By Lauren Moore, Point Park News Service:
Justine Housum admires the homemade ornaments adorning her Indiana tree and the star perched atop that belonged to her grandmother.
In the Pittsburgh home of Nicole Eagan’s Aunt Lu, cookies decorated in green and red icing make for a neat treat.
Holiday traditions in the United States have been influenced by nearly every region of the world, according to Live Science, a website dealing with human nature and history, and Western Pennsylvania is no different. Holidays and the memories that come with them bring a sense of nostalgia, which helps people feel more connected.
Nostalgia expert Krystine Batcho, a professor of psychology at Le Moyne College in New York, said holidays can help those suffering through hard times because of the effects of happy memories and nostalgia from rituals and traditions of the season.
Housum and her family enjoy hanging handmade ornaments full of sentiments that come to life each year when they hang them on the tree.
“My mom has saved every ornament that my sisters and I have made since we were little,” Housum said. “It’s a little piece of our childhoods that my mom gets to relive every year when she hangs them up.”
The collection of handmade ornaments includes a tree made from pipe cleaners and colorful beads that Housum’s older sister Tori crafted in second grade, a steam engine made from a pack of lifesaver candies and M&Ms that her younger sister Megan created in pre-school. Housum’s favorite ornament is a Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer she made from Popsicle sticks and cotton balls in first grade.
“It’s because I have been watching Rudolph after decorating the tree for as long as I remember,” she said. “It means a lot to my mom, and as I got older, I started to realize how much it means to me.”
Aside from decorating the house and the tree, many families partake in cookie baking for the holidays, according to Cozi.com, a company that offers various applications to help families stay organized. The Eagan family is always ready for their family bake-off. They have been doing it for eight years.
“My Aunt Diane started this tradition. She always makes the best cookies,” said Eagan, 20.
The cookie bake-off brings out some competition amongst the Eagan family. Their lady locks and peanut butter blossoms take on a whole new meaning of sweet victory.
“All the females in my family bake a different type of cookie, and two days before Christmas, we go to my Aunt Lu’s house and all the men judge what cookies are the best,” said Eagan.
Besides cookies, simple annual traditions are popular, such as a Christmas Eve stew or a Christmas ham or turkey, according to Cozi.com.
“My Gram Renner makes stromboli every year for Christmas eve,” said Michaela Renner, 19, of Blue Knob.
Renner’s family stuffs their stromboli full of pastrami, fresh-cut pepperoni, honey ham and mozzarella cheese.
“I know it’s not a traditional meal for the holidays, in a sense,” said Renner, “but it is a traditional meal for my family every Christmas Eve.”
The Renner family accompanies their stromboli with fruit and veggie trays, hot tea and coffee and gifts.
“We all get together and eat the stromboli, then open presents,” said Renner, “and depending on everyone’s schedules, we either make time to go to Christmas Eve mass or Christmas morning mass as a whole family. It’s very special.”
Holiday gift giving is another tradition that is followed by many celebrating families, according to Cozi.com. Some families prefer to do a Secret Santa, while others follow a gift opening ritual.
“On Christmas Eve, my family and I sit around the tree, and we each get to open one present,” said Alexis Schumacher, 18, of Altoona. “It’s kind of a tease, but it holds us over until morning.”
Schumacher said she enjoys the challenge of resisting opening the rest of her gifts, and it’s made easier by the activities she looks forward to on Christmas day.
“For the past couple of years, we have woken up early to open the rest of the presents and then my mom makes us eggs and fried potatoes for breakfast,” said Schumacher. “I exchange presents with my cousins then, too. They’re only small gifts, but they’re very meaningful, especially because we usually get creative with them.”