Keeping It Traditional: Celebrating Christmas Without the Eggnog


American holidays tend to be materialistic when they should be about embracing our family’s traditions. (Ai Elo/The Observer_


American holidays tend to be materialistic when they should be about embracing our family’s traditions. (Ai Elo/The Observer)

The holidays are a time most people prefer to spend with their close family and friends. However, the idea of the commercialized American holiday sometimes gets in the way of the true meaning behind holidays like Christmas. Even at Fordham, a multicultural institution that loves to embrace diversity, I’ve heard people describe beautiful, ethnic gatherings with their families and then admit to a feeling of shame because their experiences don’t live up to the holiday that was advertised to all of us. There is no wrong way to celebrate a holiday, only your way.

My own Christmas experiences have taught me that it isn’t the kind of food we eat or the type of music we listen to that is important during this special season. It’s the time we spend with our loved ones. I come from a strong Italian background, and when I tell my friends what I ate at Christmas, I always have to translate the names of the dishes and then explain to them how they’re made.

For example, cardunas (garr-doonas) are celery-like stalks that we pressure cook, bread and fry until they are ready to be devoured. Then we eat manicotti (mana-gourt), little sleeves of pasta filled with ground beef and tomato sauce. Arancini is up next and we usually just call them “rice balls.” These are my favorite and it’s usually my job to bread and fry these little balls of rice, meat and peas.

When eating, we sometimes listen to cheesy songs in Italian, and we always celebrate on Christmas Eve, never on Christmas Day. But I’ve never thought that my Christmas was missing something just because it wasn’t identical to a friend’s. In response to the reactions of “Isn’t that weird?” I just laugh and say, “Nope, everyone was there! It was awesome!” There’s nothing better than warm food, fun music and lots of family to make you happy around the holidays.

But some people have told me that the “normal” American Christmas is what we should aim for. I have got to know, what is “normal”? We live in a culture that is simply a clashing mess of these different cultures and most families just pick and choose what they want to keep or throw away. What makes a Christmas dinner American? Eggnog? Gravy? Ham? Parades? I’ve never included any of these things in my celebrations, and I’ve never felt any want for them.

Besides, if we’re going to pick out American traditions, it’s probably going to get materialistic really fast and that’s not the point. Even though my perfect Christmas includes great food and presents, it’s not really about that. It’s about the feeling of contentment you get when all of these things mix together and your unique brand of Christmas is created.

So when people, especially the people here at Fordham, tell me about their awesome holidays and then confess that they feel like it’s just not “American” enough, I’m always a little upset. When someone tells me that they have 40 plus members coming to their Christmas dinner, I have to tell them that it sounds absolutely wonderful and so much better than just having the nuclear family dinner party.

When another person tells me that their family hires belly dancers as entertainment for their holiday, smokes hookah and eats garlic yogurt, my reaction isn’t “Where’s the eggnog?” My jaw drops and I wish that the next television Christmas special has something like that added to the mix.

Those special extras are what make our holiday experiences unique, and even if someone has lingering doubts about how American their family is, it’s still about the time that you and your family are spending together. If I could trade all my weird food, the cardunas, manicotti and arancini for eggnog, ham and gravy, it wouldn’t make anything better. Not to mention that wishing for your family to be different sounds like a plot for the most clichéd holiday movie ever created.

The right way to celebrate a holiday isn’t by following what you think everyone else is doing: It’s about doing what you feel will make you happy. I came to the conclusion long ago that there isn’t a wrong way to celebrate. Any worry that builds up around this time should just be dropped on the way to the dinner table. Just be thankful for your family and enjoy the good company and the food. And I hope to never forget that.