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December 23, 2009 | 12:00 p.m. CST
Your grandma’s snow globe might be the hit of your holiday party, but that doesn’t mean you can’t shake things up a bit. ’Tis the season to establish new traditions in addition to keeping the old. Six local families share their winter holiday plans and religious traditions. Don’t be afraid to borrow a few tricks from these snowy celebrations.
Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of Sacrifice, is the second major Islamic holiday next to Eid al-Fitr. The three-day celebration of Eid ul-Adha commemorates the Biblical prophet Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his own son to God and is celebrated by coming together with family and friends. Eid al-Adha is on the 10th day of the Islamic lunar month of Dhul-Hijja, which was Nov. 27 this year.
During Eid al-Adha, Rashed and Roxana Nizam and their three children, ages 14, 18 and 24, focus on family, food and friends. Traditionally, families that are financially secure will slaughter a goat or lamb (or share a cow with others), and serve the meat to close friends and families as a representation of Ibrahim’s sacrifice of a ram. Roxana usually cooks for her family, and this year the lamb she served fed about 70 neighbors, friends and family. The Nizams also sponsor animal sacrifices abroad by donating to Islamic relief organizations, which purchase meat for those in need.
The Nizams have a system for distributing the meat. “First, we give the meat to the homeless right here in Columbia that cannot provide for themselves,” Rashed says. “Second, we share with our neighbors while we visit with them. Third, we give some of the meat to the prisons in which we support the Muslim prisoners, and then lastly, we as a family can enjoy it along with our guests and visitors throughout the holiday.”
For Eid ul-Adha, the Nizams also wake up before sunrise to attend morning prayer at their mosque, the Islamic Center of Central Missouri. “After we return we get ready for the Eid prayer,” Rashed says. This is their only large communal prayer, when Muslims gather together from all over mid-Missouri to pray. This year, about 1,250 people gathered in a ballroom at the Holiday Inn Select for a prayer led by Abdullah Smith, the imam of their mosque. After the communal prayer, the Nizams visit others before returning to their home, where they set up an open house for all three days. During this time, friends or family can walk in and visit. Families such as the Nizams dress their best, so women shop for new saris (a traditional wrap) and men look for a new suit or kurta (a loose shirt falling near the knee).
Every year, Roxana makes special desserts such as rice pudding, sweet vermicelli and cake. The family also exchanges gifts. This year the Nizam family invited more family from Bangladesh, their home country, to visit their 3-month-old granddaughter.
Christians celebrate Christmas, which is the commemoration of Jesus Christ’s birth to the Virgin Mary. Christmas is always on Dec. 25.
Jeremy Risner has attended Christmas Eve services since he was a child. He now carries on that tradition with his young kids and his wife, Darci. “We want our children to be brought up on the scripture of Christ and know the story of God,” he says. During the Christmas season this student ministries pastor likes to teach his three kids something more than just receiving presents — he wants them to learn about Jesus Christ coming to Earth.
On Christmas Day, if the Risners are not at their grandparents’ homes out-of-town, the family wakes up early and opens presents. “Along with their stockings, our kids only receive three presents for Christmas,” Jeremy says. “This betters their understanding of the real meaning of Christmas.” This year the Risner family kids are asking for Barbie dolls and animal toys. “Every year we get our kids the new Hallmark Christmas book, make an ornament or something creative for them to keep as a souvenir and decorate cookies with mom in the kitchen,” Jeremy says. “We switch off reading the book for Christmas; sometimes my parents read and sometimes I do,” says Maddie, Jeremy’s 7-year-old daughter.
After the presents are opened, it’s time for the morning meal. Breakfast comes and goes with the help of everyone in the family, and after all the cleaning, the Risner family sits down to read scripture and speak about God’s word. Throughout the year they light a candle for their late child Franklin, and Christmas morning is no different. An ornament with his name also adorns the tree.
From a big Christmas tree in the living room to their advent calendar, the Risners keep Catholic traditions alive. “One thing untraditional that I always do is put Christmas music on at breakfast and dance with my wife around the kitchen in our pajamas,” Jeremy says. “This is a dance I used to do with my mom, then with my wife, and now with my kids.”
The main Jewish winter holiday is the eight-day celebration of Hanukkah. Lighting the menorah and saying Hebrew prayers every night are the usual family traditions. This year, Hanukkah started Dec. 11.
Carl Kaplan began collecting menorahs as a child. Now a father, his family selects from 14 different menorahs on Hanukkah nights. “The kids get to pick their own menorah and light their own candles every night,” Debbie Kaplan says. “We love collecting menorahs because they are so pretty for decoration and everyone gets to have their favorite.” Lately, the blue porcelain menorahs have been the most popular.
Everyone in the family prays separately over their menorahs to focus on lighting the candles. “On the first night we say extra prayers always as a family, all together,” Debbie says. After prayers, the family exchanges presents. The kids receive presents from their parents on all eight nights, in addition to gifts they exchange with their grandparents and each other. During the week, the Kaplans enjoy dreidel, a game of chance played with a four-sided spinning top.
The Kaplans mix the Torah with newer media, such as the movie 8 Crazy Nights with Adam Sandler. When the kids were young, Debbie and Carl Kaplan have made a tradition out of reading Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins, which tells the story of a traveler who rids a village synagogue of ghosts. “Since my kids have been hearing the story every year, I gave them all hard copies for themselves, and now all my children like to read it to their own Hanukkah parties or to their youth synagogue classes,” Debbie says.
When the sun goes down on the first night, they eat as a family and mix classic Hanukkah foods such as brisket and latkes, or potato pancakes, with standard American fare. When the kids were younger, the family went all out; they decorated the front door with Hanukkah wrapping paper and strung dreidel lights inside. Now that the children are older, the focus is simply on being together.
A term used among North American Protestants to describe Christian churches, activities or organizations that are not sponsored by a specific denomination. Non-denominational Christians usually celebrate Christmas holiday on Dec. 25.
The eight members of the Kassing family celebrate the holidays by going to church and traveling to visit extended family in Carthage and St. Louis. But wherever they are, their traditions come with them. “After Thanksgiving, the season truly starts with everyone helping put up the Christmas tree,” says father Chris Kassing. The kids, whose ages range from 11 months to 13 years, pitch in with the decorating. A week before the family leaves town, they throw a family appetizer party where they exchange presents and listen to Christmas music. “I love the yummy pigs in a blanket,” says 6-year-old Aben.
Along with eating and traveling, the Kassing family gives back by participating in the Valley View Community Church’s Operation Christmas Child Program. The Kassing kids save up their money to fill a shoebox with little gifts to send to disadvantaged kids overseas. “They love it, and it teaches the kids to give back and the true meaning of what Christmas is all about,” Heather says with a maternal smile. “I also am volunteering to ring bells for the Salvation Army this year,” Chris says.
The Kassings also focus on family time. They look at Christmas lights while driving around Columbia and exchange gifts. The Nintendo Wii and family iPod were some of the kids’ favorite gifts from the past few years. Because the family is always traveling during the holidays, they keep the holiday cooking to minimum and make chocolate covered pretzels to give to friends.
“One great thing that we do when we are with our huge family in St. Louis, is ‘Rob Your Neighbor,’” says Sarah`, the oldest daughter. About 30 family members gather, and two sets of dice are passed around. After a roll, the player with the dice grabs a number of presents equal to the number of sixes he or she rolled. The game continues until all of the presents are gone. “But then you can steal from other people, and I hide mine behind my back so they can’t,” Aben whispers.
A term used for those who do not believe in supernatural forms. There are many different forms of atheism, and atheists might celebrate some or none of the standard holidays.
Greg Lammers has been the state director for American Atheists since Feb. 2009, and he enjoys the winter holiday season without belief in a higher power.
Greg and his wife, Katie, usually head to Sedalia and Blackwater over the holidays to visit extended family and celebrate with a Christmas Eve finger-food party. “My wife and her family were raised Catholic, but I was never raised in the church and my family never attended church,” Greg says. “But when we go visit my wife’s family and they attend church services, I just stay back. The holidays are more about eating food and seeing relatives while being together for me.”
Although Greg’s thoughts on religion are different than that of his Catholic wife, the couple says they will let their 3-year-old son, Henry, decide which religion he prefers. But the Lammers still put up an artificial tree every year. “It represents the season, and my wife and I grew up having a tree,” Greg says.
A term used for a set of beliefs that is often earth-centered and dualistic; for example, every god is paired with a goddess. Nature is a gift and the natural world is alive. Pagans celebrate Yule between Dec. 20-22, depending on the winter solstice. Holiday traditions often include a family dinner, gift exchange, caroling and candle lighting ceremonies to call on the four elements.
Taz Chance and Alex Gonzalez are a committed couple and mothers of two. These Columbia residents mold their lives and family around pagan beliefs. “We pagans basically celebrate the cycle of nature throughout the year with many celebrations,” Taz says.
Inside their home stands a tree with lights and ornaments, nature-oriented wall hangings and a Santa-like figure in the window. “To us it is not Santa; it is a representation of a male deity (god), the Holy King and Father Yule,” Taz says. “He brings the changing of the seasons.”
Similarly, this family’s pine tree carries a distinct symbolism. “To us it is a Yule tree,” Taz says. “It originally was hung upside down, which is a pre-Christian concept. We also add ornaments, but to us they are witches’ balls, which are things that people hang to repel negative forces coming into your home.” Every year, they paint new decorations for the tree; last year, the family project included ornaments for each of the four elements.
Alex explains that a piece of the tree is chopped off each year and saved for the following winter. “Then, we use that piece of wood in the fire for Yule, which represents bringing back the light … to the darkness of the cold of the winter,” Alex explains. The family’s candle-lighting ceremony also centers around bringing light into the winter.
Local, in-season foods are another key component of this family’s holiday observances. By buying local, Taz says, “We are honoring the earth where we are located.”
But this family isn’t exclusive about their celebrations. They enjoy holiday movies and take an annual drive around town to view the holiday lights. Caroling is also a popular pastime. The family adjust some carols to fit pagan views, while others, such as Winter Wonderland, remain the same.
This pagan family loves the holidays. “We take all of the happiness of it in because no matter what religion you are, it is the only holiday where everyone is giving,” Alex says.