Holiday Traditions

December has always been one of my favorite months. The reason for this is more than the anticipation of snow, but the opportunity to partake in the traditions that my family and friends have created during this time of the year. These yearly traditions can be passed down from generation to generation, or could be started this year. Regardless of the holiday you celebrate during this wonderful month, or whatever your stance on snow may be, traditions created in families or friend groups can create lasting memories.

Although my family has many traditions, my favorite is our Christmas Eve celebration. My whole family gets dressed up and goes to the Christmas Eve service. Ever since I was old enough to participate, my favorite part was lighting my perfectly formed candle and singing Silent Night. When we arrived home, my parents would give my brother and me brand new pajamas and then we would get warm and comfy and watch a Christmas movie, often alternating between National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and Elf, all while eating Chinese food. To be honest, I have no idea how this tradition started, but somehow it did, and we’ve never looked back.

McDonough and his grandmother

Jack McDonough (‘21) explained that every year on Christmas Eve, he makes pasta from scratch with his nana. “She picked up the recipe from her old Italian friend in New York City and she hadn’t made it in a long time,” said McDonough. “Five years ago, she wanted to make it again so she bought a pasta roller and then made pasta for Christmas Eve.” The following year, she asked if he would want to make the pasta with him, and the two have shared this experience every year since then.

McDonough thinks it’s important to have traditions, especially around the holidays. “I like having the tradition. It’s just fun every year, and it’s something good to hold on to when someone isn’t around anymore.” He added, “with all the change every day, it’s nice to have a calm and consistent thing to do every year.”

Shay’s tree with the handprints

One of Becca Shay’s (‘19) traditions started when she four years old. “My mom bought these big pieces of white cloth and acrylic paints and brought them home one year. My whole family, both my parents, my sister and me plus my grandparents on my mom’s side, took the paint and made handprints on the cloth,” she explained. They wrote the year at the top of the section and put it under their Christmas tree. Shay added, “I’m not really sure how the tradition started but it’s a really cute and a pretty sentimental part of our Christmas, especially because you can see me and my sister’s hands grow as we get older.”


One of my personal favorite holiday traditions came from Emily Shuman (‘20). She explained that her family opens all their family presents with their extended family on Christmas Eve. The following morning, she and her brother would wake up to find envelopes under the tree. Shuman elaborated, “inside the envelope is a “surprise” [which is a] riddle giving hints to where the gift is hidden. Once you figure out the riddle, like the gift in the garage or the music room or in the bathtub, there is another riddle taped on that gift.”

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Shuman explained that the idea comes from a Dutch tradition that her dad had while growing up, since both of his parents were from Holland. “It’s a really fun way to “work” for the gift by figuring out the riddle, and it kind of makes Christmas Day a little longer which is awesome. Plus, it’s super funny to figure out the weird places my parents can hide the gifts,” Shuman concluded.

In addition to the traditions that you can share with your family, this season presents many opportunities to grow closer with your friends. Grace Henry (‘19) and her friends often find themselves decorating cookies as a group. “We all bring something to decorate, like frosting or sprinkles, and then we bake sugar cookies and cut them out,” she explained. In addition to this being an enjoyable, recurring celebration for her friend group, she finds that this can be a great way to destress. “The holiday season can get hectic and stressful, but it’s so nice to have that time be with friends,” Henry added.

Some of my favorite shapes: trees, mittens, and a crab?
Don’t forget to make a dinosaur with glasses!

The final celebration of this season, New Year’s Eve, comes with its own predetermined traditions: staying up until the ball drops, having friends and family over, and spending the last moments of the year celebrating the past and looking forward to the future. This tradition at the Shay house is no different, but has an exciting twist. “Since I was little, my parents have thrown a really fun gathering of their friends and my friends. There is lots of food and yummy desserts and at 11:00pm, we all [do] a Yankee Swap,” she said. Also called White Elephant, Yankee Swap is a common holiday game where every person brings a gift and receives a number. In numerical order, each person selects a gift and has the choice to either steal someone else’s gift or to keep their own.

Shay explained that typically at a Yankee Swap, the gifts are something you would genuinely want. Conversely, “we ask that everyone brings something really crappy, basically trash, to the swap. Get rid of something you’ve been meaning to and give it to someone else,” said Shay. She added, “one year there was even a weird furry coconut purse that was hideous. It’s really funny and everyone gets a good laugh out of it.”

For some, traditions spread past the holidays and occur during the winter in general. Shuman’s family welcomes the first snow of the season by snowshoeing in the woods with her dogs. Shuman said, “the dogs are both really small and most of the time the snow goes above their head so they follow behind us hopping in and out of our snowshoe tracks, which is so funny. We always joke that it makes them look like baby deer.”

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Having a tradition like Shuman’s can be a great way to welcome the flurries.  If you’re one who likes to embrace the newly snow-coated world, take a walk through the woods with some friends. Not only is it beautiful to take photos in, but can also result in a spur of the moment snowball fight.  For those like me who would rather observe the snow from a safe distance, curling up in front of a wood burning fireplace with a cup of peppermint tea might be more your speed. Taking time to slow down, destress, and spend time with those around you is a huge part of the holiday season.

Do any of these traditions sound familiar? Maybe you celebrate them with your loved ones. Or maybe you’re looking to start some traditions of your own.

Take it from Henry and get some friends together to bake and decorate cookies. Borrow the Shuman’s Dutch tradition and add a mysterious and energetic twist to your gift-giving. Slow down this season by discovering a new favorite movie and hunker down with some popcorn and sweets. Or throw a big New Year’s Eve blow out and trade the horrendous gift your Aunt Ruth brought.

Whatever you choose to celebrate, take this time to enjoy past traditions or to start a tradition of your own.