Holiday traditions

Families around the world have different traditions for celebrating during the holidays.

Students and employees at MCCC are no different — they each celebrate in their own unique way.

Holiday traditions include food, family get-togethers, church, and, of course, gift-giving.

Professor of Political Science Dr. Joanna Sabo said she always gave her daughter pajamas to open on Christmas.  

“She’s in her 30s [now] and I still give her pajamas to open every year for Christmas,” Sabo said. “Now she’s doing it with her three sons, so they all have pajamas to open up on Christmas Eve.”

The Carpenter’s Christmas Album has also played an important part in the mother-daughter Christmas tradition since her daughter was very young.

“Over the years, we’ve updated it. We’ve given each other albums and tapes and CD’s, and now she wants the MP3 of it,” Sabo said.

It isn’t a Sabo holiday without the raspberry linzers, a dark chocolate cookie with raspberry in them.

“If I don’t make them, my family gets really mad, so I make them every year,” she said. “They’re kind of labor intensive and expensive, but they’re there every year. I’ll give them to my family and friends and the lady that does the gardening at my condo.”

But Dr. Sabo’s favorite holiday tradition is dinner at her brother’s house, which has been part of her holidays for 15 years.

“He does it very seafood style,” she said. “We have cold stone crab, which is my favorite food.”

While Joanna Sabo is at her brothers chowing down on crab, MCCC student Omar Ferdin is opening presents with his family and eating his favorite holiday food, cold leftover ham.

“We don’t wait till Christmas morning to open presents, we do it Christmas Eve at midnight,” Ferdin said. “We make the kids go to bed around 8 o’clock, and then the parents wake them up at 12:01. We’ve been doing it since I was a kid, and now my kids do it.”

For some students, like Patricia Austin, music can bring holiday joy.

Austin likes listening to “All I Want for Christmas is You,” by Mariah Carey, and, of course, Jingle Bells.

Despite this classic Christmas approach, Austin and her family have created their own holiday bingo game for gifts.

“My family gets together and we usually have a Christmas party every Saturday after Christmas. For gifts, each kid gets a paper bag and the adults get gifts to give the kids, and we play bingo,” she explained.

“Each kid pairs up with an adult and when the kid gets bingo, they get a gift for their bag. When they’re done, the adults do the same thing and if they get a cover-all, they get to pick a gift from a big tote. So everyone spends $5 on a gift and we do that every year,” she continued.

Some families play games on Christmas, others have playful arguments about things that are very important to them.

Klarissa LaFlure’s family makes the same Christmas dinner year after year; homemade sweet and sour chicken, and year after year they “argue” over who gets the honor of making it.

But even though they argue, as all families do, they have deep rooted traditions.


“[Our] holiday tradition is getting a Christmas Eve present when we get home from Christmas Eve service. It’s always similar pajamas for me and my sister,” she said. “Ever since my sister was born we had similar pajamas for Christmas. We still do and she’s 17 and I’m 22.”

While some MCCC students and faculty celebrate Christmas with a personal touch, others celebrate with time-honored traditions like decorating.

“When you walk into my family room, it’s like you’re in a winter wonderland,” MCCC student Nicole Bolster said.


“My dad has in our family room a 12′ tree, and he has three trains going around the bottom of it. He’s got a dancing Grinch, a dancing Santa, and different Santas in all of the corners of the room.”

Bolster and her family “do the normal thing.” They wake up in the morning, get gifts, and have extended family over.

Similar to Bolster’s traditional holiday, MCCC President Dr. David E. Nixon likes to center his holiday on family.

“A lot of the holiday traditions have always been around family but now that our kids live all over the country, we spread our Christmas out,” Nixon said.  “We’re pretty traditional.”

When his children were young, Nixon and his family would go to church, after which they would open presents. Until his children grew older, some presents were reserved for Santa to bring.

“The first Christmas I remember is when I got my first electric train,” Nixon said. “So I hope that some of the things we did for our kids will be that memorable for them as well.”

Julie Edwards, a board member of MCCC’s alumni association and representative of Sienna Heights, also keeps family and church alive in her holidays.

Before attending midnight mass on Christmas Eve, her whole family gets together.

“Grandparents, aunts, uncles – all into one house, so it gets pretty crowded,” Edwards said.

On Christmas morning, a smaller group of immediate family gets together for a small breakfast to break away from the hustle and bustle, and open their presents.

“Sometimes we make a game out of what the gift is, if it’s a really big present,” Edwards said. “For example, my step-mother bought my dad a trip to Las Vegas for Christmas. Instead of letting him open one envelope that said ‘hey, you get a trip to Vegas,’ he opened one envelope that said ‘go to where sleeping dogs lie.’ In the doghouse there was another envelope and another clue. He finally had to unscramble the letters and said, ‘Las Vegas! Awesome!’ It was fun, I wanted one.”

But, who doesn’t want their dream gift for Christmas. To some, the perfect gift is a vacation discovered by a game, and to Bob Leonard, MCCC instructor of Product and Process Technology, getting his hands on tickets to a game is very important to his holiday celebrations.

“I have my boys over every year and exchange gifts,” He says. “Usually I give them Red Wings tickets. We have a big traditional Christmas, and a big traditional dinner.”

As natives of the United States, we know of four holidays celebrated around this time—Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Ramadan, and Christmas, but others around the world know other December holidays.

For instance, Dec. 6 was an insignificant day to many at MCCC, but for Dr. Magdalena Kotanova, an adjunct German language professor, it was the anniversary of a tradition she has celebrated since childhood – St. Nicholas Day.

“When I was growing up, we were very scared of St. Nicholas Day because our parents would always say if we were not listening, then the devil would come for us instead of St. Nicholas,” Kotanova said with a laugh.

In the Slovakian town she grew up in, it was tradition that children would be visited by three holiday figures on the eve of this celebration: St. Nicholas to determine whether the tots have behaved; an angel to give the good kids their presents; and a devil to frighten the ones that were bad.

Kotanova recalled other traditions surrounding St. Nicholas Day that she celebrated as a child.

“It was very exciting, especially for the kids,” she said.

On Dec. 5, the children clean their shoes and leave them out overnight. In the morning, either candy or coal would be inside, left from St. Nicholas.

The celebration is in honor of the saintly philanthropist, who died on Dec. 6, 346 A.D. The story of St. Nicholas later served as much of the inspiration behind the American Santa Claus.

December holidays are abundant in Slovakia, including Advent, Christmas, and Sylvester.

Advent marks the beginning of the Western liturgical year and is the preceding season to Christmas on the Christian calendar.

Sylvester falls on New Year’s Eve and is celebrated much like the U.S. 4th of July or Superbowl, Kotanova said.

“You’ll hear fireworks all night. Friends are together, going to restaurants or going to dances,” she said.

Despite the variety of holidays, Kotanova said Christmas is her favorite.

Whether you celebrate the holidays by running from a devil, or by eating your favorite meal of seafood or cold ham, we all have our classic or quirky holiday traditions.