With the holidays in full force, we asked those nearest and dearest to us about their favorite holiday moments across the years. Wishing you and yours a joyous season as we round out the year’s end!
My favorite holiday tradition is my family’s Christmas Eve Wigilia. It’s a traditional Polish vigil meal. We always start by breaking opłatek (polish wafer), and spending a few minutes with each person individually, wishing them blessings for the new year. Wesołych Świąt!
My husband and I met in June of 2018. By July of 2018, in the middle of the frozen food section of a local Publix, he asked me what I might say if he asked me to marry him and—although it was completely unlike me—I admitted that I would seriously consider it. By November, he took me to pick out my engagement ring and then left it on his nightstand where it remained through Thanksgiving and Christmas…taunting me. Finally, as we watched the ball drop on the television at midnight on January 1st, he wrapped his arms around me from behind and slipped the ring on my finger while whispering his proposal in my ear. BEST NEW YEARS, EVER!
One of my favorite holiday memories is from about 10 years ago when my family sat down for Christmas dinner. My dad (who is not particularly religious) asked everyone to bow their heads to pray before eating, and he started saying grace. About 20 seconds later, amidst the prayer, my 3 year old brother said in the most earnest and sincere way, “Daddy, who are you talking to?” My other siblings and I nearly fell over. We still talk about it to this day!
In 2020, together with many others across the globe, I spent the Christmas holiday alone in Chicago. My children were with their father out of state and, in normal years, I would have been with my parents and brother. Anticipating that it might be a difficult day, I decided that I would celebrate Christmas on an alternative date with my kids. December 25th would be one of those marvelous—and rare—days where you have complete freedom to do what you want. I took a walk, watched movies (Midnight Sky now forever holds a spot in my heart!), drank hot chocolate and tea, listened to music, baked and cooked. Because it was so intentional, I filled the day with my favorite things. It was a wonderful day and I will always treasure it. And when my kids came home, we had a full-on raucous and loud Christmas celebration!
As someone who hates winter, the only part of it that I ever look forward to is the holiday season: Thanksgiving Day until January 1st makes up my absolute favorite time of the year. One of my favorite holiday memories is from 2019. After an otherwise tragic year of the passing of a loved one, a very bad car accident, and numerous hospital trips for family members, I got to celebrate the holiday season with my family from India, who experienced it all for the very first time in America. After spending Christmas Day in Disney World, we quickly all made our way back up to Buffalo, New York (to quote my favorite holiday movie, Home Alone 2, “who wants to spend Christmas in a tropical climate anyway?!”). We made too many baked goods to count, introduced my aunt to our dog Leo who is so lovable that she finally got over her lifelong fear of dogs, and spent hours doing nothing but laughing with movies on in the background. With a quintessential coating of snow outside, but a very delightful fire inside, I finally got to share an exciting part of my life with my family that they had never seen before but we all cherish ever since!
One of my favorite things about living in New York City is visiting the holiday windows—hands down! There’s nothing better than getting dressed in your best cozies, taking the train into Manhattan, hopping into a café for a hot chai tea, and then going up and down the avenues to see what magic the display teams have created. We’re talking the best in show here: preposterous scales, textures from all over the world, lighting schemes that make your brain hurt, and movement that is so absolutely unnecessary—but SO necessary! From a very young age, I had always wanted to be a part of their world and I love getting a glimpse into it each year.
Some years ago, my dad heard one of those new Pop Christmas songs on the radio and said something along the lines of: “This is not a Christmas song!” This sparked a deep, ongoing philosophical debate within our family about what is and is not a Christmas song. I look forward to it every year. New entries are evaluated on a rolling basis. Stick around long enough, or fight hard enough for it, and a song might get added to the canon. It’s the music version of the longstanding Die Hard-as-Christmas-movie debate.
Like many Jewish families on Christmas, mine would say prayers over the Chanukah menorah and then make our way over to our favorite Chinese restaurant. As Jews, we are very proud of our heritage and centuries-old customs. As American Jews, we are also grateful for this newer tradition that connects us not only to each other but also to our Chinese-American neighbors and the unique experiences that bind us all together here as New Yorkers, regardless of whatever corner of the globe we may come from. We always went to King Yum in Fresh Meadows, Queens, and it was as classic as you could get. As you sat down, you were served hot tea and crispy noodles with duck sauce, and no meal would be complete without orange sections, pineapple chunks and fortune cookies on the plate. Though King Yum no longer stands, my family will always cherish the memories we made there.