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Sandra B. Smyser: Give the gift of tradition to your kids

Sandra B. Smyser

‘Tis the season for lights, carols, hot cocoa and warm fireplaces after a long day on the slopes ” all simple pleasures that make the holiday season truly worth looking forward to.

December is a month filled with holidays, social gatherings, celebrations, exchanging gifts and ” to the delight of those involved in the world of education ” school vacations. It’s the one time of year when amid all of the hustle and bustle, it’s hard to help but feel grateful for the beautiful area where we live and being close to those we love.

This time of year also brings the annual celebration of various traditions, which may include ringing the bell for Salvation Army, baking delectable goodies that fill the house with indescribable aromas, singing carols in Vail Village or touring the local neighborhoods to gaze at the kaleidoscope of colors emitting from holiday lights.



Whatever your traditions include, they are the true essence of holidays and make these celebrations more than worthwhile.

Our family traditions are abundant. One of my favorites is sharing stories of loved ones who are no longer with us. This allows us the opportunity to pass along the memories of family members while sharing time with one another.



For example, my grandfather could prepare an unrivaled pot of chili. In the midst of trying to replicate this recipe, we sit around and share anecdotes of when he was with us, and we laugh. For us, holidays are a time to be together but also recognize those who made a lasting impression in our lives.

While Christmas and Hanukkah are two of the more commonly celebrated holidays with several traditions intertwined in their midst, this season, I encourage you and your families to delve into the way different cultures contribute to popular holiday traditions.

How do holidays develop over time, and how do they relate to one another? How do holidays figure in the popular imagination, such as in stories and novels? Which traditions include culinary creations, religious practices and leisure endeavors?



This type of thinking encourages us to focus on our family, ethnic and cultural heritage. If you are a grandparent, make sure to use the holidays to tell stories and share traditions from your childhood that the next generations can continue.

These types of conversations encourage curiosity in the young, inquiring minds of our children and make them more well-rounded individuals.

Kwanzaa, for example, which means “the first fruits of the harvest,” is a relatively new, secular holiday that is celebrated from Dec. 26 to New Year’s Day. For each of these seven days, celebrants recognize a principle or value, such as “unity” or “self-determination.”

Each day also is associated with a symbol, such as Mazao, crops that “symbolize work and the basis of the holiday,” or Sawadi, which are “meaningful gifts to encourage growth, self-determination, achievement and success.”

Kwanzaa is not only a wonderful celebration of family and culture but also a fabulous example of how holidays develop through the creative combination of historical circumstances, cultural background and creative thinking.

So this year, whether you are curled up by the fire, watching classic holiday movies, baking gingerbread cookies or serving those less fortunate or less mobile at a soup kitchen or through Meals on Wheels, celebrate traditions, both old and new.

Recognize holidays that are celebrated in numerous cultures around the world. Perhaps by shedding some light on our differences in traditions, we will learn to better understand one another and celebrate our uniqueness in culture.

Sandra B. Smyser is the superintendent of the Eagle County School District.


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