Holiday Traditions of Westwood Students

Larissa Lamarca, Sports Editor

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The holidays are an exciting part of the year, filled with the joys of family, traditions, gifts, celebration and food. If you enjoy the holidays, there are aspects that you look forward to most. Here is what some of the Westwood Regional Jr./Sr. High School students have to say about their holiday season:

For the most part Christmas and Hanukkah are widely celebrated here at Westwood. Christmas is celebrated on December 24-25 and this year Hanukkah takes place from December 24 through January 1.

Other important holidays celebrated by the students of Westwood include Diwali (mid to late October), Ramadan (changes every year based on the lunar calendar), Eid Al-Fitr (after the month of Ramadan, which moves back 10 days every year), New Year’s Eve (December 31) and Passover (in the spring).

Diwali is a majority Hindu holiday. Diwali is the festival of lights, that symbolizes the win of good over bad, light over dark. Sophomore Kaavya Muthuraman, a student that celebrates Diwali, loves this holiday as she gets to take a day off and feast with family all day. Muthuraman said, “In India, Diwali is a national holiday and families get together and set off fireworks and sparklers. Since that is illegal in New Jersey, my family drives the one hour trip to Connecticut, where my cousins live. There, it is legal to have sparklers and fountain firecrackers, so when the sun sets, we will go into their driveway and set off these firecrackers. Some people decorate by putting deepams (little clay pots that are filled with oil and a cotton wick so that they can be lit up. In essence, it is a little candle).” For Muthuraman, her family, and other families that celebrate Diwali, lighting candles, fireworks and other light sources are their way to celebrate light over dark.

The next holiday is Ramadan, a Muslim holiday that is done by fasting from sunrise to sunset for a month. This holiday is to teach the people to appreciate what they have by experiencing a lack of food and water for the given time. Sophomore Rayyan ElDana said, “I remember the first time I fasted the entire day and my parents were so happy and that made me so excited to start doing it every day for that month.” Some of ElDana’s favorite foods to eat, are sweets such as atayef, kanafeh, and ma’amoul. Additionally, “the entire day is spent cooking and family can come over and have dinner. Decorations are optional and you can hang them around your house or outside. At the end of the entire month there is another holiday known as Eid-Al-Fitr,” said ElDana.

At the conclusion of Ramadan, Eid Al-Fitr is recognized. This is also a Muslim holiday, where they celebrate having fasted for a month. Sophomore Amal Wadi, a student who celebrates Eid Al-Fitr says that although there is no specific food associate with the holiday, after fasting, any food smells, tastes and looks very delicious. Wadi said, “We decorate our house, we go to the mosque in the morning and have Eid Prayer. then each family does whatever they want. My family usually gathers together, we go to my grandparents house, my grandmother cooks delicious food and we all eat together, she always has Eid Candy to give the little kids, and we get presents. We also get to dress up all fancy.” Wadi said his favorite part is “going to Eid Prayer with my family and just seeing everyone happy and dressed up all fancy, and having to open presents.”

Hanukkah is generally celebrated in mid to late December. This is another big holiday for Westwood students. This holiday begins eight days after Kislev. Sophomore Andrew Dursi, who celebrates said, “My favorite memory was in 2012 when it was our first time getting together again, after the passing of my grandmother’s brother. He passed away around Hanukkah time, so we did not celebrate for about two years.” This year Dursi is looking forward to it and having potato latkes with applesauce, one of his family’s Hanukkah dishes.

Junior Shaina Woodward, who also celebrates Hanukkah said, “Every night during it we light the candles together and say the prayer. Then we wish each other a Happy Hanukkah and open a gift. One of the eight days, usually my mom’s side of the family comes over and we exchange gifts. Sometimes we Skype our family in California and open gifts with them too.”

Christmas comes around the same time, December 24 and 25. For junior Alex Palacios, “Every Christmas Eve we celebrate at my grandmother’s house for my uncle’s birthday and Christmas. My grandfather builds this huge town on a big table with decorations. They are ceramic and very special to him. We watch a ‘Muppets Christmas Carol’ with my cousins, eat food, exchange presents. I love every moment of it.”

Senior Corinne Schenone said,My extended family has a tradition where after we exchange gifts, all 20 of us have a wrapping paper fight. It is usually just the men that get into the fight, but everyone is involved somehow.”

For junior Tara Macchione, “My mom’s family is very Italian and does the tradition of  7 fishes on Christmas eve and we are not allowed to eat meat. My grandma and aunt also bake tons of different kinds of cookies which is my favorite.”

Senior Laura Pacelli said, “As a tradition for Christmas since my family is Italian we make rice balls together as a family. Me and my sister help my mom and my dad fries them.”

Similarly, junior Elizabeth Binetti said, “My family usually eats Italian food for every holiday; so things like rice balls, risotto, mozzarella and tomatoes on Italian bread, and my grandmother makes these Italian cookies that I do not know the name of. My favorite is rice balls.”

While for student Shannon Rosen, ham, ham gravy and mashed potatoes are essential foods at her Christmas dinner. Senior Brianna Botten said, “My family makes these meatballs that they call ‘butler balls’ and they are absolutely delicious. They have a sweet red sauce that they are covered in and they are insanely good. My other favorite would have to be cornbread pudding, it’s warm and gooey it’s one of my favorites.”

Senior Harry Vella said, “I like getting to see my family, because some of my family live in different states and I rarely get to see them.” For senior Lillian Mateo her “mom likes for me to stay home on Christmas Day but Christmas Eve we always go to a family party.”

For sophomore Robby DiCuia, giving others gifts is his favorite part of Christmas. Senior Carly Dugan said, “Sprinkling reindeer food on the front lawn for the reindeer’s and leaving cookies and milk for Santa” are her family’s tradition.

Junior Steven Ivanof celebrates Eastern Orthodox Christmas which falls on the first saturday in January. Ivanof and his family make, “Kutia, perogies, mushroom soup, and many different vegetables” for their holiday.

Junior Camilla Beutel has a tradition where she said, “My sisters and I watch ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ every year on Christmas Eve before we go to bed. I never understood the movie when I was younger, so now that I do, I love watching it every year. We also make Christmas movies as we watch the movie. We usually watch the shows and movies that are part of the 25 Days of Christmas specials on T.V. during the month of December.” Sophomore Haley Andresen and her family have a party, then, “We get into our pj’s and open presents as a family. My Grammy wears the Santa hat and my sister, brother and I are her helpers. We pass around gifts and enjoy each other’s company. Also, I like when we all together sing Christmas Carols, with my aunt playing on the piano for us to sing.”

Senior Andrea Zamora often visits her family in Ecuador for the holidays and said, “When I go to Ecuador, Christmas can last 3 days depending on what each family is doing. My whole family would cook lots of food and call everyone such as friends and neighbors and together they would make an altar for the Holy family. We bring flowers, and puts lots of decorations later we would make a big dinner. Someone has to choose people (usually women) who get to carry the saints in the parade are called ‘comadres or compadre.’ The next day they is huge holiday parade in town. Our family decorates a car and joins the parade. That’s where the donkeys come in, children dress up as their favorite characters, or they can dress up as a Saint. The 24th everyone goes to mass and walks home with the holy family. Once we get home we play these spanish games called ‘hollas encantadas,’ ‘palo encebado,’ ‘hadas navideñas.’ The rest of the night you can dance, eat, hang out with friends and family until it’s the 25th.”

Regarding her favorite holiday foods, Zamora said, “We usually make two dishes. One dish can be soup and the other rice with whatever you choose, later at night. we have some coffee with this special bread that can only be made during the Christmas season call “pan de pazcua.” Her favorite memory is when, “I was chosen to carry a baby Jesus when I was 13 for the first time. I got to wear the traditional Ecuadorian Clothing. In 2014 they asked if I could dress up as Virgin Mary and that was the first time I got on donkey.”

New Year’s Eve is celebrated on the last day of the year each year. Sophomore Alexis Mourad celebrates both Christmas and New Years. Mourad said for Christmas, “Spinach pie (which isn’t an actual pie, it’s filo dough with ricotta cheese and spinach in it), Greek cookies, and on New Years, a cake that my grandma makes.”

In the spring Passover is celebrated. For student Jordie Selby, this is an important holiday. Selby said, “A special plate of food called the seder plate” containing, “shank bone (zeroa), egg (beitzah), bitter herbs (maror), vegetable (karpas) and a sweet paste called haroset and hazeret (another form of the bitter herbs)” is her favorite dish. She also said, “each of these foods represents a struggle that we no longer have, and are thankful for the suffering our ancestors went through so we could be better off.”

Selby and her family invite relatives over and they, “Sit around a big table and read the story of Passover, the history of how the Jewish people were freed from slavery.” After they read, they eat and talk for the rest of the time.

Westwood has a diverse group of students with many unique traditions for several different holidays. Whatever may be your family’s tradition and holiday, asking others about theirs can be extremely interesting!  Happy Holidays Everyone!

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