Tag Archives: christmas

Family Christmas Cookie Making

Main Piece

“Every Christmas, our house becomes a ‘candy factory’ – at some point when I was growing up, my mom found recipes for chocolate fudge, peanut butter toffee fudge, and peppermint bark, tweaked some of them so they didn’t have quite as many sticks of butter and cups of sugar, and started making them to give to neighbors and family. My dad started bringing them to work to give to his coworkers too, and now it’s something everyone looks forward to getting from us each year. My brother and I started helping make them pretty early on, at least since I was in eighth grade, and it’s become a key Christmas tradition – responsibility, even – to share with our mom every year.”


Informant’s Interpretation: This tradition holds primary relevance to informant as a family tradition. She likes to spend the time with her mom, but notes that since the whole thing puts a stress on her mom, helping can sometimes “feel more like a duty than a fun cozy Christmas tradition.” However, she notes that she still heavily associates this with how her family celebrates Christmas and thus enjoys it.

Personal Interpretation: I find this to be a classic example of a family Christmas tradition–particularly so because other families recognize it as such and come to enforce the idea of the tradition from a slightly-external perspective. While associated with a religious holiday, I don’t see any particular direct connection to Christian tradition other than perhaps the origins of the types of cookies. That said, it feels pretty removed from any religious context and has more to do with the time of year and family-centric association than anything else.


Informant is a 21 year old college student raised in Rancho Bernardo, California. She is female-presenting, white, and of European descent.

Festival of Lights in Downtown Riverside California


Collector: “Did you participate in any specific rituals or festivals growing up?”

Informant: “I grew up attending the Festival of Lights in Downtown Riverside, California. It’s always around Christmas time. They cover the entire downtown city in Christmas lights. It’s beautiful. There are musicians, usually solo artists, that come out they’ll put a bucket right next to them to collect tips. There’s a guy who brings his dog with him every year while he plays banjo. There’s a lot of different vendors, like there’s one specific hot cocoa stand that’s usually there. I forget the name. Some people sell glow stick toys to kids. The crowd is mostly families and couples.”

Collector: “Is there a main ceremony or is it just seeing lights?”

Informant: “There is like a main ceremony where they turn all the lights on. You know, the first night that’s when it’s the most crowded. Everybody goes downtown and they wait for them to turn on the lights.”


The informant is a twenty-year-old male from Riverside California. 


I found the informant’s description of the Festival of Lights interesting, as I also grew up in Riverside but rarely participated in this downtown tradition. The Informant spoke fondly of the festival with warmth and smiled as he remembered small details from his childhood. I took the festival for granted, but his perspective made me see the tradition in a whole new light. The Informant feels very connected to the city of Riverside because he participated in community events annually. I felt disconnected from the community in my childhood, as I wasn’t involved in many hometown traditions. Local festivals have the power to create a sense of belonging in communities and build a strong emotional connection to a geographic location. 

The Feast of the Seven Fishes

The Feast of the Seven Fishes is an Italian American Christmas Eve celebration. J’s family has been celebrating with this feast just for the past few years, and he says it allows them to connect with their culture and ethnic community. In accordance with online descriptions of the grand meal, the “essentially have a dinner party with 7 different fish cooked into the dishes.”

According to Eataly, the tradition was started by Italian immigrants in the U.S. in the early 1900s and while the exact origins/meanings are difficult to trace, “the ancient tradition of eating fish on Christmas Eve dates from the Roman Catholic custom of abstinence from meat and dairy products on the eve of certain holidays, including Christmas. The number seven is rooted back in ancient times and it can be connected to multiple Catholic symbols…” Therefore, like for J’s family, one can presume that both the meals and symbolism present were reminiscent of “home” for early participants in the Feast.

He believes it to be a celebration of abundance and the “being better off” that comes with immigrating to the U.S. as well as a ritualistic acknowledgement by Italian Americans of their cultural history and the sacrifices and hard work of their ancestors.

Big Bear Ritual

Informant: N.N

Nationality: American

Primary Language: English

Other Language(s): N/A

Age: 19

Occupation: Student

Residence: Burbank, CA

Performance Date: 04/26/2024

N.N is 19 years old and is from Burbank, CA. I am close friends with his brother, so N.N is an acquaintance of mine. I asked him if there are any festivals or rituals he participates in regularly. He tells me about the yearly ritual his family does, in celebration of Christmas and December Break. 

“Every December, once school’s out, my family heads up to Big Bear and we stay there for like a week. We started this whole thing about four years ago when my uncle, who’s pretty much obsessed with snowboarding, thought it’d be a great idea for us to get together and hit the slopes. So, my mom would rent an Airbnb, and we’d spend our winter break snowboarding as much as we can. It’s pretty fun. My cousins E. and M. were just getting old enough to enjoy the trip, so my uncle figured it was the perfect time to start. I interpret this yearly celebration as a way for our family to just enjoy winter break and Christmas together in a way that’s unique to us. I really like it and I hope we keep doing this for a long time.”

Their December snowboarding trip also coincides with the Christmas season, which I think adds value to the family bonding experience. Since I know them personally, I know that they are a family that is super active and always into sports so this was probably a creative way to incorporate their hobby into a celebration. For them, Christmas is a time that’s associated with family and togetherness. Even though they aren’t Christian, they celebrate Christmas as a way to get closer and show appreciation for one another. I think that by integrating their holiday celebrations with this active tradition, it allows them to have core memories and stronger relationships since they have a shared experience. Their tendency to make it a tradition also shows how they have celebrated many traditions / rituals before that is personalized to their interests.

Presenting Christmas

The informant’s family opens all presents from non-immediate family on Christmas eve, while the presents from immediate family are saved for Christmas Day. On Christmas day these presents are only opened after the informant’s mother reads the Christmas story aloud.

The informant thinks that the presents of immediate family being saved for Christmas is because it’s more exciting to see people open gifts that you gave them and hear what they think than it is to see them open presents from other people, so it’s saving the most fun for the most special day. As for the Christmas story reading, he thinks that’s to prioritize and reinforce that it’s the celebration of Christianity and Jesus’ birth, not just a random holiday.

I think the informant is correct with all of his analysis, but that there is an extra layer to saving the immediate family’s presents for Christmas day, and that is to emphasize the importance of one’s family a little more than any other friends or relatives.