With Christmas approaching, journalist-in-residence Tim Ghianni asked his writing lab students to reflect on their holidays and family traditions.
A Columbian Christmas
Christmas time in Colombia is very different from here. From my experience, Christmas in Franklin, Tennessee, is very magical just like in the movies, with the Christmas tree downtown, the lights, the decorations around the town, the weather and, if we are lucky, the snow.
Christmas in Colombia is more about celebrating with the family and all the parties and reunions start as soon as December starts.
There is a tradition that nine days before Christmas we go to a different house each day where we read Jesus’ story, eat traditional Christmas dishes and sing. Then on the 24th we all dress up, prepare a lot of food and put the presents under the tree; at 12 p.m. the kids from the family become the “elves” and start passing out the presents.
But we create a dynamic to make it more fun, the elves give each person a gift and then each person has to describe whoever they are giving their gift to and everyone has to guess who it is for. After opening the presents we sometimes play games, dance and all the kids play with their new presents.
They are very different, but I like both a lot.
I like it here because it’s very magical and beautiful. And in Colombia, I like it because there’s a lot of celebration, music and food. I get very nostalgic during Christmas because all my family is in Colombia and I miss the traditions but overall Christmas is my favorite holiday; I love December because my birthday is on the 2nd, Christmas and New Year’s. It’s a month full of excitement, happiness and love.
I am very excited about this Christmas this year, because I am going to spend it with my dad in North Carolina and we are going to ski. This is the first time we are spending Christmas in the United States and we are going to have it with snow which makes it more exciting.
Santa in the outhouse
Christmas is probably the biggest holiday for my family. Around the start of December we start decorating the house with the exact same decorations I’ve seen since I could remember. My favorites include a small wooden outhouse that opens to reveal Santa on the toilet writing his list on toilet paper, a fuzzy snowman toy that sings and jingles and a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ornament. I’m usually the one to set up the nativity scene by the dinner table.
We always take a couple hours to set up the tree with all the ornaments we have in storage. Even some of my parents’ childhood ornaments are thrown in the mix, as well as paper ornaments my brothers and I made as toddlers. Our old house has an intercom that lets you play music over the speakers and we often turn the channel to play Christmas music while we adorn the tree. By the end, not a single branch would be unoccupied.
If it snows we make snow cream. My dad finds some clean and freshly fallen snow then brings it inside, tosses it into a bowl and starts mixing it with sugar, milk and vanilla. My brothers love it, though I was never huge on snow cream. My favorite treat is the Pillsbury Christmas sugar cookies. Well, at least right from the oven. They melt in your mouth. I’ve also always been big on hot chocolate.
On the night of Dec. 23, we always read this book called “The Night Before the Night Before Christmas” as well as “Busy Bear Celebrates Christmas.”
Then, once we reach Christmas Eve, my family always reads a passage from the Bible and reads the actual “Night Before Christmas” story. After that, we drive around the neighborhood and look at Christmas lights.
I can still recite lines from “Busy Bear.” It goes to show that Christmas isn’t about getting cool presents, it’s about the time you spend with those you love. Though, getting cool presents is also nice.
Pursuit of gingerbread
Once a year — and once only — I take a slow afternoon to shove around the herbs and spices in the spice cabinet and find the jar of molasses collecting dust in the very back. My sister Maggie and I put on a classic Christmas playlist and set out butter, brown sugar, eggs, vanilla, flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice, and cloves — all the essentials for a great gingerbread cookie.
I preheat the oven as she mixes everything into a tough dough, and together we joke and goof off as we beat and roll it into a sheet on a large slice of parchment. We cut it into little angels and snowmen with our cookie cutters and gently place them on a tray for the warm oven. Outside, the bare trees sway, glinting with ice in the bright afternoon sun. Almost as soon as they’re in the oven, the cookies emit the warmest, spiciest aroma imaginable, and Maggie and I lick our lips as we wait. The oven stokes with wafting heated air, and we sit listening to music while we let the sun stream in through the window to warm us. We watch our little siblings build snowmen outside and laugh as they fall down in the snow, holding their little pink noses.
Soon, the cookies are out, and we have prepared creamy icing and we spread it over the top. When they cool, we will drive them to neighbors, but we sneak a few glorious bites first — a buttery, spicy, crumbling gift to the cooks.
Hors d’oeuvres by the fire
Every year, children around the world wait impatiently for Christmas morning. For many, Christmas Eve is a somewhat obligatory precursor that finds them squirming with anticipation. In my household, however, Christmas Eve rivals Christmas Day in excitement. Church is followed by a delicious dinner buffet of hors d’oeuvres, which we eat by the fire. After we are thoroughly stuffed, we open stockings. Without the larger presents to distract, the givers of the tiny trinkets garner the affection their thoughtfulness deserves. After receiving the inevitable abundance of chocolate (including the annual chocolate orange), we settle in and watch an old Christmas movie before bed. These warm, fire-lit evenings are some of my most cherished holiday memories. –
Christmas is definitely the best holiday of the year. Everyone is happy on Christmas. Regarding our family, we do enjoy that time a lot. I’m from Costa Rica. There is a tradition to cook “tamales’ during December. We prepare ‘tamales’ as a family at the beginning of the last month of the year. Even though the preparation and process is the same each year, we enjoy the time we spend together. I like that tradition and I think it’s one of my best memories. My grandfather came every year from Costa Rica to visit us. On Christmas Eve, we eat together in our house, as many people do. However, last year was very different. On Christmas Eve, when we were on our way to my uncle’s house, the snow came. It was impossible to continue driving (we were on the Interstate). Most of the stores were closed, even some gas stations. Therefore, we stayed in a Waffle House waiting for better weather conditions. For some people, that would be a bad memory because we couldn’t arrive on time. For us, it was a great opportunity to laugh and understand how important it is to enjoy every time of our lives. In addition, we often visit Gatlinburg, which is a beautiful place. We have been there three times and we stayed in the cabins. This year, we are planning to go to Florida, specifically Naples and Disney World. However, I’m sure Gatlinburg is still an option for some of my family members.
Jeikof Alfaro Saenz