As Christmas rapidly approaches, many Leesville families prepare for the festivities with their own twists to classic traditions. The blend of cultures and customs leads to unique celebrations in every family, whether that means traveling out of state or opening presents in the comforts of your own home.
“I go to Pittsburgh with my family. I spend Christmas Eve in my grandparents’ house on my mom’s side and Christmas Day with my grandparents’ on my dad’s side,” said Dante Tomaino, a sophomore at Leesville.
Both of his parents families come from Italy, which plays an important part in the holiday celebrations.
“Christmas Eve for Italians is the big celebration, not Christmas Day. We have thirteen different dishes, and they are different dishes every year. There are lots of pasta; at least three of the thirteen dishes are pasta. There’s really not a lot of [red] meat. There’s a lot of seafood though.” said Tomaino.
According to him, there is an Italian-American tradition called the Feast of the Seven Fishes (known as La Vigilia, or the Vigil, in southern Italy) where one saves the red meat for Christmas day. It dates back to the Roman Catholic practice of abstinence on certain holy days– such as Lent and Christmas Eve. Catholics would forgo meat and animal fat on these days and instead consume fish.
Food has a significant role in other families as well. “I love the food. I like chicharon with rice. I also love empanadas. I like the rollos and everything else,” said Emely Pacheco, a freshman, whose mother is from Colombia. They travel there every year for month to celebrate the festivities with her extended family.
“Every year we go to Colombia and we look at the lights…we go with our family [from Colombia], and we play White Elephant and we order food and we just dance and stuff,” said Pacheco. They specifically go to Medellin, a city that is well known for the their Christmas light festival. Their festival was named one of the top ten in the world by National Geographic, according to this website. The city official starts its celebration on December 1 with El Alumbrado Navideño (the Christmas Lighting) and ends it around mid-January.
Even though Tomaino and Pacheco aren’t home for the holidays, it doesn’t stop them from decorating the Christmas tree and putting up lights. “We always set up lights and we always try to outdo everyone in our neighborhood… We do Christmas Trees, stockings, we don’t do Elf on the Shelf though. They creep me out,” said Tomaino.
““[The Elf] hides around the house for my little brother and sister. He shows up right after the Christmas tree,” said Kathryn Falcinelli, another sophomore here at Leesville. The decoration of the Christmas tree is one of her favorite parts of the holidays, due to the unique ornaments she has.
“We have ornaments every year that our grandmother gives us based on things that we did that year. Like this year, I got a cupcake ornament because I got really into baking, and my little brother got a soccer ball because he just started doing soccer. So we have all different types of ornaments on our Christmas tree to represent us,” said Falcinelli.
Decorating the tree is also an important part of Pacheco’s Christmas. They put up a Christmas tree where they are staying in Colombia and decorate it with her extended family. That’s not the only decoration she puts up, though.
In many Latin American countries, families put up Nativity scenes depicting the birth of Jesus in their houses. “We gather around and we put [the Nativity].on our aunt’s table– it’s a big table– and it’s like everything has a specific place, like baby Jesus and the three wise men standing over baby Jesus,” said Pacheco.
Arguably, the most exciting part of Christmas is the actually celebration, not the decorations. While almost everyone gets together with their family, what they do once they gather is a different story. Pacheco doesn’t have a very traditional Christmas celebration; instead of buying each other gifts, her family plays White Elephant and “…we order food and dance and stuff.”
Tomaino’s family also strays from the usual opening of presents on Christmas day. “We always opened our presents on Christmas Eve, right after dinner. So it’s like a huge dinner, presents, and then deserts,” said Tomaino.
The presents include the gifts from his family and from ‘Santa.’
Falcinelli and her family go the more classic route. “On Christmas Eve, we put out milk and cookies, we listen to Christmas carols and have hot cocoa. Then the morning of we open presents from Santa. We all go to my Grandmother’s house on Christmas morning with my extended family and cousins and aunts on my mom’s side. We all go and see her and do Christmas morning there. There’s a lot of people, almost thirty,” said Falcinelli. In addition, her family attends a Christmas Eve service at her church. “It’s candlelight service and we sing carols and get in the Christmas mood.”
No matter what one does for Christmas, whether it is to travel around the world or stay here in Raleigh, celebrating the most wonderful time of the year with your family and good food remains a common thread. Tomaino sums it up perfectly: “For my family, it’s more about food and family than anything else.”