Written by Ben Dwyer, OPG Staff
As the evenings draw in far too soon, and the temperature drops far too quickly, seasonal customs begin for every facet of the holiday season. While a single tear sheds for the long-abandoned shorts hanging sadly in the closet, the frosted windows and flurries of snow can mean only one thing… the holidays are coming.
Spirits are on high; families reunite, friends get merry, and holiday traditions are in full swing. Whether it’s Christmas or Kwanzaa, Hanukkah or Boxing Day, the holidays are the perfect remedy for the winter blues. No matter which celebration means something to you, our annual traditions are often just as meaningful to us as the holidays themselves.
For OPG self-advocate, Abby Love, Christmas is her favorite holiday. “I like getting presents, listening to Christmas music, and seeing family,” she tells me. For Abby, the holidays are a local affair, with her family coming over to celebrate an Indy Christmas. “We decorate our house and my aunt and uncle come to us every year.”
Taking part in a game of holiday word association will undoubtedly garner one result in particular: food. Along with her mom, Abby bakes delicious Christmas cookies each year, providing the energy she needs for one of her favorite holiday traditions: playing Just Dance on the Wii with her sisters and cousins.
As Abby can attest, tasty treats are the backbone to any holiday festivity. For Behavior Support Specialist, Jen Elia, Potato Latkes and Sufganiyot (a traditional Hanukkah doughnut), is the menu of choice. This year, Jen’s holiday traditions will also be incorporated at her daughter’s school holiday program. “She’ll be singing Christmas songs with everybody and I wanted them to include one Hanukkah song, which they were happy to do. I’m excited to see which one they’ve chosen.”
One of her favorite times of year, Jen’s family celebrations are mostly on the first night of Hanukkah, but the traditional family trip to Puerto Rico is the highlight of the season. “This year, because of what’s going on, we’re not able to go. But we’re still going to celebrate all together in Indiana – my mother recently moved here from New York, and my sister and her family as well.”
While the holidays are meaningful for a plethora of individualized reasons, time is something not even Bilbo Baggins is immune to; affecting what we associate the holidays with as the years fall away. Whether you’re waking up at 6am and jumping on your parents’ bed, or being woken up at 6am by energy levels which far exceed your own, the holidays remain special even when the reasons change.
Administrative Assistant, Laura Boggs, is seeing the holidays a little differently this year. “As my brother, sister, and I are getting older, I’m seeing for the first time that we’re not going to be around forever and I want to spend more time with them,” she pauses. “It’d be nice to think that Christmas could bring people back together – permanently, and not just for Christmas.”
Laura remembers a time when she was a teenager in Frankfort, Indiana, walking through the snow at the downtown square. “Business people would decorate their office windows. This one evening, Christmas songs were being played,” she recalls. “I always think of that particular evening when the holidays come around.”
Now a grandmother living with her daughter’s family, holiday traditions are more important than ever for Laura. “It’s waking up Christmas morning and hearing the kids shout “it’s Christmas, it’s Christmas!”,” she joyfully demonstrates. And no matter how many birthdays come and go, some things never change: “I even love to see when I get my daughter something that I know she wants. We all get older, but she’s still my daughter.”
While many cite that the joy of the holidays comes from the love and laughter shared with family, for some, the true meaning behind the holidays is giving. Of course, presents are a common-place during the Yuletide season, but giving comes in a great many number of forms for a great many number of people.
Cyrus Kungu, a Direct Support Professional, was born and raised in Kenya – moving to the United States back in 2009. During his upbringing in Africa, he spent the holidays celebrating Christmas with his family and community. For Cyrus, it was custom to open presents the day after Christmas (Boxing Day), with the former being reserved for another tradition entirely.
“When I was in Africa, I used to go to Church in the morning, and then after the service I would go into the community to visit the poor and give the little I had to them,” Cyrus explains. “When I celebrate Christmas, I always think about caring for others. When I spend my Christmas helping another person make their life better, I feel good about it.”
Cyrus grew up with very little, but his family always made sure to celebrate Christmas when many people in his poverty-stricken community did not. Since moving to America by himself, he has not only become an exceptional DSP, but continues to send money back to his community each year during the holidays, helping them in any way he can. Thankfully, Cyrus’ selfless nature was rewarded a few years ago when his family was finally able to move to the States to be with him.
Regardless of your background, traditions, or which cultural festival you celebrate, the holidays is a distinctly special time of year. Whether you’re embracing family you haven’t seen in years, eating your weight in ham, or hurriedly wrapping presents before the kids get home from school, the holidays provide memories that we cherish for the rest of our lives.
“I don’t give because I have, but because I know what it’s like not to have anything.”
– Cyrus Kungu
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