Celebrating the holidays around the East community

Giana Maccarella, Eastside Staff

“It really is the most wonderful time of year, regardless of what holiday you celebrate.” said Julia Orel (‘20). Orel is a Conservative Jew who celebrates all of the Jewish holidays throughout the year, including Hanukkah during this time of year. Hanukkah is the Jewish festival of lights.

“Hanukkah is when the Romans had destroyed the temple and the Jews were only left with oil,” said Orel . “They thought the oil would only last one night but it ended up lasting for eight and that’s why Hanukkah is celebrated for eight nights.”

The Hanukkah tradition typically includes giving presents and lighting one candle of the menorah each night. Although that’s the typical tradition each person has individual family traditions.

For example the Orel family purchases new menorah’s each year.

“Each year my parents buy me and my little brother, Evan, a new menorah as a gift, and we light our own and my parents light one, ” said Orel. “We display all of our menorah’s in a glass showcase in our dining room.”

On Saturday night of Hanukkah Orel has a celebration dinner with her extended family.

“On my mom’s side of the family my aunt, cousins, and grandma comes to my house for dinner and we light the menorah together.” said Orel.

Rachel Jaffe (‘20) also has a celebration dinner. “In my immediate family we light the menorah, say the blessings, and give each other gifts each night.” said Jaffe. “We usually give one big gift on the first night and then the rest of the nights are smaller gifts.”

Jaffe has another celebration dinner with her extended family. “I have a big party with both sides, my mom’s and dad’s side and that’s extended family…” said Jaffe “My family is not super strict about it since there are so many family members. We do it whenever everybody’s schedules align.”

The Hanukkah tradition includes giving gifts but that is not what Hanukkah is about to Jaffe or Orel.

“To me Hanukkah isn’t about presents or getting all of the gifts,” said Orel. “It’s about spending time with family even though that sounds basic it’s true.”

“Hanukkah represents the resilience and strength of the Jewish religion,” Jaffe said. “I’m proud to be a strong Jew.”

Hanukkah is not the only religious holiday this time of year where there is a tradition of giving gifts. The Christian holiday, Christmas, is a religious gift giving holiday as well. Christmas is when the son of God, Jesus, was believed to be born in the Christian religion. Three kings brought baby Jesus gifts which is why Christians exchange presents on Christmas.

Also like Hanukkah, each person and their families have their own personal traditions as well. Susannah Balderstone (‘20), for example.

“My mom puts a pickle in our Christmas tree and we, my sister and I, have to find it before we can open the first gift.” Balderstone said.

That is one of the odder Christmas traditions Balderstone said. One of the more common traditions is baking Christmas cookies and eating them at Christmas dinner. Nicole Benson (‘20) participates in this tradition.

“I always make Christmas cookies with my grandmother,” Benson said. “We make traditional Italian cookies, ricotta cheese cookies, pinwheels, and pizzelles.” Benson is Italian and along with her traditional Italian cookies Benson celebrates an Italian Christmas Eve tradition, the Seven Fishes.

The Seven Fishes is an Italian holiday tradition that the only meat eaten on Christmas Eve is fish, no red meat. Francesca Crawley (‘20) also celebrates this tradition with her own personal twist.

“My family doesn’t always do seven fishes but we always do an odd number,” said Crawley. “We always do at least three but most years five.” Crawley celebrates Christmas with a personal twist, so does Shaina Kramer (‘20).

Kramer was raised both Jewish, by her father, and Christian, by her mother, and therefore celebrates both Hanukkah and Christmas together and loves it she says.

“I love being connected to both religions in some way because it opens my eyes to how different people can think and believe and it also gives me countless opportunities to learn and experience different things. I especially love it when we have whole family events in which my mom’s side of the family would unite with my dad’s side at a Jewish dinner, ” said Kramer.