A season for traditions

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Families create unique ways to celebrate holidays

By Carol A. Clark

Thoughts of holiday traditions seem to take over this time of year with Hanukkah starting Wednesday at sundown, Christmas just 26 days away and Kwanzaa beginning
Dec. 26.
Kwanzaa is a weeklong celebration honoring the African heritage and culture. Kwanzaa consists of seven days of celebration, featuring activities such as candle-lighting and libations and culminating in a feast and gift giving, according to history.com.
Dr. Maulana Karenga, professor and chairman of Black Studies at California State University, Long Beach, created Kwanzaa in 1966. After the Watts riots in Los Angeles, Karenga searched for ways to bring African-Americans together as a community.
He founded US, a cultural organization, and started to research African “first fruit” (harvest) celebrations. Karenga combined aspects of several different harvest celebrations, such as those of the Ashanti and the Zulu, to form the basis of Kwanzaa.
Though initially a minor holiday, Hanukkah has become one of the paradigmatic Jewish holidays. Hanukkah commemorates the victory of the Jews over the Syrian Greeks in 164 BCE, and is celebrated by lighting a hanukkiah, or menorah, for eight days, eating latkes (potato pancakes) and playing a game called dreidel, according to myjewishlearning.com.
Christmas is a holiday observed on Dec. 25 to commemorate the birth of Jesus, the central figure of Christianity. For two millennia, people around the world have been observing Christmas with traditions and practices that are both religious and secular in nature, according to history.com. Popular customs include exchanging gifts, decorating Christmas trees, attending church services, sharing meals with family and friends and waiting for Santa Claus to arrive.
Dec. 25 – Christmas Day – has been a federal holiday in the United States since 1870.
During this season, Los Alamos Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Kevin Holsapple gets together with extended family.
“Another tradition that we never miss is attending the electric light parade on Central Avenue and the lighting of the lights in the trees at Ashley Pond at the end of the parade – that’s what always symbolizes in Los Alamos that the holidays are here,” Holsapple said.
Jewish Center President David Izraelevitz has chaired local boards and currently serves on the county’s Charter Review Committee.
“For most Jewish holidays there are typical foods and each family seems to make their own variation on the recipes,” Izraelevitz said. “One of the traditional foods, similar to a potato pancake, is called latke. Our family likes to mix in sweet potatoes. We also have a tradition in which every member of our family has their own set of candles (Hanukkia) that they light and we enjoy watching all of the candles lit on the table. Now that our children have gone to college, they’ve taken their Hanukkia with them.”
An annual tradition celebrated by Executive Director Cedric Page of UNM-Los Alamos is cooking with his wife and daughters.
“We always enjoy sharing new recipes,” Page said. “We also enjoy playing Scrabble together. This year we’re going to do something different and give to the community. Our youngest daughter suggested instead of getting gifts for each other, we donate our time, so we’re all looking forward to volunteering our time.”
County Council Vice-Chair Sharon Stover and her family share several annual traditions.
“My husband Steven, our kids and my mom get together as a family and go to church services on Christmas Eve, we always have a big traditional New Mexico meal of tamales and enchiladas and my mom’s ‘to die for’ biscochitos. We light farolitos around our house and often drive my mom around to see the lights in North Mesa. We sleep late Christmas morning, open gifts and depending we might go sledding or do other activities together.”
This year, Police Chief Wayne Torpy is changing the way he traditionally celebrates the holidays.
“My typical holiday consists of spending time with my brothers and my son, usually for Thanksgiving or Christmas, but this year we’re getting together for New Years due to conflicting schedules,” Torpy said.
Fire Chief Doug Tucker described his family as “pretty old fashioned.”
“We always try to get with our family and loved ones on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day,” Tucker said. “Our simple wish is to see all of our family together safely.”
Magistrate Court Judge Pat Casados gathers with her family this time of year to make empanadas and tamales.
“We also always have the get the biggest Christmas tree that we can fit into the house and my husband goes crazy decorating it,” Casados said. “He has all of these tiny glass balls that he puts all over the house and if there are any left out after the decorations are put away then they stay up all year until next Christmas.”

Contact Carol A. Clark at lanews@lamonitor.com