Toledo Families Share Unique Holiday Traditions

. December 1, 2015.

The holidays prove to be a beautiful time, despite the accompanying stress. Part of what makes them beautiful is that every family partakes in their own customs, traditions and religious observances, making Toledo a wonderful mix of holiday bliss. 

The Liber Family     

Sara Liber’s family celebrates two holidays at this time of year. At Christmas, Sara’s mom (who is Catholic) takes them to Sara’s grandmother’s house to celebrate the Christian holiday with a special dinner, Christmas tree, and the exchange of gifts. But Sara and her brother were brought up in a Jewish home, so they also celebrate Hanukkah with extended family on their father’s side. The family attends services at the Temple, enjoying the prayers and fellowship there, then return home for a traditional dinner. 

“My mom prepares the beef brisket from a family recipe,” Sara explains, “and we have the Challah bread that the rabbi delivers to us. My cousin and I are old enough now to make the latkes (potato pancakes) and I make the dessert, a rainbow jello with 10 layers of different colored jello. The young people drink apple juice while the adults have wine.”

She continues, “Sometimes we have Hanukkah music playing in the house, but we are all too old to play with the dreidels (spinning tops) now. We do receive gifts. Last year, my brother and I received holders for the shawls we wore at our Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. If the two holidays overlap on the calendar, we celebrate both at a combination celebration, and we add a party for my brother’s birthday in early December for lots of family time.”

Sabrina and her son, Ben

The Geronimo-Holliday family

Sabrina Geronimo-Holliday and her two children will celebrate the Christmas season with a nod to their Hispanic heritage. She and 8-month old daughter Acelia will be in the audience at Immaculate Conception Church when her 7-year-old son Ben appears in the Christmas program for Queen of Apostles School. 

Sabrina and her sisters and their families will meet at her grandmother’s house on Christmas Eve, each bringing homemade cookies to enjoy while grandma oversees the making of tamales (each batch takes about four hours to prepare!). They will attend Mass, then return to open gifts. 

On Christmas morning, the family will meet at Sabrina’s aunt’s house for another big dinner (ham or turkey with all the fixings) with a special pico de gallo salad made of cilantro, avocado, onions, and peppers marinated in lemon juice. Santa may make an appearance and while the kids are visiting with him and opening gifts, the adults are playing a “White Elephant” game. Each adult brings an inexpensive (sometimes a gag gift) wrapped gift and draws a number to see which other wrapped gift he or she has won.

Diane Gordon

The Gordon Family

The word Kwanzaa means “First Fruits” in Swahili, and it is the name given to a harvest celebration observed by many African-Americans during the week between Christmas and the New Year. Not a religious celebration, it was designed almost 60 years ago to promote community and to reassert the value of African culture and customs. Toledoan Diane Gordon is helping to organizing the city-wide Kwanzaa observance, which will be held at the Frederick Douglass Center at 1001 Indiana Ave., beginning at 6pm on December 26. 

“Each day, we focus on a principle,” she said. “We examine our own lives in light of those principles—kind of a self-assessment. The principles give us the opportunity to learn about our people who came before us, and to think about what our own purpose for living might be, as well as ways to fulfill that purpose in the best way possible. We ask ourselves, ‘What have I done in the last year to be part of the unity we all seek?”

The Kwanzaa celebration begins with the playing of drums and the lighting of the first of seven candles on the Kinara. The center candle is black and stands for unity of family, community, nation, and race. The other six candles (three red and three green) stand for the other six principles of Kwanzaa: self-determination, collective work and responsibility, collective economics, purpose, creativity and faith. One candle is lit on each successive night.  

Guests wear African attire and all enjoy a special meal. “Think African foods,” Gordon notes, “such as curried chicken, rice and beans, and yams. Our tables are decorated with ears of corn, to represent our children, and there are fruits and spices that add to the meal.” There may be dancing and other music, as well as public speakers, and the exchange of Happy Kwanzaa cards and good wishes.