As Christmas approaches, journalist-in-residence Tim Ghianni asked his writing lab students to reflect on their holidays and family traditions.
A Colombian Christmas
The Christmas period in Colombia is very different from here. In my experience, Christmas in Franklin, Tennessee is very magical, just like in the movies, with the Christmas tree downtown, the lights, the decorations around town, the weather and, if we have any. luck, snow.
Christmas in Colombia is more of a family celebration and all parties and reunions start at the beginning of December.
There is a tradition that nine days before Christmas we go to a different house every day where we read the story of Jesus, eat traditional Christmas food and sing along. Then on the 24th, we all get dressed, prepare a lot of food and put the gifts under the tree; at 12 noon, the children of the family become the “elves” and begin to distribute the gifts.
But we create a dynamic to make it more fun, the elves give each person a gift, then each person has to describe who they are giving their gift to, and everyone has to guess who it is for. After opening the gifts, sometimes we play games, dance, and all the children play with their new gifts.
They are very different, but I really like both.
I love it here because it is very magical and beautiful. And in Colombia, I like it because there is a lot of party, music and food. I get very nostalgic at Christmas because my whole family is in Colombia and I miss the traditions, but overall Christmas is my favorite holiday; I love December because my birthday is the 2nd, Christmas and New Years. It is a month full of excitement, happiness and love.
I am very excited about this Christmas this year because I will be spending it with my dad in North Carolina and we are going skiing. This is our first time having Christmas in the US and we’re going to have it with snow, which makes it more exciting.
Santa Claus in the toilet
Christmas is probably the biggest holiday for my family. Around the beginning of December, we start to decorate the house with the exact same decorations that I have seen since I can remember. My favorites include a small wooden outhouse that opens to reveal Santa Claus on the toilet writing his list on toilet paper, a fuzzy singing and tinkling snowman toy, and a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ornament. . I am usually the one who sets up the nursery near the dinner table.
We always take a few hours to set up the tree with all the adornments we have in stock. Even some of my parents’ childhood ornaments are mixed up, as well as paper ornaments that my brothers and I made when we were toddlers. Our old house has an intercom that allows you to play music on the speakers and we often turn the chain on to play Christmas music while we adorn the tree. In the end, not a single branch would be unoccupied.
If it snows, we make snow cream. My dad finds some clean, freshly fallen snow, then brings it inside, throws it in a bowl, and starts mixing it with sugar, milk, and vanilla. My brothers love it, even though I’ve never been very fond of ice cream. My favorite treat is Pillsbury Christmas Sugar Cookies. Well, at least right out of the oven. They melt in your mouth. I have also always been a big fan of hot chocolate.
On the night of December 23, we are still reading this book called “The Night Before The Night Before Christmas” as well as “Busy Bear Celebrates Christmas”.
Then, once we get to Christmas Eve, my family always reads a passage from the Bible and reads the actual story of “The Night Before Christmas”. After that, we drive around the neighborhood and watch the Christmas lights.
I can still recite lines from “Busy Bear”. It shows that Christmas isn’t about getting cool gifts, it’s about spending time with the ones you love. However, getting cool gifts is also nice.
In pursuit of gingerbread
Once a year – and only once – I take a slow afternoon rummaging through the herbs and spices in the spice cabinet and find the jar of molasses that collects dust in the back. My sister Maggie and I created a classic Christmas playlist and made butter, brown sugar, eggs, vanilla, flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice and cloves – all the essentials for a good gingerbread cookie.
I preheat the oven while she mixes everything into a hard dough, and together we joke and laugh as we beat and roll her into a sheet on a large slice of parchment. We cut it into little angels and snowmen with our cookie cutters and place them delicately on a hot baking sheet. Outside, the bare trees sway, glistening with ice in the blazing afternoon sun. Almost as soon as they’re in the oven, the cookies give off the hottest, spiciest aroma imaginable, and Maggie and I lick our lips as we wait. The oven is filled with hot air and we sit and listen to music as we let the sun come in through the window to warm us. We watch our little siblings build snowmen outside and laugh as they fall in the snow, holding their little pink noses.
Soon the cookies came out, and we made a creamy frosting and spread it on top. When they cool down, we’ll drive them to the neighbors, but first we make some glorious bites – a buttery, spicy, crumbled gift for cooks.
Hors d’oeuvre by the fire
Every year, children all over the world look forward to Christmas morning. For many, Christmas Eve is a somewhat obligatory precursor that finds them tortured with impatience. In my house, however, Christmas Eve rivals Christmas Day in excitement. The church is followed by a delicious buffet dinner of appetizers, which we eat by the fire. After we are completely stuffed, we open the stockings. Without the biggest gifts to distract, donors of tiny trinkets garner the affection their attention deserves. After receiving the inevitable bounty of chocolate (including the annual chocolate orange), we sit back and watch an old Christmas movie before bed. Those cozy evenings by the fireside are some of my fondest vacation memories. –
Christmas is definitely the best holiday of the year. Everyone is happy at Christmas. As for our family, we really appreciate this time. I am from Costa Rica. There is a tradition of cooking “tamales” in December. We prepare ‘tamales’ as a family at the start of the last month of the year. Even though the preparation and the process are the same every year, we appreciate the time we spend together. I love this tradition and think it is one of my best memories. My grandfather came every year from Costa Rica to visit us. On Christmas Eve, we eat together in our house, like many people. However, last year was very different. On Christmas Eve, as we were going to my uncle’s, the snow came. It was impossible to continue driving (we were on the Interstate). Most stores were closed, even some gas stations. Therefore, we stayed in a waffle house while waiting for better weather conditions. For some people it would be a bad memory as we couldn’t arrive on time. For us it was a great opportunity to laugh and understand how important it is to enjoy every moment of our life. Also, we often visit Gatlinburg which is a beautiful place. We have been there three times and we have stayed in the cabins. This year we are planning to go to Florida, specifically Naples and Disney World. However, I am sure Gatlinburg is still an option for some of my family.
Jeikof Alfaro Saenz