Winter Traditions and Where to Find Them

Kyle Hildebrand

LaGrange College is a place that prides itself on tradition. Students, faculty, and staff enjoy yearly events on campus like homecoming and the fall festival. These on-campus traditions bring noise, joy, and smiles to the Hill, but what happens after the semester ends? What about when all through the Hill not a creature is stirring, apart from the odd chipmunk? Some families enjoy a traditional Christmas dinner, opening presents around the tree, and sharing feelings of warmth and joy. Others embrace different established cultural traditions or create new traditions unique to their family. I sat down with several students and faculty members to find out what kinds of traditions wait for them away from the Hill.

Gift giving is a tradition held in most families. Finding the perfect gift is a lot of fun for some and getting that meaningful (or attempt at meaningful) gift from your grandma may be the highlight of the year. Some people take gift giving in the opposite direction, however. Colby Bell’s family members will each take five dollars and a trip to the local dollar store to find the perfect, imperfect gag gift to give each other. The creativity and thought required to pull this off year after year isn’t for everybody, but the Bell household becomes a brighter one for it.

Many students I talked with immediately spoke about their delicious traditions that may surprise many. Instead of the intoxicating aroma of turkey or ham, a more Roman one can be found in several homes. Junior musical theatre major Hayden McCullough enjoys spaghetti every year with his family. Others, like graduate student Collin Lamoree, find lasagna more appealing. For some, the delicacies start the night before Christmas. Junior Alexis Westrick and her family begin the festivities with homemade hot chocolate. She declined to comment on the recipe.

Alexis and her family also have some interesting decorating habits. Along with decorating the tree, her mom pulls out “The Box.” In the box are several creepy dolls that some may call art, while others may find just plain disturbing. But that’s not all. “My mom has about 20 Santa heads, so it is kind of gruesome,” Westrick said. As concerning as these less than jolly St. Nicks may be, odd decorations are not limited to the Westrick household.

When it comes to trimming the tree, putting the star or angel on top can be an honor that is fought for every year. But what if you didn’t just place the star, you were the star? Unfortunately for Teagan Smickle, her family gave her no choice. “I was one of those cute and chubby babies, and they just put a picture of me where the angel goes,” she told me with a slight pink tinge to her cheeks. It is nice to know that this senior nursing major doesn’t just have a guardian angel. She is one.

Some families are less intent on embarrassing their children as they are teaching them lifelong lessons. Anybody who knows Dr. McMullen would be able to comment on her character and passionate personality. She celebrates Kwanza with her family the day after Christmas through New Year’s Day. Kwanza is the cultural celebration of African tradition and guiding principles. Dr. McMullen celebrates by discussing Nguzo Saba, or the seven principles of unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, economics, purpose, creativity, and Imani (faith). This discussion happens over West African food and everyone is clothed in traditional West African dress. “It brought us back to our roots, which–at least in our family–is very important,” Dr. McMullen states.

Traditions that feature conversation and interpersonal connection are not limited to the McMullens. Sophomores Bryan Storie and Daniel Assumpcao also participate in meaningful discussions. Bryan’s family is pretty spread out, so every year his immediate family calls all the relatives, and they discuss what they are appreciative of. Daniel and his family all write down a goal they want to accomplish and throw them in a hat. Everybody draws one out and holds the person accountable for the goal they set.

When family comes together, beautiful memories can be created. Senior nursing major Leah Harrison enjoys the simple tradition of going to a movie on Christmas day with her family, and sophomore Lauren Hicks can be found hunting for the hidden Christmas pickle. Simple joys like these are part of what makes the season so meaningful. A movie or a pickle won’t change the world, but the anticipation of something so small can brighten any day for everybody.

Come January, the Hill will find itself full of rejuvenated, or at least hopefully rested, students and faculty. Without our winter traditions, winter break would be like any other chance to go home. We get the chance to celebrate whatever is important to us: Christmas, Kwanza, sleep. When we go home to our individual traditions, we bring back stories and feelings that enhance the college community as a whole.

Kyle is a junior Musical Theatre and Nonprofit Leadership double major from Brunswick, GA. He is a member of LIFT and Alpha Delta Gamma.

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