as a popular familial and cultural holiday. Additionally, Ramos remembers in particular, the day-long beach parties in Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico, celebrating her community’s own Día de Reyes.
Ramos says that in Puerto Rico, it is common for children to leave their shoes outside, or cut grass and put it in shoeboxes so that the Three Kings’ camels will reach their destination and ultimately leave a “trail of grass”, ultimately, leading to their gifts.
Additionally, she says that pre-COVID-19, her family often went to Puerto Rico during this time of year, to also celebrate with her cousins and grandparents. Despite the current circumstances, however, her family is planning to celebrate together: having a zoom, family meal, and exchanging gifts overseas.
Though there is clear unity in celebration throughout Spanish-speaking countries, the food in countries throughout both Central and Latin America, as well as the Caribbean Islands is different.
“Every [culture] eats their own cuisine… for example, my Dominican friends would eat foods like Mangú instead of rice, beans, and pork that [our family] eats, while some of my Mexican friends eat, for example, Tamales de Frijoles”, says Ramos.
Each country tends to eat its traditional/original foods to celebrate while often cooking these dishes for the entire family, and every year, it unifies people both religiously and culturally.
“For me, though Christmas is an [enjoyable time], I feel that I have a deeper connection with Three Kings’ day because it [pertains] to my [own] culture and it seems that it’s more of a get-together rather than just [exchanging] presents”, said Ramos.
Kwanzaa in 2020
Kwanzaa celebrated from December 26 to January 1, is a national African American holiday that revisits its history, not too long ago unlike most other winter holidays we know. Rather, this holiday seeks to culturally and historically unite the African American community stemming from events occurring in the 1900s.
Proposed by Dr. Maulana Karenga, Kwanzaa was first celebrated after the Watts Rebellion in the 1960s. This event included a series of riots that broke out between Los Angeles residents and police officers as they continued to condemn police brutality.
In order to restore unity within his own black community as a response to violence, civil unrest, and resulting deaths, Karenga proposed a cultural revolution rather than a violent approach after these riots. Ultimately, this 7-day observation is still celebrated today, and many popular black figures in the United States observe it, like Oprah Winfrey and Maya Angelou.
Although not as popular as it once was in the mid-late 90s, it was created as an effort to highlight unity while at the same time form a larger community as the black power movement progressed.
Nowadays, families celebrating Kwanzaa do so in their own way. Some wear traditional African clothing, decorate their homes, and eat traditional foods. In more recent years, Non- African Americans have also come to celebrate Kwanzaa. Nonetheless, there are seven major principles that are highlighted throughout the seven days: Umoja (unity), Kujichagulia (Self-Determination/Discipline), Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility, Ujamaa (unified economics, prosperity, and mutual success), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity), and Imani (Faith).
Pre-COVID, the black community would attend parades and events in Los Angeles, gathering the black community with feasting, dancing, and singing through the streets. Now, it is a little bit different. Though the ambiance will definitely be different, there are still ways that people around the country can celebrate. As suggested by the Los Angeles Times, there are a few different ways to celebrate including a virtual celebration, attending a black film festival, or even running a 5K virtual race.
To those celebrating Kwanzaa this year, though the usual traditions will not take place, there are still ways to commemorate this both cultural and historic annual celebration. May you have a joyous Kwanzaa, filled with lights, happiness, and unity.