Traditions, Traditions, and More Traditions

The lights are going up, the trees are being decorated, and the menorahs have been lit.  Ready or not, the holidays are upon us.  Along with a season of presents, lights, carols, and red hats, the holiday season also brings with it countless memories and traditions, many of which we can explore and learn about just in our small community.

For instance, Ms. Karleanne Rogers, Director of Major Gifts and Planned Giving at the Thacher School, has already kicked off the holiday season with a tradition that stems from her German and Austrian roots.

Traditionally, we celebrate the St. Nick holiday on Dec. 6, where shoes are put outside on the night of Dec. 5 and St. Nick brings a gift. St. Nick always brought the boys an ornament for the tree.  When they leave home, they will all have a collection of ornaments stemming from the time they were born.

Sasha Ongley ‘15 has also commenced her holiday traditions.  The first full day of Hanukkah was on Thanksgiving this year creating the unusual circumstance of a “Thanksgivingukkah.”  At sunset the day before, the Ongley family lit the first candle of the eight-day celebration.  “As a family, we normally light the candles each night at sunset,” says Ongley.  Along with the lighting of candles, Sasha and her family wear yamakas and play dreidel, a traditional Jewish game of chance dating back to 175 BC.  Using the four-sided top, they compete for Hanukkah gelt, a special type of chocolate coin wrapped in gold foil.

The Ongley family celebrates with
The Ongley family celebrated “Thanksgivingukkah” this year with the lighting of the menorah and playing games of dreidel for gelt. Photo Credit: Sasha Ongley ’15

When asked about his holiday traditions, Mr. Fred Coleman, math teacher at Thacher, describes his Christmas tradition of the whole family coming together Christmas Eve to have dinner and afterwards, decorate the tree from scratch.  “After about an hour the children would be put to bed and the adults would finish decorating (with the help of eggnog and other libations),” he adds.  The traditions don’t stop there. “Christmas morning each child was allowed to open one present before breakfast, but only one — it was excruciating!” Coleman recalls.

The day after Christmas, another member of our community, Kami Sims-Traylor ‘15, begins her celebration of Kwanzaa.  “It’s kind of a mixture of Christmas and Hanukkah,” she explains. “Every night there’s a community gathering where we tell stories, recite spoken word, dance, sing, and enjoy ourselves while celebrating who we are.” According to her traditions, the celebration finally comes to an end with the exchange of handmade presents that have deeper meanings behind them. “Overall,” says Traylor, “I think the making of gifts and the gathering of people really creates the essence of what Kwanzaa represents.”

Others in our community add an unusual twist to the holidays that make them all the more unique and special.

For example, Briggs Boss ‘15 proves that Christmas traditions don’t have to involve snow, hot chocolate, and roasted chestnuts.  No, he celebrates his California roots by taking a walk on the beach with his family each year on Christmas day.

Mr. Juan Sanchez, a Spanish teacher at Thacher, incorporates his Latin American culture and customs into his own holiday celebration – particularly in his Christmas cuisine.  Instead of ham, turkey, mash potatoes, or gingerbread, Sanchez traditionally serves his special homemade vegan tamales.

Mr. Sanchez and Ms. Grossman make vegan tamales each holiday season. Photo Credit: Juan Sanchez
Mr. Sanchez and Ms. Grossman make vegan tamales with banana leaves during the holiday season. They suazar the bananas over an open fire. Photo Credit: Juan Sanchez

Still more in our community celebrate holiday traditions that could easily find their way into an ABC Family Christmas Special.

Such a tradition resides in the Finch Family.  Since the 1970’s, the Finch family has been collecting the limited edition silver bells Wallace Silversmiths issues each year. “Each Christmas season, the bells are placed in a bowl or basket and during family gatherings we pick a (random) bell and then share memories related to the year embossed on the bell,” explains Dr. Kristen Finch, teacher of veterinary medicine at Thacher.  If the boy from Polar Express ever loses his silver bell again, he knows where to look.

The Hooper family displays smokers from
The Hooper family displays smokers from their Christmas collection. Photo Credit: Kevin Griffee ’15

Instead of collecting bells, the Hooper family collects smokers, which look like nutcrackers but burn incense.  When Mr. Jeff Hooper, Spanish teacher at Thacher, was growing up, his family began collecting the smokers, adding a new one to their collection each year.  Even after his father passed away four years ago, Mr. Hooper continued the tradition.  Ms. Kara Hooper, Associate Director of College Counseling at Thacher, explains how the tradition has been preserved in their own family.

We now get it out on December 1 every year, and add one to our collection every year.  The boys look forward to it and it is a sign that the holiday season is here.

The holiday season is here, and whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or anything in between, each of us have memories and traditions of the holidays that give them unique meaning and significance.  These traditions come around once every year and make the holidays special for everyone that celebrates them.

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