LIFESTYLES: Holiday traditions to enjoy at home

Photo: Meghan Findley
The ‘holiday tree’ in the Pogue Student Center for everyone to enjoy.
Holiday traditions

By Tracy Geibel
Staff Writer /Spectator

As snow begins to cover the sidewalks, people find their holiday decorations in the back of their storage rooms and sing along to radio stations that play cheerful holiday tunes; people plan, decorate and prepare to celebrate the holiday season with their family and friends through their favorite traditions.

One Edinboro University student, Anna Marie Marhefka, celebrates a Polish tradition called Wigilia on Christmas Eve with her family.  Her family abstains from red meat for the day, and later in the evening, the family has a feast, also without red meat, with traditional Polish foods — pirogies, galumpkis carp and several types of sweet desserts. About 20-25 of Marhefka’s family members attend this feast, all dressing in a formal, yet modest way. 

Before Marhefka’s family eats and exchanges gifts, they have a blessing which involves breaking an oplatick, which is a “thin, unleavened wafer similar to the alter bread in the Roman Catholic Church,” according to polishamericancenter. org. Often the wafer has the Godchild, Mary or angels imprinted into it, and traditionally it is meant to bring health, wealth and happiness in the upcoming year.

Marhefka always enjoys listening to her family’s stories and spending time with everyone. “My favorite part is being around my whole family and just being able to be surrounded by the love and sense of unity,” Marhefka said.

Finding the “Christmas tree pickle” is another tradition for some families. The pickle is supposed to be the last ornament hung on the tree and everyone except the person that hid it, races to find it first.  In some families, the winner opens the first gift or receives an extra gift; in others, that person is said to have won “good fortune” for the next year.

“My family has a ‘pickle prize,’” student, William Welton said. “Usually a gift anyone could use.”

The origin of this tradition is unknown, but seems to be a German-American tradition.  Those in Germany often have never heard of such a tradition, according to and several other websites. There are two legends about the beginning of this tradition: One is about an American Civil War solider who was given a pickle as his dying wish and the other is about Saint Nicholas reviving two boys who were dead in a pickle barrel.

Many people’s annual Christmas plans involve spending time with friends and family.  For example, student, Taylor Jean Schoedel’s family begins their celebration by unwrapping a “family gift” on Christmas Eve.

“It’s usually something for the whole family to enjoy, like a new TV,” Schoedel said. The following morning, her parents, sisters, and Schoedel go to Donut Connection for breakfast and eat around the tree. This has come to be Schoedel’s favorite holiday tradition. “That’s one of the few times everyone actually gets along,” she said.

Afterwards, her mother hands out the gifts that are beneath the tree, they make dinner, and eat as a family. 

This year, however, Schoedel hopes to include her boyfriend into the celebration, changing her usual holiday traditions, as many college students with significant others do.

“If he isn’t working, I plan on going to his grandparents Christmas Eve for their party,” Schoedel said.  “Then [we would] go to my house for the night, so he’s there for Christmas.”

Student, Megan Howes, begins her Christmas celebrations with a family party on the Saturday before Christmas; this party has been going on for over 70 years.

Howes’ parents were divorced a few years ago, so she spent Dec. 23 and Dec. 24 with her father, and later Christmas Eve into Christmas morning with her mother. 

Her favorite part of the holidays is watching traditional Christmas movies with her father, grandparents and step-aunt.

Marah Morrison reads bible scriptures with her family on Christmas morning before opening presents and visiting with family.

“Prior to Christmas, my family has a lot of parties and get-togethers that we attend as well,” Morrison said.

Morrison’s family decorates the house after Thanksgiving with china doll Santa, snowmen decorations, garland lights and candles.

“And of course our Christmas tree with all of the usual ornaments and lights and such,” Morrison said.

Marhefka described her family’s Christmas tree as “the classic Christmas tree with a beautiful white and gold Angel at the top.”

“We just have a candle set that goes in the middle of our table, a bunch of knickknacks and a nativity scene that we lay around the house on whatever surface we can find,” Schoedel said about her family’s decorations.

They also decorate a sloped archway in their house with garland, icicle lights and bows.

Even though they will be at home for Christmas, many students decorate their dorm rooms in the month leading up to their winter break.

“We’ve put up lights and made a wreath and a center piece,” Morrison said.

Marhefka didn’t decorate her dorm before leaving for Thanksgiving break, but intends to decorate afterwards.

“I am a Christmas fanatic, so something will definitely be done,” Marhefka said.                                          

Tracy Geibel is staff writer for the Spectator. She can be reached by