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December traditions from members of the Stuart community

As a member of the Sacred Heart network of schools, Stuart welcomes students and families of all faiths. Through Goal 1 - A personal and active faith in God - we foster a deep respect and love for the global religions and cultures that are part of our diverse community. Students not only learn about other religions in theology classes, but they learn from each other in day-to-day interactions and cross-disciplinary activities organized by our Campus Ministry program.

On the Friday before Christmas break, Blessing Buddies in Middle and Upper School gathered to celebrate the holiday season by making decorations that represent colors of all of the December traditions like Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. The last time we came together in celebration of our cultural diversity was Flag Ceremony, and in an effort to revisit that feeling of pride for our community, we asked students, faculty and parents to share how they celebrate the holiday season. We welcome you to comment below and tell us about traditions in your family. 

Michaela Meyer: In the Czech Republic, little Jesus (instead of Santa) is said to bring presents to the children, and they arrive on Christmas Eve instead of Christmas Day. The family sits down to have a meal together (traditionally Carp soup) where everyone must be present, and no one is allowed to stand up from the table until a bell is rung. When the bell rings from the living room, it signals that Jesus has brought the gifts and that the family may proceed from the kitchen/dining room to the living room to open the presents together!

Naomi and Caitlin MacQueen: In quite a few places in England, such as Sidmouth, after Christmas there is something called Boxing Day. As silly as it may sound, traditionally it involves running into the ocean dressed in crazy outfits. It’s also supposedly called Boxing Day because it is a time to box up gifts that you don't want to keep. 

Elena Nickerson: For many Cuban-American families, the center of the seasonal celebrations is Christmas Eve, or Noche Buena. Noche Buena translates to "good night" and is a time to focus on family. The traditional meal consists of roast pork (lechon asado), black beans and rice, fried plantains, yucca and flan (custard) for dessert. Presents are often exchanged either before midnight mass or after. January 6 is known as "El Dia de Los Reyes." The night before, children await the arrival of the three kings. Just as the kings brought gifts to the baby Jesus, each king brings one gift for the children. Some families put out hay to feed the King's horses (much like leaving cookies for Santa). On New Year's Eve, it is a tradition to eat 12 grapes when the clock strikes midnight. Eating one grape for each of the 12 months of the new year is believed to bring luck and happiness.

Tine Boss: Some Danish Christmas traditions are that children and some adults will get an Advent calendar and open a small present/candy every day in the countdown to Christmas. Every Sunday, we light a candle in the Advent wreath. 

Lights, candles and decorations are very important to break the dark in December in Denmark. It gets dark at 3:30 PM, and the sun rises at 8:30 AM. The lights are usually only small white lights, and the decorations are traditionally made of paper or things you find in nature. We use a lot of candles – both in the decorations, live candles on the Christmas tree and in candle holders. Classic decorations for Christmas are made of paper in pleated hearts and cones. They are used to decorate the tree and to fill with nuts and candy. You will also see pleated Christmas hearts in different colors. And then – most importantly– we have nisse (little elves). They are dressed in grey, wear a red-topped hat and wooden clogs on the feet. You want to make sure to treat the nisse well because he protects your house, farm and the animals. If you don’t treat the nisse well, strange things will happen. 

On Christmas Eve, we dance/walk around the Christmas tree while singing carols and holding hands to create a ring around the tree. Santa will maybe pay a visit or magically drop off a big bag with presents to put under the tree.

The Beverly Family: Every year, right after Christmas, our family celebrates Kwanzaa. Kwanzaa is a holiday that honors African traditions and customs. It was created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga as a way to inspire pride and an appreciation for the beauty of African culture. Kwanzaa lasts for seven days from December 26 to January seven. Each day focuses on a different African principle intended to promote family and community bonding. The seven principles of Kwanzaa are stated in the language of Swahili (spoken in many regions of Africa) and are as follows: Umoja (Unity), Kujichagulia (Self-Determination), Ujima (Collective Work & Responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity), and Imani (Faith).

Each day of Kwanzaa, our family lights a candle on the Kinara (candleholder) that corresponds to the principle for that day, and we discuss how that principle relates to our daily lives. These discussions are treasured experiences that give us an opportunity to reflect on how we can best support each other as a family, and how we can be forces for good in our community. On the sixth day of Kwanzaa, we host a craft party for our extended family in recognition of the principle of Kuumba (Creativity). We end the night by attending a "Watch Night" service at our church to ring in the New Year with communal prayer and jubilant singing in preparation for the seventh and final day of Kwanzaa (Imani/Faith) on January 1. Kwanzaa reminds us of the importance of being intentional and resolute with respect to maintaining our familial and community bonds. Kwanzaa brings us closer together!

Sonia Dellas: Christmas is the most important celebration in France. Since we don't celebrate Thanksgiving, people really look forward to the "Réveillon de Noël" which is the Christmas Eve festive meal and table decoration. French families sit together to celebrate Christmas and enjoy festive French foods, wines, and of course, champagne. This dinner could last up to six hours. The menu includes roasted turkey stuffed with chestnuts, green beans cooked with garlic and butter, accompanied by provencal herbs sautéed potatoes, foie gras( goose or duck liver pâté), oysters and other seafood. And for dessert, you will have an amazing display called "Les Treize Desserts." This is a Provençal Christmas tradition. After the big main meal, people are offered thirteen desserts (symbolizing Christ and the twelve Apostles at the Last Supper). It is good luck for the upcoming year to try all of them. The famous "Bûche de Noël" remains the favorite Christmas dessert. It is a sponge cake shaped like a yule log and decorated traditionally with chocolate and chestnuts (today many versions of the Bûche are available including an Ice cream one). Christmas Markets are also very popular in France during the Holidays. The most spectacular one is held in Strasbourg Alsace. French families enjoy the spectacular Nativity displays made by artisans ( Crèche et santons - handmade clay figurines) in the "Marché de Noël" while sipping some "Vin Chaud"( fragrant and spiced mulled wine drink). All the cities, towns and villages are decorated with lights and Christmas trees. This is a real pleasure for the eyes and the heart. The children can hardly wait for the Père Noël (Santa) visit. Hopefully, they won't get a visit from the "Père Fouettard"( Father Spanker)! Joyeux Noël! 

Lucy Simon: Hanukkah can is considered minor holiday, at least compared to Christmas. It is not one of the "high holy days" like Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but it is probably the most known Jewish holiday. Hanukkah is specifically about the miracle of light to honor when the Maccabees fought back against the Greeks who were the first to destroy our temple. They somehow won and the Jews went into the remains of the first temple to find it defiled. There was barely enough oil left to light the seven-branched menorah. The miracle was that the oil lasted for eight days, enough for the Jews to make more. This is why on Hanukkah, the classic foods are fried: jelly donuts, latkes (which are another name for potato pancakes except they are better), you name it. Another significance is the menorah. The menorah that most people are familiar with is the Hanukiah. The Hanukkiah has nine branches: eight for every day the oil lasted, and a ninth candle - Shamash - which is considered the helper candle to light the others. We light the menorah right to left, and as the eight days go on, we light another candle. The seven-branched menorah is used otherwise as a light for the synagogue when we are not celebrating Hanukkah. 

A present is given every day of the holiday. For my family, my mother was born Christian but has since converted to Judaism. We celebrate the gift-giving aspect of Christmas with my grandma and give smaller gifts to each other before Christmas. Hanukkah is during the break this year, so I get to celebrate with the Jewish side of my family this year. Normally we Facetime them as we light the first candle, or when they get our box of gifts. 

Hanukkah is a way I get to spend time having fun with my family. When the holiday occurred before Christmas break, I would make latkes with my dad. When I was younger and still went to Hebrew school, my Canter would sing the dreidel song and call on someone to rhyme with the "made it out of clay" part. It always brings a smile to my face when I think about those times. Hanukkah is a winter holiday that brings my family together and has created memories that I will remember forever.

Sarah Grigis: As Coptic Orthodox Christians, we follow the Coptic Calendar. Every year, the Advent season begins on November 28 and lasts until January 7 - Christmas Day. We fast this 40-day time period, abstaining from meat and dairy. During the Nativity fast, the church encourages us to spend more time serving the poor and needy through food drives or attending to someone in need. These services puts the Christian faith in action through good deeds and self discipline. Every Saturday during the fasting period, we pray 7 praises to Saint Mary which lasts throughout the night. On Christmas Eve, we go to church at night to celebrate the Nativity Mass which ends at 12 AM, and then we go straight home to break our fast. The whole family takes off from work and school the day of the 7th as we gather with relatives and friends for a warm Christmas meal with traditional Mediterranean food (like delicious stuffed grape leaves, kebab, kofta, macaroni with bashamel sauce, baklava, etc.).

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