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a snowy winter day in Nutley

Holiday Celebrations: Different this Year?

Every year, the holiday season comes and goes. Even alongside changes that will inevitably come, there will always be at least some tradition that stands and is shared with those we love. Despite the pandemic that tainted the celebration season last year, even trickling into this one, holiday traditions and celebrations never seemed to fail. Jane Tsilova-Tuero, who celebrates Hanukkah, Abigail Puleo, who celebrates Christmas Day, and Amaya Negron, who celebrates Three Kings Day, all spoke about their holiday’s history, traditions, and celebrations. “It was nice to be with family again and celebrate the festival of lights,” says Jane. 


Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday that is celebrated for eight days - this year during the end of November and beginning of December, commemorating the wicks of a menorah that burned for 8 just over a week despite the fact that, without a miracle, they would’ve burnt out long before they did. “Jews had risen up against the Geek-Syrian oppressors in the Maccabean Revolt,” says Jane, “in a later text, the temple was purified and the wicks of the menorah miraculously burned for 8 days.”


Celebrations vary from family to family. Jane’s has a large dinner on the first night of Hanukkah where gifts are exchanged and a feeling of togetherness is undeniable. Some authentic dishes include potato latkes, knish borscht soup, and brisket. They also have variations of Russian dishes.


Every night, the candles on the menorah are lit and, after doing so, Jane and her husband will give their daughter little gifts. The family also plays with the dreidel, a four-sided top with a Hebrew letter on each side, and reads books and watches movies about the holiday, one of those being the film Eight Crazy Nights. 


“I love buying my daughter gifts and being together with family,” says Jane. The last couple of years have called for very small holiday dinners, which was a striking difference between previous years, where gatherings usually consisted of at least 15 people. This year was a breath of fresh air as the family was able to reunite for the festival of lights.


Christmas Day, a Christian holiday, is celebrated annually on December 25th. It honors the birth of Jesus. People who believed in God were anticipating the savior's arrival, knowing that he would come eventually. On Christmas, their expectations were satisfied with the birth of Christ. “They didn’t know when he would come, just that God would one day send him to earth,” Abigail says, “it was celebrated because he had finally come, and they didn’t have to wait any longer.” 


The Christmas season is one of giving. Through the night, “Santa Claus” will come through the chimney, leaving gifts for the family, filling stockings with knick-knacks, and placing gifts under a decorated evergreen that is put up at the beginning of the Christmas Season and taken down at the end. 


In the morning Abigail and her brother wake up before their parents, anticipating gifts under the tree. After the dog has been walked, the family gathers around the tree and opens their gifts, giving thanks and sometimes taking photos. 


After presents have been exchanged, the family gets ready to go to a relative’s home to celebrate. If not, the family will go to their house. Either way, the holiday is celebrated in unity. 


Although Christmas Day is one of the most well-known Christian holidays, The Three Kings Day, or “Dia de Los Tres Reyes,” is widely celebrated by Catholics and is one of the twelve days of Christmas. “January 6th is when the three kings come and deliver expensive gifts such as gold, frankincense, and myrrh,” Amaya says, “The three kings had traveled in the desert for about 12 days, following the north star.” 


Now, the Three Kings come during the night and each will leave three gifts under the Christmas tree and, even now, the North Star is recognized as the brightest in the sky, although not as bright as the night Jesus was born. In Amaya’s family, as gifts are unwrapped, photos or videos may or may not be taken. It all depends on what happens, and there’s no guarantee one way or another. 


Foods like Pasteles, a Puerto Rican dish which is pork that is stuffed in green plantain masa and wrapped in banana leaves are also common for the holiday season. Amaya’s family will also decorate a nativity scene, depicting the birth of Baby Jesus as well as the Three Kings bearing his gifts. He was born in a manger, complete with animals, Saint Mary and Joseph, and hay that litters the ground. The nativity scene can vary from family to family, while some prefer some, others may like a different depiction. “It comes in all shapes, sizes, and colors,” says Amaya. 


All in all, the holiday season is one that’s full of twists, turns, and traditions that will be carried for years and years to come. Despite the odd changes of previous years and the obstacles that will be overcome, the holiday spirit, no matter what holiday it may belong to, will never die.