Have Yourself a Nontraditional Holiday Season

by Opeyemi Ifafore

It’s that time of year again, the time to overeat and be joyful. It’s the holiday season.

While most people will be serving the traditional turkey and ham, two Mount Saint Mary College students show how differently they celebrate the holiday season. Asma Neblett and Gabrielle Maher, both sophomores at the Mount, celebrate in their own traditional way.

 

A “No Turkey” Thanksgiving

Asma Neblett, a  journalism major, comes from a religiously diverse background.

“My father is Muslim and my mother is Catholic,” Neblett said, “so my Thanksgiving and holiday season is a little untraditional.” At a Neblett Thanksgiving, the meals are influenced by Guyanese cooking, since Neblett’s mom is originally from Guyana.

“One of our biggest dishes is called pepper pot,” Neblett said. Pepper pot takes three days to cook. It’s a type of soup that contains spices and different types of meat. This soup can be eaten with bread or on its own. Neblett said that her grandmother and her mother are the only ones allowed to make it until she is of age, which means having a child of her own.

Other meals on the menu include roti, similar to a flaky flatbread, curry meat, and potatoes. What doesn’t make its way to the dining table is turkey.

What is special about the spices used during the holiday is that Neblett’s grandma makes it herself.

For dessert, they enjoy cheesecake, carrot cake, and pound cake with ice cream. “We have to have cheesecake,” Neblett said.

“We spend a lot of time in family with folklore,” Neblett said, “because a lot of my family members are storytellers.”

Neblett enjoys the storytelling that takes place during the holidays. It’s an opportunity to learn about her family members that she didn’t have the opportunity to meet, such as her great grandmother Josephine. It’s a chance to learn about old customs and traditions that used to be a part of the family.

 

Nontraditional Holidays

Gabrielle Maher and family during the holiday season. (Photo courtesy of the Maher Family)

More Carbs to Gobble

Gabrielle Maher comes from a large Italian and Irish family. During the holidays, she celebrates with the Italian side.

“My family starts to prepare the Sunday before Thanksgiving,” Maher said. “Mostly we prepare the desserts.” In Maher’s family, desserts are the most important part of the meal. The popular desserts include cannolis, black and white cookies, rainbow cookies, and various pies and cakes. Apart from dessert, popular items on the menu are rice balls and potato croquettes for appetizers.

Thanksgiving morning, Maher’s family likes to watch March of the Wooden Toy Soldiers.

“We all watch it while having pancakes,” Maher said. “We talk about the movie as if we haven’t seen it before.”

After stuffing their faces, Maher’s family gathers around and writes down what they want for Christmas.

 

Christmas Time

For Neblett, Christmas is her favorite holiday because of the decorations and the festivities. In the Neblett home, you would most likely see a white Christmas tree, which is a popular tree color in Guyana.

The pepper pot makes its way to the table during Christmas time as well.

“We pay special attention to the pepper pot,” Neblett said. Neblett explained that it’s a way to be thankful for what you have because it’s very modest. To be able to even have a pepper pot in Guyana showed that you had a good year.

Although there are presents underneath the white Christmas tree, gifts don’t serve much importance.

“I get gifts all year round,” Neblett said “You’ll see stuff underneath the tree, but it’s simply not the main focus.”

For Maher, Christmas Eve is more important than Christmas day.

“For 22 years, we went to my Aunt Theresa’s house on Christmas Eve,” Maher said.

What’s special about Christmas Eve for Maher is that the men of the family are the cooks. At 7 a.m., the house bustles with activity.

The main difference between Christmas and Thanksgiving is the number of people in attendance.

“The table would go through the whole living room,” Maher said.

Other than the number of guests, the time of gift giving and taking pictures to remember the moment is very special to her family.

“A traditional picture is taken in front of the tree in my aunt’s living room with all my cousins,” Maher said. “My uncle dresses up as Santa and the older cousins would dress up as elves.”

The exchanging of gifts takes place at midnight. Along with gift giving is music and dancing with the whole family.

This Christmas and Thanksgiving will be different for Maher’s family.

“Due to my aunt’s passing, the holidays will be a little different,” Maher said. “My family is going to try their best to keep these traditions going mostly because we believe it is what’s going to keep her spirit alive.”