UC Davis community members share their favorite holiday traditions



From religious holidays to cultural festivities to secular festivities, the winter months are a time of celebration for many.

By KATIE DEBENEDETTI – [email protected]

As the fall term and 2021 draws to a close, many students and faculty are ringing the bell during the holiday season and getting ready for the New Year. Here’s how some of them celebrate this special time and the traditions they look forward to continuing this year.

Ryan Cometa, a third-year human biology student, said that as a Catholic he loved the Christmas season in part because of the duality of the holiday that is both secular and religious for many people.

“I love the idea that secular holidays have brought, where it’s just kind of a time for families to come together,” Cometa said. “It’s the holiday season, everyone’s finished school and people are finishing their work for the year, so it’s time for everyone to come together. Then there is the Catholic tradition where we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ and […] we celebrate the birth of the newborn who becomes the Savior according to our religion, so it is also [a celebration of] family reuniting.

Cometa said that much of the celebration of Christmas – which marks the birth of the son of God in the Catholic Church – is the Advent season, a four-week preparation period during which the community comes together. preparing for the birth of Jesus.

“The Advent season, I think, is really underrated, especially nowadays,” Cometa said. “It gives us these four weeks just to prepare for his coming and the Christmas season. And even after that, once the Christmas season arrives, we celebrate – at least liturgically for us Catholics – not just the 25th, but we celebrate it all the way until [Jesus’] baptism, which is in mid-January.

Cometa said that by celebrating the Advent and Christmas seasons with the Newman Center community at UC Davis, a Catholic community on campus, he was able to experience how different cultures celebrate the Catholic holiday. He said members of Newman have organized celebrations of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a Mexican tradition that takes place on December 12, before the start of the Christmas season, during which Catholics visit the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City to celebrate the mother of Jesus, Mary. . This day celebrates the belief of Catholics that Mary appeared to Juan Diego in the 1500s and became a day of religious and cultural celebration in Mexico.

Cometa said Newman also celebrated Simbang Gabi, a Filipino Christmas tradition special to him because so much of his family lives in the Philippines. Cometa explained that in the Philippines, Simbang Gabi is traditionally celebrated with nine Masses in the days leading up to Christmas Eve, in Newman, she and other cultural traditions like Our Lady of Guadalupe have been adapted by students in the community. who celebrate them at home. .

Shachar-Lee Yaakobovitz, a fourth-year psychology, theater and dance student, also said celebrating religious holidays like Hanukkah with her Jewish community on campus was one of her favorite times of the winter season.

“I’m not always with my family [for Hanukkah], so I generally like to party with my friends, but also to party on campus ”, Yaakobovitz said. “Something I really love to do when we have had the opportunity to be in person is to watch the candle lightings taking place on campus. It was really nice because it brought the Davis Jewish community together in one place to throw a big party and let everyone enjoy the light, literally, together.

Yaakobovitz said that Chanukah is not one of the main Jewish holidays, so it is mainly celebrated by visiting family, eating traditional foods and lighting the menorah, which is a candelabra with eight candles, each representing one of the eight nights of the holiday. She said that growing up in Israel, her family’s celebration of the holiday was quite different from what it is in the United States.

“In Israel, it’s just another kind of vacation”, Yaakobovitz said. “It’s just another party for everyone, [and for] families to reunite, friends to reunite. It’s more about spending time with your loved ones, […] whereas here in the United States there is more emphasis on giving and receiving gifts.

Yaakobovitz said that even after his family moved to the United States, they kept the same Hanukkah traditions, so they never exchanged gifts during their celebrations. Instead, she said the tradition she and her family carry on is to cook together during the eight days of Chanukah.

“One thing I really love to do is make latkes with my mom, it’s something we try to do” Yaakobovitz said. “Or we try to make sufganiyot, which are jelly-filled donuts, but they can be filled with other things like chocolate. We try to cook together as a family during the holidays and that’s probably my favorite tradition.

Food is a common thread in holiday traditions, and Professor Milmon Harrison, associate professor of African American and African studies at Davis, said it’s also central to her family’s Kwanzaa celebration.

“There is the party part of [Kwanzaa] it’s supposed to come to the end, but we kind of continue to feast on Christmas until New Years, ”Harrison said. “Our family is from the South, so southern cuisine is an integral part of our tradition, especially the week after Christmas. Foods like black-eyed peas, cabbage, and greens – it’s not specifically a Kwanzaa thing, but it’s a bit of a southern thing.

Harrison said that in addition to cooking, he and his family took time during Kwanzaa, which is a celebration of African American culture that takes place from December 26 to January 1 each year, to reflect on the year that ends and plan for the year about to begin.

“I’m starting to get very introspective and start to journal and plan a lot,” Harrison said. “And I start talking to my wife, my kids [about] what we want to focus on for next year and write these things down. Not only what kinds of goals do we want to achieve, but […] how do we want to be better people in the coming year? ”

Harrison said that Kwanzaa is not a religious holiday but a cultural holiday that celebrates African heritage and tradition, guided by seven fundamental principles, each represented by a candle on the kinara.

“It is time to reflect on [the principles of] unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economy, purpose, creativity and faith, ”said Harrison. “Because Kwanzaa […] is the last week of the year, we really think about that stuff and ask ourselves the question: where are we in relation to these principles, and how can we start living these principles again in the year to to come ? “

Whatever religious, cultural or secular holiday you celebrate during the winter season, there are many themes that are universal. The season is a time to reflect, prepare and celebrate with loved ones. Harrison explained the important themes of Kwanzaa – and that they boil down to many of the same celebrated during Christmas, Hanukkah, and the end of the year in general.

“I think the focus on family and community is such an important part of this particular season,” said Harrison. “During Kwanzaa, the emphasis is on meeting your family and loved ones, and your community. [It’s about] take the time to reflect on where we came from, not only this year, but where we came from in our history, and where we want to go and what we want to do better next year, and what we want to reflect to how we can maintain and build on the legacy of our ancestors in history and in the years to come.

Written by: Katie DeBenedetti – [email protected]

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