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Homes for the Holiday: Vignettes from winter break

My parents’ methods were never overt — nobody plastered our homes with Hindu imagery or forced us to memorize ... As a young Catholic living in a small town outside of Louisville, Kentucky, I always looked forward to the Christmas season, particularly ...

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It’s a strange feeling to realize that each person passing you on the street has a complex life all their own — but hardly an exclusive oneIt’s so common, in fact, that in 2012 writer John Koenig coined a new word, “sonder,” to describe it.As throngs of students return to the sidewalks on campus, many might wonder how the people streaming by experienced winter break distinctly and differentlyFor us on Opinions desk, we experienced the same feeling at our last meeting of the semester back in DecemberWe were all looking ahead to the time off from school and work, yet all for different reasons.With academic life returning in full swing, most of us are returning to the shared, routine existence of college studentsBefore we move on, however, here are six glimpses into the various lives of college students on break.Ana Altchek, ColumnistDriving is one of my favorite parts of being homeEven on a small trip across town, I am reassured by the familiarity and warmth of the different cultural symbols that separate my town from others.Six churches, two synagogues and one mosque populate Lawrenceville, New JerseyAll are representative of the different backgrounds that give my hometown its nickname — “the mini melting pot.” Passing by each one in less than a 10-minute drive is a reminder of the acceptance and tolerance of my home.In every winter chorus concert I performed in elementary school, I’d have to learn a song representing each holidayEven though Christmas was the main holiday being celebrated, parents of every religion came in to teach a segment on the holiday they celebrated so that each student would feel proud to celebrate their religion’s winter holiday.This is my town in a nutshell — a place that embraces the differences among one another and uses it a uniting factorA microcosm of what this country was originally built upon.Brian Gentry, Columnist(Photo courtesy of Brian Gentry)Portland, OregonIt’s the hipster capital of the country, home to dozens of microbreweries and independent bookstoresIt’s the setting of the hit TV show, “Portlandia.” And coincidentally, it’s the least religious city in the country, according to a 2015 study by the Public Religion Research InstituteAccordingly, the holiday season is markedly unreligious.Returning home to the city after finals week, I came face to face with this unorthodox attitude, celebrating “Christmukkah” — a portmanteau of the Christian and Jewish holidays — with my best friend and his familyOn the seventh night of “Christmukkah,” we dimmed the Christmas music and donned our yarmulkesAlmost everyone, including the dog, was stuck with traditional black yarmulkesMy friend’s brother sported a version that looked more like Santa’s hat.It was time to light the candlesMy friend stopped, confused.“Do you light the candles from left to right or right to left?” he askedYou can’t blame him for not knowingAfter all, he’d only done it eight days each year for all 20 years of his life.My friend’s dad then recited the Hanukkah prayers“Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu…” he began, only to realize most people there didn’t know the wordsSo we did the rest in call-and-response style, pausing every two words to allow people to catch up.We let the candles burn out as we enjoyed matzah ball soup, latkes and gluten-free kugel in the next room overWe laughed and talked, thankful for each other’s presenceThe combined holiday was not so much about expressing devotion to God — it was about appreciating friends and family.Neena Hagen, ColumnistCertain expectations come with being raised as the product of an Indian mother from a Hindu household and a Caucasian father from a Christian one — a healthy amount of influence on both sides, an unspoken contest to gain a religious monopoly on my siblings and me.My parents’ methods were never overt — nobody plastered our homes with Hindu imagery or forced us to memorize Bible versesInstead, they moved subtly, nudging us bit by bit, one holiday tradition at a timeA visit to my Hindu family’s home in Mississippi became synonymous with prayers to the household shrine of the three main Hindu gods and the presence of small elephant figurines everywhere.Christmas with my dad’s family meant being reluctantly dragged to church, where I would fail to keep myself from nodding off and earn disapproving scowls from my more devout relativesOver the years, they reluctantly accepted that my siblings and I would be better left at home.Despite my family’s hopes, their efforts ultimately backfiredBeing brought up in the diverse city of Philadelphia, I discovered the value of reconciling cultural differences early onThe tension between the two sides of my family only served to distance me from both, and caused me to dread the inevitable contentiousness of the holiday seasonWhen I finally realized religion itself was creating the rift, I concluded the only way to mend it was to celebrate Christmas as a secular holidayAnd my family has celebrated Christmas as a secular holiday for a long time now, complete with the Christmas tree, wintery decorations and family spirit — a simple get-together with my dad’s family in ErieIt’s a compromise of sorts that is much more in keeping with deflecting social conflict.As for the “true meaning of Christmas,” I think my relatives and I, regardless of how religious, all agree that a warm night of singing off-key carols and exchanging laughter with family beats a dry sermon and a plastic nativity scene any day.Maggie Koontz, Senior Columnist(Photo courtesy of Maggie Koontz)As a young Catholic living in a small town outside of Louisville, Kentucky, I always looked forward to the Christmas season, particularly midnight MassWhen we were old enough, my parents would bundle my brothers and me in layers of clothes, load us into the car and drive us to church for the service.I was excited to be able to stay up past my bedtime, but I found it difficult to stay awakeThe church was packed with people, creating a warm environment that made me sleepyAccustomed to the routine of standing, sitting and kneeling, my eyes would wander as I mumbled the words to various prayers and hymnsA giant Advent wreath hung above the altar with three purple candles and one pink candle, but my favorite decoration was the wooden nativity set in the corner.Before the service began, I would excuse myself to go kneel in front of the nativity scene while my parents and grandmother made conversation with the families around themEvery year, I prayed for God to keep my family safe, for one more year of happinessAfter the service concluded, my family would shuffle to the car and head homeYawning, I would tumble into bed, eager to see what Santa Claus would bring me in the morning and comforted by the idea that God would watch over my family for another year.Mariam Shalaby, Senior ColumnistWhen I was a little girl, my fellow Muslim neighbors had a Christmas tree — I was sure of itIt was an evergreen, decked out in sparkling ornaments, covered in strings of tinsel, and had piles of presents loaded beneath itBut they called it a “New Year’s Tree,” and the presents were exchanged on New Year’s EveAs a kid, I thought having the tree was a total betrayal of our identityBut in retrospect, I realize that it was their immigrant parents’ well-intentioned attempt to prevent their kids from feeling isolated in an overwhelmingly Christmas-centric culture.My mom, who grew up Catholic, consoled me by saying she never had a Christmas tree anyway, growing up in the Philippines, where palm trees line the streets.I love our Islamic holidays — Eid-al-Fitr and Eid-al-Adha — which, this year, fell in the summerMy family spent them sprawled on picnic blankets at the park and posing for pictures in the sunshineAs Muslims, my family and I revere Jesus as a prophet, but since Christmas isn’t our holiday, we’ve never celebrated itInstead, we’ve spent Christmases at the movies or just like any other day.At our house this year on Christmas Day, my family gathered in the kitchen to choose a paint color, passionately voting for dark gray, light gray or white wallsThen, we went to Salem’s Market and Grille in the Strip DistrictThe Middle Eastern butcher, grocer and restaurant was open until 6 p.mon Christmas DayThe restaurant was packed with other Muslims happily chatting over family dinnersWe certainly didn’t have Christmas roast pig, but we did have spicy chai, good kebabs and loved onesWithout meaning to, we created a holiday-like atmosphere“It’s kind of like we’re having Christmas dinner,” my sister-in-law said“It usually gets lonely around Christmastime.”While it didn’t beat Eid as “the most wonderful time of the year” this year, we did get time off from work to gather togetherAnd that is something I’m thankful for.Sarah Shearer, Assistant Opinions EditorThe smell of spaghetti pizza wafting from its box on my lap on the way home from church in Lancaster is perhaps the strongest, most Christmas-defining element of the holiday.The Christmas Eve service at my home church, Lancaster Church of the Brethren, lets out around 6 p.m., which was the perfect time to stop at Rosa Rosa Pizzeria on the way homeWe got in the door just before the restaurant closed for the night and were almost always the only customers insideWe’d get out the door 20 minutes later with bags and boxes in hand, ready to get home and feastPart of me had always felt insecure about eating fast food on a sacred holiday, but my best friend’s family has subs and punch after re-enacting the nativity story, so I guess it’s all right.Christmas Eve was actually the only day of the year we ever had food from Rosa RosaEven though I remember thinking the food was fantastic, according to my mother, “It was the only place open on Christmas Eve.” Perhaps it was the combination of hot cheese and the knowledge that Santa Claus would be descending onto our roof in a few short hours that did me in.My parents ate cheesesteaks and fries across the table from me, watching as I devoured my slice in my Christmas Eve night gownOne year — I think it was fourth grade — I went big and ordered a piece with actual spaghetti on topIt’s true what they say about kids being fearless.After the pizza was gone, I’d go to the pantry and mix raw oats with Christmas sprinkles and throw them ― along with some baby carrots — all over the porchReindeer get hungry flying around the entire world in one night, too, obviouslyThat pizzeria tradition carried on year after yearI was especially looking forward to having my annual piece of Rosa Rosa pizza during my first year at Pitt – a firm anchor in the midst of my radically changed lifeUnfortunately for me, the pizzeria burned to the ground just one month prior to Christmas EveNow, we’re forced to visit another pizzeria — and although the bread is perfectly textured and crispy in its own way, there is and forever will be a Rosa Rosa pizza-shaped hole in my heart.printPrintLeave a comment var 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are already Libertarian Party […] Editorial: Wolf opioid declaration a step in the right direction Yesterday, GovTom Wolf confirmed something we all already know to be true: Pennsylvania is in the midst of a drug abuse crisisIn a statement released from Wolf’s office, the governor added Pennsylvania to a list eight other states that have already declared states of emergency over rampant opioid and heroin addictionWolf said […] Self-awareness snaps unconscious biases Imagine you’re walking down Forbes Avenue one afternoon, and suddenly a man wearing a ski mask grabs your backpack and sprints awayYou call the police immediately, and although the backpack is nowhere to be found, they’ve arrested two men who match your description of the perpetratorYou’re taken into the police station to assist […] var OX_ads = OX_ads || []; OX_ads.push({ slot_id: "538011960_INSERT_SLOT_ID_HERE", auid: "538011960" }); The Pitt NewsThe daily student newspaper at The University of Pittsburgh Phone: 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