By Richard Burnett
From the carols of Christmas to the candle lights of Hanukkah, December’s holidays are infused with life-changing traditions and memories that touch the hearts of young and old.
Whether it’s the Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ or the Jewish observance of God’s ancient faithfulness, many people around the world come together to bond over faith, food, fun and festivities.
For some, it may be recalling a special song, gift or game from childhood; for others, a cherished gathering of loved ones at dinner or a prayer to honor those who are no longer there. Whatever the holiday memory or tradition, they are threads that weave the tapestry of individual and family life.
“The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces,” said actor James Earl Jones in the classic movie “Field of Dreams,” describing baseball nostalgia in words that could easily apply to the holidays. “…It’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters.”
Some Beacon students, administrators and staff shared their own memories and traditions for this article.
‘It’s a wonderful life’
Families can bond over so many different things at Christmas — food, music, movies, saying grace at the holiday meal. For Hanah M. Diebold, it was a little of everything, especially the special pajamas they all wore on the big day.
“My mom likes to buy us holiday pajamas that we can wear while spending time together on Christmas day,” said Diebold, Beacon’s director of student experience. “My parents and I will also drive around town (Baraboo, Wisconsin) looking at all the Christmas decorations on Christmas Eve.
“After we get back, we watch ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’.”
Stories, scrolls & fried desserts
Jewish families around the world typically observe Hannukah by lighting the sacred candelabra known as a menorah, singing songs, playing the dreidel game and having a festive meal. Ryan Godwin’s family, however, spiced things up a little. His family comes from Italy where the traditions are very different from Jewish families who originate in Eastern Europe.
“For example, we don’t have latkes (small potato pancakes) that you’ve probably heard of,” said Godwin, a learning specialist and academic advisor at Beacon. “We eat a fried dessert called a kandeli, which looks like a churro. They are drizzled in a spicy honey so they are both sweet and hot.”
Among other traditions, they read about Hannukah from the Scroll of Antiochus, read stories of virtue and heroism; and exchange small gifts.
“Each family has their own variations, however if there is one universal tradition everybody observes, it’s that at some point an argument will break out about how to properly spell Hannukah,” he said, laughing.
Christmas morning at Waffle House
Jameson Gaddy welcomes his grandparents every year when they drive from Louisiana to his family’s home in Georgia for Christmas.
Then they go to the local Waffle House.
“It’s very nice because we have a fun breakfast tradition there on Christmas morning,” said the freshman from Atlanta. “I could go on for days regarding my favorite Waffle House meal. If I could go for one, it would be their hash browns.”
His family hasn’t had a “normal” holiday season for two years because of the pandemic. “This first year back really means a lot to us,” he said. “We spend time at Lake Oconee now, which is about an hour away from Atlanta. It’s not so busy there which is perfect for a holiday retreat.”
Unforgettable family moments
For Samantha Resnick, the celebration of Hannukah always assembled a grand gathering of family members that created unforgettable moments when she was growing up. Her most cherished memories included the rich aromas and flavors of holiday food and greeting family members she had never met.
“On the first day of Hannukah, my parents and I would get together with my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins,” said Resnick, an administrative assistant in Beacon’s career center. “My mom and aunts would make traditional Hannukah foods, including European brisket, chicken paprikash, and potato latkes. Once the sun went down, we would light the menorah and the cousins would play dreidel with chocolate coins.”
Memories of ‘white elephants’
Many families play other games at the holidays to strengthen their bonds. There are scavenger hunts with tricky clues; charades with clever impersonations; and humorous gift-giving with everything from mis-matched clothes to bad fruitcake.
One of those traditions is the white elephant gift-exchange — also known as the Yankee swap or Dirty Santa party game, focusing on impractical and off-the-wall gifts. According to Bustle.com, a women’s entertainment news site, “The goal of a white elephant gift exchange is to entertain party-goers rather than to gain a genuinely valuable or highly sought-after item.”
Such holiday events hold a special place in the heart for Nicholas Cole Mathews, a Beacon freshman from Burlingame, California. Amid the laughter, silliness and crazy gift-giving, the family grew together through the years. “It was a white elephant event for all,” he says.
Beyond gifts, food & decorations
For Grace Hicks, there was no doubt growing up what Christmas was all about. Beyond the songs, gifts, food and decorations, it was about the story of the Christ child.
“I come from a Christian family so every Christmas morning before we open presents, my parents read us the story of Jesus’s birth to remind us from the Bible why we celebrate,” said the Beacon sophomore from Selma, Alabama. “Then, my sister and I open three gifts each, since Jesus received precious gifts from the three wise men in the story.”
Hanging the ornaments of life
For Darryl and Sherri Owens, each holiday season their Christmas tree tells the story of their life together. It all began with a very special ornament they found to commemorate the first Christmas they were married. That kickstarted a tradition that continues to this day — from the birth of their children to the year he started at Beacon.
“From the first year on, we’d find an ornament each year to hang on the Christmas tree to represent something important that happened to us that year,” said Owens, Beacon’s associate vice president of communications and engagement. “Every year, we delight in taking our 32-year trip down memory lane each Christmas season, remembering how richly God has blessed our lives during our marriage.”