An Exploration of Holiday Cultural Traditions


Hyein Lee

Rachel Landis ’19 celebrates Hanukkah, one of the most celebrated holidays during the winter.

Given the vast diversity of the student body, it is no surprise that the ways our students celebrate the winter holidays are unique and representative of their cultural backgrounds. Although some celebrate in a traditional manner, others spend their holidays through more casual outings. Above all, enjoying the season with a magical and merry winter atmosphere is the desire of all students.

One of the many celebrated holidays, Hanukkah is a holiday that lasts for eight days. The Jewish Holiday memorializes the lighting of the candles in the temple when there was only enough oil to light the candles for one night, yet the candles lasted for eight nights. Many participate in this holiday through small family gatherings and  traditional rituals. “My family lights our Hanukkiah all eight nights, and we have bottomless latkes (potato pancakes) pretty much the entire week,” Rachel Landis ’19 said. One of her favorite family traditions is one that she shares with her brother where they both watch “A Rugrats Chanukah.” Their family balances more old-fashioned traditions and fun, entertaining activities throughout the season.

“For New Years, my family decorates the house in red. We post poetic couplets on the front door to bring good luck.” Xiang Li ’19 said.

Christmas is also celebrated by many students in our school who enjoy and partake in small, cheerful Christmas celebrations. Many get into the joyous Christmas spirit through music and simple activities such as gift exchanges. “I always make time to go to the holiday village in Union Square with my friends. There are a lot of local artisans who create stuff life fun socks or delicious hot chocolate, and it’s always fun to support small businesses within New York City. It helps that it consolidates my gift shopping into one place, too,” said Hugh-Jay Yu ’19.

Once the clocks strike 12 a.m. on December 31, there are some families and friends who welcome the upcoming year with good luck and hope. Some perceive New Years as a day where late night parties are held and resolutions are set. On the other hand, people of Chinese heritage also participate in the New Year, with their own twist on the holiday. “For New Years, my family decorates the house in red. We post poetic couplets on the front door to bring good luck.” Xiang Li ’19 said.

Although not common, several students in our student body celebrate multiple holidays during this holiday season. Elinor Poole-Dayan explains how she came to celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas. “I celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas, because half of my family is Jewish and half is Christian. At home, we light Hanukkah candles, give gifts and eat fried foods. Then we go to Canada to join our Christian relatives for Christmas, where we all get presents on Christmas morning. It’s interesting to be able to celebrate both holidays because I get to experience two different cultures and bond with my family,” Poole-Dayan ’19 said.

Similarly, Julia Adelman also celebrates these two holidays and even created a closer bond with her family members through their long-celebrated tradition of sleeping under the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve.  “When I was younger, my twin sister and I would sleep by the Christmas tree and my dad would read ‘The Night Before Christmas’ and ‘The Gift of the Magi’ to us on Christmas Eve. My twin sister and I started the tradition of sleeping under the tree. My dad has read those stories to us ever since our first Christmas. These combined traditions make me feel closer to my family,” said Julia Adelman ’19.

These few examples of the cultural traditions and activities that students engage in throughout the winter season emphasize the diversity of our student body.