With the holidays coming up and some having already begun, UC Davis students reflect on what their traditions are for the upcoming season. From not going to school to spending time with family to celebrating religious holidays, students detail their favorite parts during this time of year.
Perhaps the season’s most well-known holiday is Christmas, the annual religious festival commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ. While the holiday began as a way for Christians to celebrate Christ’s birth, the day has become a popular holiday for many non-Christian families around the world who spend the season giving gifts, decorating trees and visiting Santa Claus.
Tommy Elrod, a third-year psychology major, is a United Methodist who celebrates a traditionally religious Christmas, which began on the first Advent Sunday on Nov. 30. On each successive Sunday, Elrod and his family light a candle in a wreath at the center of the sanctuary. Each of the four candles signifies either love, hope, peace or joy. The fifth candle, which is called the Christ candle, is placed in the center of the wreath and lit on Christmas service.
Elrod’s grandfather, who passed away last year, was traditionally the one who said the prayer for grace before his family ate their Christmas meal. Without his grandfather, it’s hard for Elrod to imagine how different this holiday will be.
“It was something that I always looked up to because he had such grace when he spoke,” Elrod said. “It was really endearing. And I miss him. It’s going to be kind of weird to be without that part of our family tradition as Christmas time rolls around again.”
For Jewish students, Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, is the eight-day Jewish holiday celebrated throughout December. On each night, Jewish families light candles on the menorah, a lamp with nine candle holders. The taller candle, called the shamash, is used to light one candle the first night, two the second night and so on.
For Rachel Shotkin, a fourth year psychology major, Hanukkah is no longer celebrated in her family because it is not a religious holiday that has biblical tiebacks. As a child, Shotkin said her family did participate in some Hanukkah traditions such as playing dreidel and making latkes; however, her parents chose not to give her gifts because that is only part of the American holiday.
“I think it lost some of its magic as I got older because the other holidays have some religious purpose behind them. The holidays that happen during the rest of the year either have something with the Torah or they have a historical moment behind them,” Shotkin said. “Hanukkah is a festival, and it’s a fun one, but we have more fun festivals where you dress up and eat special foods and everything.”
Sharmeen Saeed, a second-year nutritional science major, does not celebrate any holidays in December because they are not part of her Pakistani or Muslim background. Although she doesn’t celebrate a traditional holiday, Saeed still enjoys going shopping with her family during the season and experiencing the holiday atmosphere.
“It’s more like experiencing the holidays than actually celebrating the holidays,” Saeed said.
Though there aren’t many Christians in her home country in Pakistan, Saeed reminisces of one holiday where she saw streets adorned in Christmas decorations and crowds of people going shopping, which drew her curiosity to the holiday.
“That’s one memory I cherish because my parents never told me or ever taught me about it,” Saeed said. “That was a curiosity that built up over the years. And then learn [about it] and come here and see everything lit up and stores commercializing for four months straight.”
Nilofer Chollampat, a fourth-year biopsychology major, also spends her holiday break with family. They travel to see their other family members around the country. Though she doesn’t celebrate Christmas as a Muslim, she notes that she was always curious about the holiday from what she’s seen on television.
“I guess for Christmas, I was always really confused,” Collampat said. “I was like, ‘What do [they] do? Are they really opening their presents all day? Are they really sitting in their pajamas like the Kohl’s commercials show?’”
For Maria Salazar, a fourth-year Chicano/a studies and psychology double major, her holiday tradition is based on a Mexican practice called Las Posadas, where people would go from home to home asking for refuge for the holy family. How Salazar’s family adapts this tradition is by going from family member’s houses, where each house would have their own nativity scene.
During the holidays, Salazar’s family spends three days making tamales in preparation for Christmas Eve, where over 60 family members from out of town and from Mexico gather at her grandmother’s house. Because her family is so large, Salazar said that last year’s Christmas took over six hours just to open presents alone.
“There’s good and bad times during the year, but the holidays are a time when people can come together and can celebrate just being with each other,” Salazar said.
Because Senze Yang, a third-year psychology and Asian American studies double major, comes from a Chinese background, Christmas is not celebrated in her family due to more culturally important holidays, such as Chinese New Year and the Lunar Moon Festival.
Yang’s family often spends the holiday working, only coming together with her family at night to enjoy a meal out of assimilation. Though the meal is adapted out of Christmas, Yang’s family enjoys traditional Chinese food such as steamed fish, roasted pork and garlic crab.
Although Yang notes that when she was younger she wished for a traditional Christmas, now that she is older, she understands and respects her parents’ choice to maintain their cultural roots.
In the end, it does not seem to matter how you spend the holiday season, but rather who you spend it with. MUSE wishes you a happy winter break!
Graphic by Andrew Li