It’s the time of year when Christmas music is inescapable, pine is in the air, and carolers are as far as the eye can see.
But despite these ubiquitous traditions, holiday customs differ from place to place and family to family.
In big cities like New York and Chicago, Christmas might include a visit to a stories-high, brightly-colored Christmas tree or ice skating in the center of town, while people in smaller towns might enjoy parades or tree-lightings.
But, for some, family plays a bigger role in how the holidays are celebrated.
Senior Christian studies major, Taylor Irby, spends the Christmas season celebrating her family’s German heritage.
“We do something called the pickle tradition, and whoever finds [the pickle ornament] gets a special present and some cash,” she said.
Irby’s family tradition comes from an old German custom where parents hung a pickle ornament deep inside the Christmas tree. Whoever found the ornament on Christmas Eve received an extra gift from St. Nick.
The Christian studies major said the hunt for the pickle can become an intense competition.
“The poor tree and ornaments have no chance,” Irby said. “We even knocked the tree over once.”
While Irby and her family draw on their cultural background during their holiday traditions, others, like Shelby Halloran focus on food and family togetherness.
“On Christmas Eve we put out a spread, which is an assortment of food, like crackers and cheese, summer sausage, pigs and the blanket, and other wonderful things,” she said.
After they’re finished filling up on cheese and crackers, Halloran and her siblings are allowed to open one present.
“This is usually done before we go to the Christmas Eve service at 11 p.m. where we spend time in worship,” Halloran said. “The service ends at midnight with everyone singing ‘Silent Night.’”
Focusing on Christ during the holidays is also an important aspect of junior nursing major, Stacie Garza’s Christmas celebration.
“[My family and I] drive down to Victoria, TX where we enjoy the company of extended family, share the story of Christ, and attend a service at a local church, where one of my uncles works as a preacher,” Garza said.
Traveling to be with family is also a tradition for senior exercise physiology major, Morgan Tongish.
“We go to my grandparent’s house on Christmas Eve, and that night we will all make cookies and listen to Elvis Presley records together,” she said. “And, even though I am currently the youngest, every grandchild still has a stocking hanging up.”
That night, each stocking is filled with gifts and treats. On Christmas morning, Tongish and her family will see what “Santa” has left for them and exchange gifts.
“After that we watch football and make a big extravagant dinner,” she said.
Cooking a big meal is the focus of holiday celebrations for junior nursing major Samantha Tamez’s family as well. Many of her relatives live across the street from each other. So, when Tamez and her mother visit, they do a lot of “house hopping.”
But despite the inconvenience of going from house-to-house, Tamez said the massive amounts of food make up for the trouble.
“Everyone in my family likes to make dozens of tamales weeks in advance in order to prepare for Christmas,” Tamez said. “If you have never had tamales, all you need to know is that they are the bomb. And if someone is making tamales they usually make dozens at a time.”
On Christmas Day Tamez helps her aunts make desserts.
One of her favorite treats to make is buñuelos–a fried pastry with cinnamon and sugar sprinkled on top.
And when everyone is finished eating, the family puts together baskets for the homeless.
“The baskets include stuff like a toothbrushes, deodorant, socks, gloves and other hygiene products,” she said.