How We Celebrate


Photo Courtesy Zainab Odunewu

Zainab Odunewu celebrates alongside her family at their annual Eid al-Fitr feast.

Christine Vo, ENN Staff

As winter break approaches, celebrations for the winter season ring all around the school. But not every student finds a place in the knowingly Christian Christmas holiday. Many students find their own ways to take advantage of the break with their families. 

Alongside the many different holidays, Senior Anna-Katherine Collier celebrates Christmas each year with her family. The Collier family creates their own traditions while celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ each year. Involved in different events and celebrations, Collier enjoys the Christmas spirit. 

“My plans are to have Christmas with my family at home and then travel to Arkansas to have Christmas with my grandparents, aunts, and uncles. Then we travel over to my dad’s side and have Christmas and New Year’s over there. Every year my family has a gingerbread house contest, and whoever has the best gingerbread house wins. This is a really fun tradition that our family continues to do. We also attend and are a part of our church’s Christmas Eve candle lighting service,” Collier said.

In the holiday spirit, Brian Shamayev, Sophomore, celebrates the Jewish holiday, Hanukkah. Shamayev celebrates the tradition of the candles lasting eight nights after their oil supply, which was kept in a temple, was destroyed by their foes. Surrounded by the religion his whole life, Shamayev celebrates the holiday with his own family customs.

“We light candles on our candelabra and we eat fried food. The oil lasting for eight days is in the story of Hanukkah. We also open gifts on the first night. People celebrate it to remember the story of the Jews and the trouble they went through to continue the Jewish tradition. It is a part of my legacy, so it is important to me,” Shamayev said. 

Throughout her life, Safaa Elhashash, Junior, has grown up in a Muslim household with many different traditions. Over the break, Elhashash plans to take the time to relax with her family and friends. She is able to surround herself with many people of similar beliefs to connect to.

“I’m hanging out with my family and relaxing, since we don’t celebrate Christmas. We just hang out together and watch movies. If I have any other friends that don’t celebrate Christmas we hang out together, and relax,” Elhashash said.

Each religion has its own collection of holidays to celebrate throughout the year. Although she refrains from the winter holidays, Elhashash continues to honor her own religion. At the end of May, Elhashash celebrates Eid al-Fitr, a Muslim religious holiday celebrating the end of Ramadan. 

“It is this three-day celebration, where we celebrated after 30 days of Ramadan, where we fast from sunrise to sunset. Then, while the sun is down we can eat and drink. It basically just promotes mindfulness and appreciation for what we have and it helps us form a closer relationship with God. The reason why we have Eid is to celebrate all the endurance we had during those 30 days. Since we were fasting for 30 days, we have these big feasts and we give presents out to each other and we dress up nice and make plans to hang out with family and friends,” Elhashash said.

While celebrating his own holidays, Shamayev was introduced to a collection of different holidays while growing up. This gave him a larger understanding of the different cultures around him. As each Jewish holiday has its own story, Shamayev recognizes the background others have to their celebrations. 

“I feel very lucky that I have grown up celebrating different holidays because I have been exposed to more of the world and I have experienced a multitude of celebrations that others may not have experienced. Ultimately, my religion has taught me to respect others’ beliefs, even if it may oppose my own. I constantly try to take into consideration others’ opinions and probably would not have been able to do so if I wasn’t exposed to a multitude of religions in my youth,” Shamayev said. 

Growing up Sikh, Jaspinder Malhi, Senior, celebrates holidays such as Raksha Bandhan and Bandi Chhor Divas. The Sikhism religion follows the writings and teachings of the ten Sikhs Gurus and learns about God. Malhi focuses on ways to celebrate with her family. 

“One holiday I celebrated is Raksha Bandhan of Rakhi. On this holiday, women tie a red thread or “rakhi” around their brothers and cousins and they will promise to look out for their sister or cousin. The women feed them sweets and in exchange, they receive gifts, in my case I got money. Bandi Chhor Divas or Diwali is another holiday my family celebrates. We light candles or “diyas”, which are oil lamps with a cotton wick, at night to commemorate the day Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji arrived in Amritsar, Punjab after his release from imprisonment in 1619. For me, Sikh holidays allow me to learn more about my culture and celebrate as a family,” Malhi said. 

Taking advantage of the winter break, Malhi will spend it with her friends and family. Despite growing up differently than her classmates, Malhi has learned to not take her life for granted. As the holiday season approaches, appreciation grows in Malhi’s life.

“My plans for the holidays are to stay home since my family doesn’t celebrate Christmas or New Years’. I might hang out with some friends over the break if possible. Growing up Sikh, I felt a little distant from my classmates because I couldn’t connect with them culturally or religiously. But through my religion, I’ve learned to be grateful for my life and for the privilege I have to live a comfortable life,” Malhi said. 

Raised in a Christian household doesn’t stop Collier from learning about the different cultures around her. She understands the diverse background her friends come from and encourages conversations about them. Being able to understand each other, Collier creates a growing and accepting environment. 

“I think it is so cool to observe how others celebrate the holiday season. I love to learn about different traditions and the meaning behind what others participate in. I’ve learned a lot about other religions through my friends and peers that believe differently than me. I know God loves his children. No matter who they are, what they have done, or what cultural background they have come from. I love all my friends who believe differently than me and I respect their right to choose what to believe,” Collier said.

Despite being Muslim, Khan continues to celebrate portions of Christmas. With the cheer and the spirit surrounding the holiday, Khan spends time with her family. She takes the chance to show her love for those closest to her before the year ends.  

“We don’t celebrate Christmas for the Christian beliefs but more for the holidays. For example, yesterday my sister and I set up a Christmas tree and lights. I celebrate the winter season because even though I’m not Christian there is still joy in the air. I listen to Christmas music, decorate, make treats, and some years I go to Christmas parties. The end of the year is a perfect time to show your friends and families how much you love and appreciate them. Christmas has become more of a grateful holiday, like Thanksgiving, for me compared to a religion based one. You always are seeing all your friends, playing games, talking, and catching up. Those moments are easily taken for granted, and in times like these you’re reminded how precious they are,” Khan said.

There are many different ways people celebrate the community while still bringing people together. Celebrations within her own religion don’t overshadow the many religions celebrated worldwide. Elhashash has learned to appreciate others’ differences while respecting her own. 

“My religion really enforces the idea ‘no matter who you are, what background you come from, where you’re from, everyone should be treated equally, and with the utmost respect.’ Every human being was made by God’s hands. That’s why all of us should be equally respected and help to be at equal levels. I think that’s just something that I really like holding myself to, applying to my everyday life because I really do believe that everyone should be treated with the most utmost respect no matter their beliefs,” Elhashash said.