In dark times, students look to holiday traditions for light


Chloe Arciero, Dani Carr, and Grace Clark


The aromatic smell of latkes drifts around the room and friends and family chatter away as they cook up fried oreos, doughnuts, snickers and anything else they can get their hands on. This is the usual sight of junior Colin Goldbergs’s Hanukkah celebration. 

Goldberg explained that Hanukkah is known as the Festival of Lights or the Festival of Oil for the miracle allowing the menorah to stay lit for eight days with little oil while the Jews in Israel were attacked by the Romans. 

“It was a miracle that there was very little oil but [the menorah] was able to last eight days [until] the new oil [was supplied] and the Jews were able to defeat the Romans,” Goldberg explained.

While Goldberg’s family is still celebrating, he explained that they will not be able to see extended family as they usually would. He also noted that they will be missing out on a traditional part of their celebrations, going to the synagogue.

“We’re not going to be able to go to the synagogue this year,” Goldberg said. “There [wouldn’t be] that much room if [my family] were to go, and we would rather let other people go,” Goldberg said.

In order to celebrate, Goldberg’s family lights the hanukkiah, also known as the menorah, a candle holder with eight candles to symbolize the eight days that the lantern in the Temple stayed lit, and a ninth called the shamash which is used to light the other candles.

“[Hanukkah] is the Festival of Lights, so we light a hanukkiah and we just try to light up the house,” Goldberg explained.

In addition, Goldberg’s family cooks up fried delights. As Goldberg’s dad is in the food industry, every year he and his dad, as well as his friends and their dads, would go to his dad’s prop kitchen and fry as much food as possible.

“We try to eat a lot of fried food on Hanukkah to celebrate the Festival of Oil,” Goldberg said. “We make Latkes which are potato pancakes, and we also have sufganiyot, which are basically jelly donuts.”


Agnostic Christmas

On a usual Christmas morning, junior Lauren Collins packs into a car loaded with her immediate family and presents and drives to spend the day at her grandmother’s house with her extended family as snowflakes swirl through the freezing air. Although Collins said she considers herself agnostic, she celebrates Christmas because it lets her spend time with the people she cares about.

Collins has considered herself agnostic for about two years, and said that her family has been very supportive of her decisions regarding religion.

“I would define [being agnostic] as believing that there is an upper being, but you don’t identify yourself as one singular religion,” Collins said. “My family raised me to believe whatever I wanted to believe, and both of my parents consider themselves agnostic, so [they are] pretty accepting of [my religion].”

Since some of her extended family is Catholic, Collins explained that they still spend Christmas together, but she does not attend Mass with them. Her family congregates at one family member’s house, and does a secret santa gift exchange after a shared meal. This year, Collins will not be able to see her extended family due to the pandemic, but she plans to find ways to stay connected to her relatives. 

“This year I’m just going to spend Christmas with my immediate family, which is going to be kind of upsetting because [my extended family] likes to be together on the holidays, especially Christmas,” Collins said. “We’re going to have a family Zoom call to talk [with each other].”

Despite the difficult circumstances, Collins aims to make the most out of the holiday because to her, it is a good way to spend time with family.

“To me, Christmas is more about spending time with your family and showing how much you love them rather than just the day Jesus was born,” Collins said.



As snow blankets the ground and the days get shorter, the winter holiday season approaches. For senior Faith Roche, the holiday season is a time for peace and self-reflection as she celebrates Yule, a Wiccan holiday that takes place on the winter solstice. 

Roche explained that Yule represents the literal returning of the light, as it marks the date when the days will begin to get longer. Wicca is a nature-based religion founded on pre-Christian traditions, according to Encyclopedia Britannica, so its holidays are based around the seasons. 

“In Wicca, the celebrations are based on the wheel of the year, which kind of goes along with the changing of the seasons, and Yule is literally at the end of that cycle,” Roche said. “It represents complete new beginnings because it’s the end of that dark period.”

Because Yule is traditionally a period of self-reflection, it is usually celebrated individually, and Roche said her plans have not been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. To celebrate, Roche likes to burn pine in order to encapsulate the energy of renewal and new beginnings. 

“Yule for me represents a time to reflect on everything in the past year, all of the good things and the bad things how they’ve shaped me and how I’ve grown from them and reflect on that and set an intention for how [I’m] going to live life in the next year,” Roche said.

Roche said that she enjoys how peaceful the holiday is, and how it grounds her, especially in times as stressful as these, with school and the Covid-19 pandemic. Yule allows her to focus on how she will improve herself in the future.

“Celebrating [Yule] has a lot to do with inner reflection on the past year, and how you intend to bring changes to yourself and what you plan to do to enter that new period of light that’s coming,” Roche said. “It’s about being more gentle to others in the world around you and yourself, and setting your intentions for bringing warmth back into your life.”



The lights are switched off, flowers are spread around and the smell of incense permeates the air. There are candles everywhere, meant to symbolize how good always triumphs evil. This is how junior Sita Kharel celebrates Diwali, also known as Tihar for Nepalis. 

“It’s a festival of lights and it’s supposed to symbolize how light always triumphs dark,” Kharel said.

This year, Diwali was celebrated on Nov. 14, and the preparations for the holiday began five days prior. Kharel’s family spends the week of Diwali celebrating with a puja, a Hindu worship ritual dedicated to making offerings such as flowers or fruit to a god, and spending time with their family over dinner. 

“There is preparation leading up to [Nov. 14] so that week we’re [still] celebrating [Diwali],” Kharel said. “But November 14th is the one time that we come together and we do [a puja].”

Despite the religious significance of the holiday, Kharel sees Diwali more as a time to be together with family.

“For me, I feel like it’s less about the religious significance and more about just being able to have that time with my family,” Kharel said.

Kharel said that her celebration of Diwali was not drastically affected by Covid-19 restrictions, because while many holidays include large gatherings of family and friends, Diwali focuses on getting together with only a small group of close family members.

I feel like this [holiday] is much more centered around home life,” Kharel said. “It’s not exactly like an outright celebration with other people.”



On Christmas Eve, junior Veronika Gliwa’s kitchen is busy, as her entire family works to prepare many different traditional Polish dishes in preparation for Christmas. Traditionally, Gliwa said that there are 12 dishes made for Christmas Eve in Polish tradition, to represent the 12 apostles of Jesus Christ. This is just one of many significant traditions for Polish Christmas.

Gliwa explained that for her, traditional Polish food is an important part of celebrating Christmas.

“I really like eating and making traditional Polish food because it helps me keep in touch with my culture,” Gliwa explained. “A lot of the recipes we use are ones that have been passed down from older relatives like great grandparents. Recipes in my family are usually passed down [visually], so that’s why it is important that I take part in making traditional Polish food with my family.”

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Gliwa said that she will not be able to travel to Poland as her family had planned. However, she explained that she is making the most out of her celebrations this year by focusing on the compassionate and spiritual values.

“Christmas is about awaiting and celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ,” Gliwa said. “It is also a celebration where I feel as though selflessness is important.”

Another important tradition in Polish culture involves an extra spot at the dinner table during Christmas, in case a wandering stranger is in need of food or a deceased family member visits. Gliwa explained that the many Polish traditions are very important to her, and she plans to ]continue practicing them in the future. 

“I really like Christmas because I have lots of good memories from when I was little partaking in Polish Christmas traditions,” Gliwa said. “I couldn’t imagine celebrating Christmas without all of these symbolic Polish traditions.”