The holiday season is upon us and every family celebrates with its own special traditions. Our diverse campus brings many traditions together such as lighting nine candles during Hanukkah, opening presents on Christmas morning, enjoying homemade tamales on Christmas Eve and celebrating the seven principles of Kwanzaa.


Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday that commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem during the Maccabean Revolt. This holiday takes places for eight days and a candle on a menorah is lit for each day. There are nine candles total, as the eight candles on the left and right of the middle one symbolize the number of days that the temple lantern blazed. The ninth one, the shamash, is a helper candle used to light the others.

Third-year graphic design student Amit Hatzor is from Israel and she celebrates Hanukkah. When she was a child, she said her extended family would light the menorah all together.

“We don’t have any extended family living in the States [so] we usually celebrate each day with either just the family or sometimes we’ll do it with family friends,” Hatzor said. “During Hanukkah, some of my favorites foods are latkes (potato patties) and sofganiyut (jelly doughnuts).”

Andrew Agyemang (far left) and Devyn Payne (center) participating in a Kwanzaa celebration. (Jacqueline Ayala | The Poly Post)


The most common holiday that is celebrated among Cal Poly students, faculty and staff is Christmas. Christmas honors the birth of Jesus of Nazareth and it has become a religious and cultural celebration among billions around the world. It is also the time for children to receive gifts in their stockings and under the Christmas tree while they are sleeping.

Third-year psychology student Karli Cheng gathers at her cousin’s house to have a big dinner and exchange gifts on Christmas Eve.

“There is always American and Vietnamese food, including a roast, lots of potatoes, ham, greens, biscuits [and] cakes and because the weather is cooler, there is typically pho or curry served,” Cheng said. “I really enjoy seeing everyone and eating together because we don’t always get together during the year so it’s always fun to catch up with your cousins who have been away for school or work.”

Second-year theater student Janette Arellano also celebrates Christmas, but her family incorporates typical Mexican foods such tamales, posole with chicken and buñuelos, which are a kind of fried sweet pastry. She said her family starts out with everyone at the table saying grace and expressing thanks for everything they have.

“As a family, we make tamales together, and my aunts and uncles normally bring dessert such as cheesecake, buñuelos, chocolate de abuelita (a kind of hot chocolate) and pan dulce,” Arellano said. “Once we clean up, all the younger kids will go to my room and play video games and after a while my mom calls all of us to get ready for gifts, so we get cozy and exchange gifts.”


The third and most uncommon holiday is Kwanzaa, an African American holiday celebrated from Dec. 26-Jan. 1. During the week of Kwanzaa, a set of seven symbols is placed in the dining room or living room in the homes of celebrating families.

Kwanzaa was created in 1966 in Los Angeles by Ron Maulana Karenga as an alternative celebration to Christmas and Hanukkah and as a means to get away from the commercialism of Christmas.

On Nov. 29, the African American Student Center hosted its 18th annual Kwanzaa celebration in which ethnic and women’s studies professor Toni-Mokjaetji Humber was the leader of the ceremony.

Third-year kinesiology student Maddison Cannon said that while she does not celebrate Kwanzaa, she learned about paying respects to her ancestors and the unity in African American culture.

“It’s all about loving each other and being together,” Cannon said. “I loved how Dr. Humber makes it [an] interactive type of group and I went last year. The main point is for the community, the family and self-determination.”

Each family celebrates the holidays differently, but all holidays help bring people from different traditions together. There are numerous ways to celebrate Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and Christmas and each one has its unique touch.

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