HomeEditors' PicksUnique holiday traditions bring students closer to their cultural heritage

Unique holiday traditions bring students closer to their cultural heritage

Published Dec. 13, 2023


Is that Krampus or Saint Nicholaus? This was the question Carmel High sophomore Esme Beesley frequently found herself asking during December when she lived in Leoben, Austria, representing a holiday tradition that has stuck with her even after her move to the United States. For those CHS students with family members abroad or deeply rooted in another culture, practicing traditional customs around the holidays can help them strengthen their connection to their cultural heritage and extended family. 

Junior Orla Cook connects with her relatives in the United Kingdom through traditions that include making a Christmas pudding, a dessert similar to fruitcake, in November and leaving it to set until Christmas where it is set alight through the use of brandy.

Sophomore Esme Beesley (right) still celebrates the holiday traditions her family established while living in Austria, including traditional Austrian foods. (courtesy of ESME BEESLEY)

“Christmas is a very family-oriented holiday in the UK, so a lot of the traditions are done with others,” Cook explains. “In my family when making the Christmas pudding each person goes around and mixes the pudding while making a wish.”

For Cook, these holiday traditions help her remember the importance of family coming together. Similarly, freshman Delilah Herro has baked Scottish shortbread with her grandmother every Christmas Eve to celebrate their Scottish heritage for as long as she can remember, bringing her closer to her grandmother and her culture every year.

Internationally based holiday traditions can also take the form of experiences, with junior Daniel Hohnloser having established the tradition of spending almost all of his holidays in various European countries in order to be exposed to new cultures and spend time with his father who lives abroad. His family celebrates Christmas on Christmas Eve, a tradition observed in many European and Latin American countries.

“My parents are international,” says Hohnloser, who is German and Polish, “so I go to Germany, Austria and Spain, and basically celebrate all of my holidays there. Our tradition is going to different places in Europe and celebrating with different cultures.”

The holiday traditions practiced by sophomore Lola Gay and her family bring her fond memories of her childhood and help establish her culture in her life. In Catalan, the region of Spain she is from, a log named Caga Tió delivers presents to small children.

“My culture is very Catalan,” Gay says. “Caga Tió is significant to me because I always loved it as a kid and singing the songs with my family.”

Since childhood, senior Isabel Norman (left) has typically spent her holidays connecting with her culture and extended family in the Dominican Republic. (courtesy of ISABEL NORMAN)

These traditions can also help individuals gain a better understanding of their culture and religious practices. To further immerse herself in her culture over the holidays, senior Isabel Norman usually spends the winter break in the Dominican Republic to visit her mom’s side of the family, eating traditional Dominican meals and going to church with her family members.

“I always love going to the Dominican Republic, as I get to see that side of the family and continue to learn more about Dominican culture,” Norman says. “I always feel super connected with this side of the family when we go and visit.”

Beyond furthering her bond to own culture, Norman and her family also like to use the holidays to reconnect with some of their favorite experiences, including continuing their annual tradition that they picked up while living in Spain: eating 12 grapes at midnight. 

Similarly using the holidays to connect with time spent abroad is senior Tristen Harris who lived in the Philippines, moving to the U.S. during the pandemic. But continuing all cultural holiday traditions isn’t always possible away from home.

“One of the things we did yearly when I lived in the Philippines was Simbang Gabi, where we essentially would attend mass for nine nights straight to thoroughly prepare for Christmas,” Harris explains. “Since moving to the states we have had a harder time continuing such traditions.”

Despite not being able to carry over everything, Harris and her family have created a number of new traditions to add to their holiday celebrations. For Harris, their traditions have become things that her family look forward to in the holiday season, and that’s what makes them meaningful.

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