by Sarah Feinberg, Features Contributor, Caroline Kay, Features Contributor, Adrienne Rae Lirio, Features Contributor & Eva Shimkus, Features Editor
graphic by Dorothy Dolan
For sophomore Maya Shavelsky, an annual ski trip to Maine has long been the highlight of the holiday season. Although she said she is disappointed that this year’s trip was canceled, she said she is excited to spend time celebrating Hanukkah with her family.
“For Hanukkah, we light candles and eat jelly donuts,” she said. “We also sing songs with our friends.”
Due to safety concerns, Shavelsky will celebrate Hanukkah with only the immediate family members that live in her household. Luckily, this means she will be able to maintain her favorite traditions.
She said she hopes others will make similar choices to mitigate the predicted post-holiday spike in cases.
Even with modified plans, Shavelsky said there are still many ways to stay in the holiday spirit.
“Watch movies,” she said. “Try to be extra festive [by] cooking, listening to music and spending time with your family.”
Freshman Angelina DePalma, who celebrates Christmas, said she is excited for the Feast of the Seven Fishes, a celebratory Christmas Eve meal that her Italian family has enjoyed for as long as she can remember.
“It’s an Italian tradition when you eat seven different types of fish,” she said. “We also do a Yankee Swap, which is a party game where we all get gifts.”
DePalma said the highlight of the holidays is typically large gatherings with friends and family.
She said it is upsetting to not be able to make the same memories this Christmas.
Despite her usual plans being canceled, DePalma said her family has found creative and safe ways to socialize.
“We will have people over in this tent that we have in our backyard which has heaters, so we can still see some family,” she said.
DePalma said that it is still possible to find meaningful ways to be together.
“It is important to spend time with family on the holidays,” she said. “Even though it’s not ideal, figuring out ways to do that is really important.”
For sophomore Jessica Li, the unusual holiday season has provided new opportunities. On Thanksgiving, Li was able to meet new extended family over Zoom.
“I got the chance to meet my long-lost cousins,” she said. “I didn’t even know they existed, and two of them are the same age as me. I don’t think that would have been possible if we didn’t do a Zoom meeting.”
Before the pandemic, Li said she enjoyed spending time with her extended family during Hanukkah and New Year’s Eve.
“Usually, my family gets together with my cousins and my aunts and uncles,” she said. “We’ll hang out, maybe we’ll watch the ball drop, or we’ll just have a meal together.”
Although it won’t be safe to maintain her typical in-person traditions this year, Li said she will still see her cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents for the holidays through Zoom.
“I know how quickly things can get bad when people don’t follow the precautions and the terrible effect that has on so many people, so my family and I take COVID-19 really seriously,” she said.
Li said that going remote does not preclude exciting holiday celebrations.
“There’s more that you can do online over Zoom and in your own houses than you might think,” she said. “It’s always good to get creative with your options, even when you can’t meet up in person or travel.”
Senior Stephanie Tian said that her family’s smaller holiday traditions will be even more meaningful this year.
Tian said that her family traditionally infuses Chinese culture into their Christmas celebration.
“We like to mix in some cultural aspects,” she said. “We make a lot of Chinese food with our big group of family friends. It’s fun to mix the Christmas ham with dumplings.”
Tian said that sharing her favorite foods with her immediate family will provide a sense of normalcy in an abnormal holiday season.
“Food is one way that we can really bring our family together and remind us of what we normally do.”
Tian said that it is essential to seek out small reminders of a regular Christmas experience, even when big ones are difficult to find.
“I love listening to Christmas music. I started out pretty early this year just to kind of get into the spirit again,” she said. “There are a lot of little things that we might take for granted or not really notice during the normal year, even just going into Newton Center and just seeing how they light up trees.”
Sophomore Noa Dahan said that safely enjoying the holidays requires a community-wide effort.
“If everyone as a community is sticking to the same rules and agreeing on things, we’re going to get closer to the end of it before it gets worse.”
During the holidays, Dahan typically celebrates Hanukkah with friends, though Zoom will allow her to celebrate with her family as well.
“We usually hang out with family friends because all of our family lives in Israel,” she said. “But we can Zoom and everyone and still be able to see everyone.”
Dahan said that she became particularly intent on adhering to COVID-19 protocol after a friend tested positive.
“From my personal experience, one of my friends’ sisters got the coronavirus, which put me and all my friends at risk too because she was in my enclosed group,” she said.
Dahan said that enjoying the holidays and remaining safe does not have to be mutually exclusive.
“Everyone should try to keep a safe distance from people that aren’t family and just try to relive the past,” she said. “Try to reenact the past and make the best of the situation to still have a good holiday.”
Sophomore Gabi Dosanjos and her family are going the extra mile to get into the spirit this holiday season.
“Me and my family have put up more decorations this year than in prior years. it’s more fun to show spirit because we can’t really do anything else,” she said.
Dosanjos said a favorite holiday tradition is hiding her family’ “Elf on the Shelf.”
“Normally, me and my family have an Elf on the Shelf little contest going on where people in our family set up the elf, in fun little places where it can hide or they put the elf in places that make it hard to find,” she said.
Dosanjos said in non-COVID-19 times, she gets together with her family friends on Christmas Eve.
“Me and my family go to our family friends’ house with 50 people,” she said. “We just spend the whole night on Christmas Eve together and eat and hang out, but this year I obviously won’t be able to do that because of COVID-19.”
When getting together with friends, Dosanjos said her family competes in bake-offs.
“My parents and their friends normally have bake-offs. They make snacks and compare and switch around,” she said. “I miss that, that fun of just seeing people and all the spirit.”
Senior Collin Holson said he would encourage everybody to try his family’s tradition on the day after Christmas.
“A lot of families go out and play football on Christmas, but in my family we aren’t very athletic, so we just go punt and kick field goals,” he said. “In football they can score by kicking a field goal, which is the upright goal post, and then on fourth down you can kick it away by punting it, where the guy dropkicks it as far as he can.”
Holson said that while his family has had to trade Christmas Mass and large family gatherings for online alternatives, they have been able to add new traditions like holiday baking.
In addition to new traditions, Holson said that he is excited for his family’s usual unique traditions.
“We usually do the Christmas pickle, which is a Christmas tree ornament shaped like a pickle. The first one to find it on Christmas day gets a piece of chocolate,” he said. “That one’s always really fun.”