By Rachel Hooper
Traveling by plane, car, bus, and train, my high school friends arrived home for Thanksgiving break. I sat watching TV and waiting for their phone calls. I was struck by two emotions. First, I felt the fun of anticipation, waiting to get together with my friends, many of whom I hadn’t seen since summer. Secondly, I felt annoyance. Every TV commercial break was an announcement of pre-Christmas, Black Friday sales. The advertisements announced store openings beginning as early as 4 a.m. My show was periodically invaded by a little stick figure of a racer, with his feet on starting blocks, poised for the starter’s gun. He then took off across the bottom of the screen pushing a shopping cart containing the Target bulls-eye logo.
Clever, but hey, what happened to Thanksgiving turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie? Thanksgiving memories are about football, family get-togethers, and grandma’s house, but I am worried that the television media is telling us that Thanksgiving has become primarily the beginning of the real winter holidays of Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanza.
Now that Thanksgiving and Black Friday have passed, I can return to school and begin anticipating Christmas. But my experience of media revelation about Black Friday has made me rethink what makes the anticipation of Christmas, Hanukkah, or other winter holidays so emotional and special. The essential ideas that create the specialness, I believe, are the memories and the associated music, foods, images, and store displays—in short, the traditions. We have a place in our hearts for cultural, family, and personal traditions. Our holidays mean so much more when we can anticipate the traditions.
I asked a few people about their special holiday memories and traditions. Carol Waddell, academic counselor at the Student Academic Support Center (SASS), spoke about her favorite childhood holiday memory, recalling one special Christmas morning when she was in sixth grade. Her family had recently moved to a small farm. She and her sister were opening presents in the living room, and her father went out to feed the steer. When her mother called the kids into the kitchen for Christmas breakfast, their father had brought in another gift. There in the kitchen was a pony. “And its name was Pepper,” said Waddell.
While growing up, she recalls getting together at her grandmother’s house with her eight aunts and uncles and twenty-nine cousins for a buffet dinner. What image comes to mind when she thinks of Christmas?
“Kids, being so excited,” said Waddell.
With her own children and husband, Christmas involves traditions. Every Christmas Eve, they go to a movie, eat Chinese dinner, and attend church.
Sophomore Julia Coleman spends Hanukkah with her immediate family and grandmother. What image comes to mind when she thinks of the holidays?
“The menorah, lighting one more candle every night, and Hanukkah geld (Jewish chocolate money),” said Coleman.
She looks forward to the two big presents along with the big dinners on the first and eighth nights of Hanukkah. Her favorite memory is playing the dredel game with her family. Her memory of family traditions includes the lighting of the candles, family activities, and her father reading Hanukkah books.
Her dad’s side of the family is Christian, so the family also had a Christmas tree she remembers decorating. What do the Christmas and Hanukkah holidays mean to Coleman?
“I guess having Christmas represents for everyone, like being together with your family no matter what religious background you have,” said Coleman.
I am not completely against the consumerism associated with Christmas. I enjoy going Christmas shopping with my friends. A lot of thought goes into thinking about and finding the right gifts for people. With my high school friends, we did a Pollyanna because there were so many of us. Every year I look forward to watching my favorite Christmas movies. We love Charlie Brown’s Christmas and the older version of A Christmas Carol. I love baking Christmas cookies and going to my aunt’s house to hand-make special cookies called Pizzels. Every year my mother and aunts make a wreath from fir branches and take it to the cemetery to put on my grandmother’s grave.
More than anything else, my favorite memories are of Christmas Eve. We have an open house with an enormous spread of food and drink at my aunt and uncle’s home. My uncle is Italian, so the buffet includes a variety of different fish. We then watch one of our favorite Christmas movies. Our evening comes to an end as we put on our coats and drive off to attend a candlelight church service. There is something so peaceful about holding burning candles and singing Christmas carols.
Most of us have favorite holiday activities and memories, which are important to our culture, our families, and our personal memories. Our holidays are so much more than a shopping frenzy; they are the traditions that bring meaning to us and our children.