Each year as the holidays draw closer, so do my nerves in planning. Logistics, meal prep, schedules and expectations seem to consume the holiday spirit. If there is anything good to come of the pandemic this year, it has made me reevaluate what is truly important and what can be left by the wayside.
Four families share how their holiday traditions are typically observed and how they are still creating special moments in spite of the challenges 2020 has presented.
Spoiler alert: togetherness with loved ones seemed to rise to the top in every household!
Pamela Richman is a mother and former director at Camp Chavirm in Oklahoma City and says family celebrations are more important now than ever.
Hanukkah is typically a three-week celebration, and the dates change with the Jewish calendar, which is a combination of the lunar and solar calendars. In contrast to the production of Christmas, Hanukkah is usually a quiet holiday to celebrate with family and friends.
Hanukkah is translated as “dedication” in Hebrew and historically celebrates when the Jewish people rose up against oppression in the second century B.C. Currently, this holiday is sometimes called the Festival of Lights and is celebrated with the lighting of the menorah, traditional foods, games and gifts.
The Richman family plans to celebrate with their closest friends and family. Food traditions include items made with oil, honoring the miracle of the oil lasting for eight days. While they may not be making a few thousand latkes (potato pancakes) or sufganiyot (Israeli jelly donuts), it will still be a special occasion.
“Lighting menorah candles in the windows is especially meaningful this year due to division within our country,” said Richman. “The lighting of the menorah not only helps us remember and honor the oppression of our people but also is a visual stand against anti-Semitism and racism in our world today. That principle is very important within Judaism.”
Richman’s children are now at an age where they may be hosting their own celebrations, but either virtually or in person, they will find a way to celebrate together, too.
“Hanukkah should always be something you look forward to and enjoy sharing with friends and family,” said Richman.
Catholic Holy Days
Lisa Lesseg’s family observes the Catholic Holy Days, including Immaculate Conception (Dec. 8), Feast of Our Lady Guadalupe (Dec. 12), Feast of the Holy Family (Dec. 30) and Christmas. While the celebration of the holy days this year might look different, her family will find a way to be together.
“Usually, our large family gathering starts on Christmas Eve around 10:30 a.m.,” said Lesseg. “We celebrate together with games like Dirty Santa, then attend Midnight Mass.”
The Lesseg family invites close friends and family members to celebrate with a come-and-go meal, which they plan to continue this year. Each year, popular menu items include roast tenderloin, Brownrigg bread (named after a neighbor they used to celebrate with), mashed potatoes and gravy and different kinds of drinks contributed by guests.
“One of my passions is cooking,” admits Lesseg, “But it’s really just about everyone being together; it’s all very lively and informal.”
While many churches are offering limited-capacity in-person services or even virtual services, Lesseg said, “Our family will focus on what we can do! We will focus on what is important, let go of what we can’t change and hold tight to the things that really matter: our family being together.”
Family law attorney Robyn Hopkins and her family actively work to keep her Latina roots alive within her busy household of five children under 5: three biological children and two foster children.
Robyn and her wife Courtney celebrate Las Posadas, literally translated to mean “The Inn,” a celebratory festival commemorating the journey that Joseph and Mary made from Nazareth to Bethlehem in search of a safe refuge where Mary could give birth to baby Jesus. This Catholic and Hispanic tradition typically includes live nativity scenes, folklórico dance and lots of buñuelos, which are sopapillas made like a donut.
Hopkins is hoping this year her church will hold virtual celebrations in light of the pandemic, but either way, she plans to host Las Posadas within her home.
“Everybody has their own traditions, but I’ve made it a point to celebrate these traditions to honor my Hispanic heritage,” said Hopkins. “It doesn’t matter what is going on, we’re a family and we are celebrating the birth of Christ together. This season is not about all the gifts … It’s about togetherness and memories created.”
Due to CDC recommendations against large group gatherings, Hopkins and her family will feel a little less of the typical hustle and bustle of this season.
“We are not going to be running house to house like we normally do,” said Hopkins. “We are going to stay home and do activities and games together as a family — and that’s what it’s all about.”
Christmas & Eid al-fitr
Mohamed and Nicole Daadoui are forming their own traditions this year, observing and celebrating the best of Christmas and Eid al-fitr, a Muslim tradition. Nicole was raised celebrating the secular festivities of Christmas: decking the tree, waiting for Santa, making cookies and exchanging gifts with loved ones. Mohamed’s traditions included a small, quiet celebration of Eid with family in Morocco. Now that they have a family of their own, they want to be sure their young son, Malik, knows and enjoys the heritage of both his parents.
“Split households just make everything more fun,” said Nicole.
Eid al-fitr, also called the Festival of Breaking the Fast, is a religious holiday celebrated by Muslims worldwide that marks the end of the month-long dawn-to-sunset fasting of Ramadan. Mohamed reminisces on holiday traditions such as the wearing of traditional Moroccan clothing, exchanging small gifts and going to Mosque with family to pray, reflect and celebrate togetherness.
“And of course all the traditional Moroccan dishes,” Mohamed adds. “Lamb is a big staple within Moroccan culture, as are sweets made with nuts and desserts such as almond butter cookies.”
Overall, Mohamed and Nicole hope son Malik looks back and remembers togetherness with his family as well as his community. Eid traditions also include a financial contribution.
When Nicole asked Malik if he would rather spend his piggy bank money on toys, candy or giving to another family in need, Malik said, “Let’s go give this money to someone who doesn’t have milk.”
“For our family, that’s what matters,” said Nicole. “What are you doing for others? How are you caring for your community?”