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FRIENDS & FAMILY: Your holiday traditions

Beauty of The Season

By Jewel Connelly, Communications Specialist
Photo of Sean Samitt

Experiencing the Joy of the Holidays Around the

Twinkling lights, a steaming cup of hot chocolate, movie marathons and specials, classic tunes, and families gathered around the dinner table. Regardless of your age or season of life, whether you’re a kid, a parent, a grandparent, there is something undeniably magical about the holiday season as the possibilities of the new year approach. It’s a time that often rushes by in a whirlwind of activity and yet is filled with moments we wish we could slow down. From sounds to nostalgic scents to annual events, there are so many elements that signal the season is in full swing. We reached out to community members across the country to hear about their favorite traditions, festivities and what this time of year means to them. More than anything else, enjoying quality time with family and a delicious spread of food was a universal experience which spanned households of different faiths and cultural backgrounds. Currently living in Delaware with his parents as a recent amputee, Sean Samitt reflects on the meaning of Hanukkah, which is an important part of his Jewish heritage. Every night for eight nights during the Festival of Lights another candle is lit to commemorate the miracle of the oil which lasted for eight days. “Lighting the menorah is really special and it’s very intimate,” Sean said. “It’s really meaningful for me because winter can be challenging because it’s dark and cold, and you’re inside sometimes by yourself. Surrounding yourself with light and with family, friends, food, music, and just being together is special because we don’t always get that opportunity.” As part of the traditional celebration they make latkes, potato pancakes, and play the dreidel game for chocolate coins. For Sean it’s all about connecting with people and valuing time spent together since most of his family lives in New York. “I spent so many nights away from my family and friends in the hospital, including for the holidays,” Sean shared. “So, getting to experience the warmth of a holiday with family is special. Going through my amputation and all the hospitalizations made me realize how special most times are because we get so few of them.” With his mom’s high school best friend living across the street, Sean and his parents even enjoyed Rosh Hashanah dinner with them for the Jewish new year.

Photo of Heather Shorey

Similar to Sean, Marci Krown also celebrates Hanukkah while enjoying some Christmas festivities. Moving from Ohio to Southern California, at first it was odd to see Christmas lights up without snow, but strolling through a popular neighborhood known as Christmas Card Lane has become a yearly family outing. Christmas Card Lane is a San Diego tradition featuring life-size wooden cards (also for Hanukkah and New Year’s) decorated by each homeowner and set up in the front yard. Every year Marci and her husband would take their son to walk the neighborhood streets along with many other families, children and dogs. “You just see so many people, and it’s so joyous,” Marci said. “It’s just a nice community thing to do, and some people who have their cards on display will talk to those who are walking.”

Another ongoing tradition in Marci’s family is to drive up to Julian, a small town in the Cuyamaca Mountains known for its apple pie and orchards. “We have our hot apple cider and apple pie, and now the restaurants have expanded to cherry and boysenberry,” Marci said. The trip includes shopping for gifts in the town’s stores housed in historic buildings. With Hanukkah having cultural significance in her family, Marci makes latkes (paired with applesauce or sour cream) and they eat sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts) throughout the Jewish festival and during dinner with extended family.

Photo of Marci Krown

Celebrating with the kids is important to her. Although her son is just going off to college, they will do their best to continue as many traditions as possible. Celebrating Christmas with a Hawaiian twist, Heather Shorey’s festivities are primarily centered around family and really good food. “We have such a presence of extended family here, which I think makes Hawaii a little unique from the mainland,” Heather said. “Family gatherings can be very large and include family from around the island. It’s always a fun time when we get together for the holidays because you get to see all your cousins. It’s like a big family reunion.” Of course, the gathering of many people requires a lot of food and Heather says it is more like a luau. “At Thanksgiving we’ll have sushi and everything including fish, meat, salads, veggies, all kinds of desserts,” Heather shared. “Also, rice is a big staple here. At my auntie’s house, there’s always a pot of rice ready to go at any time of the day.”

Because Hawaii is a cultural melting pot, the presence of popular dishes from the Philippines, Hawaii and Samoa reflects the cultural diversity in her family, which has evolved as it has grown. “Cooking is part of the fun. Sometimes we’ll have cooking contests and bust out the karaoke machine,” Heather said. “Just getting together with family, eating a lot of food and seeing all the kids playing together is really my favorite tradition. I know that I’m going to get to hang out, relax, and have fun.” Besides being at home, going to the beach and surfing are also common during holidays. When it snows on the inactive volcano, Mauna Kea, people can even go snowboarding on its summit a few hours after being on the beach.

Although the activities of each holiday vary depending on what part of the country you’re in, the joy of making memories with loved ones and reflecting on the true meaning of the celebration is consistent year after year. From extended time off work and snowfall on the windowsill to ugly sweater parties and a plethora of your favorite homecooked foods, there are many simple things to be grateful for. Especially this time of year, we hope you take the time to reach out to those you love most and experience the beauty of the season.