Breaking Tradition: Celebrating Christmas with a Twist

By Gabe Garcia

A typical Christmas usually consists of decorating a tree, hanging up stockings and opening up presents wrapped up in paper and bows. However, many students at Youngstown State University have their own holiday traditions.

“Instead of a star, we put a hat on the top of our tree,” Hailey Williams, a sophomore majoring in fashion merchandising, said. “It’s kind of like a top hat, my mom found it in a store somewhere, and I guess she thought it would look cute on our tree.”

Mark Toncar, a freshman majoring in history, has found a unique alternative to snowball fights.

“We have a Nerf war on Christmas,” he said. “Everyone participates, even my grandma.”

Cierra Roberts is a junior majoring in early childhood education. Her grandma has her family participate in a scavenger hunt.

“She leaves us notes and watches us run up and down the street, looking for our next clue until we find our present,” Roberts said. “It’s really fun!”

Traditions can arise from unusual places. Olivia Gray, a sophomore majoring in vocal performance, said they have eaten meatballs every Christmas since one year when her dad couldn’t wait for lunch.

“It’s been a tradition ever since,” she said. “We all get one and eat them on toothpicks on Christmas morning, sort of like a toast.”

While some traditions are fun and upbeat, made up just because, others have stronger, more cultural ties.

“My family actually has this thing where we put a pickle in our tree,” Megan Seivert, a senior studying integrated science education, said. “Not an actual pickle of course, but a pickle shaped ornament. We hide it in the tree and the first person to find it gets to open the first present.”

Melissa Gruber, a senior majoring in early childhood education said her boyfriend’s family practices an Italian tradition.

“His family does what’s called the feast of seven fishes, where they prepare clams, oysters and crab cakes on Christmas Eve,” she said.

The feast has ties to Catholicism, when people would fast to anticipate the birth of Jesus Christ and would break the fast at midnight mass by receiving communion. Since meat is not allowed during fasting, they would eat fish instead.

“We actually have this bread breaking tradition,” Daniel Moore, a sophomore majoring in power-plant technology, said. “My family’s Polish so we do this thing called Oplatki, where we pass the bread around the dinner table and everyone takes a piece as a blessing for the New Year.”

The tradition also has Catholic ties, symbolizing the Eucharist — a ceremony commemorating the Last Supper. It also has ties to the city of Bethlehem, where Jesus was born, and translates to mean “House of Bread.”

Johanna Slivinske, part-time faculty in social work, admits that some traditions can be an acquired taste, like her family’s custom of making oyster stew on Christmas Eve.

“My mom read it in a magazine a long time ago, and although she’s passed away my siblings and I still do it,” Slivinske said. “People either love it or they hate it.”