As December rolls around each year, most Americans celebrate Christmas. Young children eagerly anticipate the glowing Christmas lights, candy canes and the presents waiting under the tree. The holiday season is bright and twinkling, and high spirits hang in the air, but the holiday season isn’t the same for everyone.

For those who celebrate Christmas, quirky traditions make it unique to every household. There’s no set schedule for how families celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. People open presents at different times, eat different foods and celebrate at different places.

Roosevelt student Irving Barksdale says, “Whoever is the youngest gets to put the star on the tree.”

Emily Matijevich, a junior at Lyons Township, recounts her special family tradition:

“We have a pickle ornament,” she says. “My mom hides it somewhere in our house, and whoever finds it first gets to open the first present.”
Matijevich says that she and her siblings still love this tradition even though they’re not kids anymore.

Christine Schied, a Lyons Township junior, is especially fond of the chocolate house that her family makes every year. They use molds to build milk and dark chocolate walls and a roof, then use green-dyed white chocolate to construct a tree outside of the house.

But, there are other holidays besides Christmas. Perhaps the most well known is Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights, which took place earlier this month. The holiday celebrates how ancient Jews were able to keep a menorah lit for eight days with a one-day supply of oil. Jacob Alderman, a Lyons Township junior, says his family celebrates Hanukkah by inviting friends and extended family members over to eat latkes, which are fried potato cakes. At the end of the night, everyone listens to the story of Hanukkah and they light a menorah.

Hindu, Sikh and Jain families celebrated Diwali, or Deepavali, in November. Like Hanukkah, this holiday is also a festival of lights, celebrating the triumph of good over evil. Hinduism celebrates Deepavali as the return of Lord Rama to his kingdom of Ayodhya and the defeat of the demon-king Ravana. The myth says the people of Ayodhya lit oil lamps and set off fireworks in happiness after the return of Lord Rama.

Schaumburg senior Ambika Murali says she and her family dress up and go to a Hindu temple to see fireworks for Diwali. Some families also perform a religious ritual ceremony called a puja in honor of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity, to symbolize the end of the harvest season.

The last holiday to take place around this time is Kwanzaa, the week-long holiday celebrating African-American culture that kicks off Dec. 26. For Kwanzaa, families light seven candles, each representing a moral or principle such as unity or faith. Many families celebrate Kwanzaa in addition to Christmas.

Michelle Randall, a consultant at Enriching Leadership International, says the holidays are a good time to be curious about others’ religious and cultural traditions.

“This time of year offers great opportunities to listen and grow,” she told the Chicago Tribune. “This can help foster relationships for a long time after the holidays are over.”