Holiday Traditions Across the NCU Community

Melody Rawlings with family

In this year of social distancing, we may not get to celebrate the holiday season as we’d like. In times like these, our traditions seem more important than ever.

We asked a few of our NCU community to reflect on their favorite holiday traditions, and what they’re most looking forward to this holiday season.

Brian Allen, director of international partnerships at the School of Business, decorates the house with nativities each Christmas, “part of our personal expression and reminder of our holiday reason.” His wife collects them from around the world, and they have over 400.

“I am looking forward to time with family and expressions of gratitude. The year 2020 has been far less than the perfect vision I want for the future. Hoping for a reset and a refresh.”

Meg DuMez, an academic writing coach, shared how she tempers the excitement of waiting for her presents:

When I was a kid, I had a hard time falling asleep on Christmas Eve. The excitement about Santa coming shifted to curiosity about what was waiting from family members under the tree. So to help, I would tuck myself into bed (under a pile of fuzzy blankets), turn on The Muppet Christmas Carol, and turn out all the lights. Every year I fell asleep before the last ghost visited Scrooge. And as an adult, that is still how I fall asleep December 24.

Rachel Bruhn, also an academic coach, shared her family tradition of using Black Friday to put up the Christmas tree and enjoy holiday music.

“We focus more on experiences that create memories than ‘things,’ so rather than shopping and buying ‘things’ on this day, we stay home and spend time as a family,” she told us.

She’s looking forward to spending time with family again this year.

Melody Rawlings and her familyMelody Rawlings, director of the Center for the Advancement of Virtual Organizations, goes all out for her family tradition. What started as a Christmas Day scavenger hunt for her young daughters has evolved into a themed activity, which has included a GPS hunt, a game show, and even a Christmas county fair.

“I even create fun, special t-shirts for the occasion,” says Melody. “On Christmas morning it begins with a gift for each under the tree that contains their t-shirt and invitation to the event. This tradition continues to be a family favorite, and one I look forward to every year!”

Food is central to many holiday traditions, and it’s no different for student Sabrina Cheng-Zimmer. She shares that Thanksgiving is her favorite holiday because her family of six gets together to enjoy each other’s company over a laden table. This year, they’ll all get together via Zoom, from New York, Miami, and Utah.

Professor Stephanie Menefee’s family celebrates the new year with a vasilopita, an enriched bread with a coin hidden inside. It’s a Greek tradition honoring St. Basil’s Day on January 1.

“The sweetness of the bread is meant to symbolize the joy of life and hope that the New Year will be filled with prosperity for everyone who participates in the tradition – but the person who gets the coin is the one who is considered especially blessed for the year,” Dr. Menefee said.

Her father always cut the bread when she was growing up, and she still has the coins she was lucky enough to find – dimes “still wrapped in the same tin foil.”

Now the job of cutting bread each New Year’s Day falls to Dr. Menefee.

“I see my daughter with the same twinkle in her eye… hoping she’ll get the piece with the coin, and the tradition has become even sweeter.”

Librarian Sherry Mohr’s family celebrates the holidays with “a mixture of traditional American dishes (mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, turkey, and pie) and traditional Egyptian food (stuffed grape leaves; rice with pine nuts, raisins, and spices; lamb; and baklava).”

Sherry comes from a large Egyptian family, and making stuffed grape leaves holds a special place in her heart. Her mom taught her how to make them in the Egyptian style – filled with rice, ground beef, and spices, and served hot.

“Once the stuffing is ready, you take brined grape leaves, add the filling in the center, and roll it into a tight cylindrical shape for cooking. The rolling is the most time-consuming part of the process, and I cherished every moment of it,” she shared.

“During this time, my mom would share her childhood stories about life in Egypt, Sudan, and later in the United States. She would tell me stories about my grandparents and their siblings. She would share her experience of being an immigrant in a new country. It was a special time.”

This year, she plans to pass the tradition on and teach her children, and her brothers, who’ve never made stuffed grape leaves before.

“Food is so centric in my culture, and the act of making the food makes the spread on the table more meaningful,” Sherry says. “The stories that are shared, the laughter, the heartache, and the love, especially the love, are the actual ingredients.”

Leslie Mcguire and her childLove has been on Leslie McGuire's mind this year, too. The academic operations manager for the School of Technology and her husband welcomed a baby girl in July.

“We are excited to share our traditions with our sweet Alayna, including watching Christmas movies, baking, decorating, and driving around to look at lights,” she says.

The family also may celebrate their first Christmas without Leslie’s father-in-law, who is very ill. That makes this year’s holiday season bittersweet.

“Like many, we will be finding a way to balance grief and joy, and passing on traditions is a way to keep memories of those we love alive in us.”