As soon as Halloween night ends, students eagerly begin to await the holiday season. Not only is school out for winter break, but students get to spend time with their families and enjoy their holiday traditions. Christmas and Hanukkah fill December with excitement. The presents, Christmas lights and wintry season are just some of the many elements that make this season so exciting; however, it is not just about the gifts. With the holidays comes a series of family traditions and religious history that students and their relatives celebrate.
Of course, Christmas is a much anticipated holiday among Pace students. It is traditional for most to decorate a Christmas tree and for many to attend church on Christmas Eve on Dec. 24. Christmas is observed worldwide to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. The classic fir trees are used to symbolize a sense of everlasting light and love.
Senior Andrew Neville is just one of the hundreds of Pace students that celebrates Christmas. “Both of my parents are Methodist so it’s a tradition for us to celebrate Christmas every year,” said Neville. “On Christmas Eve, we go to one of our grandparents’ houses and on Christmas Day, we spend time at our other grandparents’ house,” explained Neville. Neville and his family enjoy Christmas traditions such as decorating their tree, taking part in a gift exchange and eating a meal together on Christmas Eve.
In addition to Neville, freshman Brooke Fung Chung takes part in the typical Christmas traditions over the holidays. “We celebrate Christmas and it is an important time for us to meet with family and for all of us to be together,” said Fung Chung. “We are all spread apart and I have family in New York, Florida and Georgia, so it is nice for all of us to spend time together during Christmas.” For Fung Chung, it is more than the gifts and the lights. She anticipates the arrival of all of her relatives, excited to celebrate the holidays with them.
Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, is a commonly observed holiday in the Jewish community. The story of Hanukkah goes back to roughly 200 B.C. when the Maccabees defeated King Antiochus IV Epiphanes of Syria who had ruled Jerusalem and outlawed the Jewish religion. After the Syrians were driven out of Jerusalem, Judah Maccabee called on his followers to cleanse the Second Temple and rebuild its altar. They only had enough oil to light a lamp for one night. However, the oil lasted for eight nights, signifying a miracle and the reason behind the eight-day duration of Hanukkah. It is common for Jews to light a menorah, exchange gifts and spin the dreidel every night in observance of this holiday.
Sophomore Cole Kaplan celebrates Hanukkah every year with his family. “We spend time doing traditions like spinning the dreidel and opening gifts with our family,” said Kaplan. “These traditions have been in my family since before I was born. My parents always took part in these activities and it has been around for a long time.” Kaplan loves Hanukkah especially because it allows him to gather with his relatives that don’t live close by and honor the traditions that have been in his family for years.
Junior Casey Shoulberg also takes part in the Hanukkah festivities. “My entire family gets the chance to celebrate together and it has never really been about presents to us,” said Shoulberg. “It is mainly about lighting the candles and getting in touch with our Jewish roots.” Shoulberg explained that her favorite family tradition is a gift exchange known as “Hannukah Harry,” where everyone is assigned a person in her family to get a present for.
“The tradition started with basically just finding something fun that our entire family could participate in,” said Shoulberg. “It is a way for all of us to be together as an entire family and since my family is big, it incorporates people I don’t usually see over the year.” Shoulberg shared that her grandmother converted, and they still celebrate Christmas in December. “It is really nice for us to be able to celebrate all of these different holidays while still being together and having a great time as a family,” she said.