Lakhsmi Chatterjee, Arts & Culture Editor

“A holiday tradition I had with friends was an on-the-spot Secret Santa! What we would do is meet up in a shopping area in New York City, like Union Square or the Bryant Park winter village in Manhattan, and put our names in a hat. Whichever name you picked up is who you’re buying a gift for. Then, we would all split up for an hour and buy our person a present within the price limit. At the end we’d convene at a park and hand out our gifts, explaining why we bought it. The best part of this was how spontaneous you had to be with buying your presents. We only had an hour to walk around stores and pick out something our person would like. There’s no overthinking it. One year, my friend got me a guitar-shaped pocket watch she found in the winter village because I was learning how to play the instrument, and I got strawberry tea for a friend who loved strawberries. We’re not doing our on-the-spot Secret Santa this year because of COVID-19, unfortunately, but we will all be Zoom sharing the presents we got from our families.”

Krishna Patel, Assistant Arts & Culture Editor

“While I don’t celebrate any December holidays, I always consider New Year’s as a time for self-reflection. Each year, I take myself out to coffee, find a cozy place by a window to sit, sip, people-watch and write in my journal. I read over my resolutions of the previous years, come up with new ones and write about my progress and wishes and goals for the coming year. This tradition I have is a lovely time to reconnect with myself. The holidays can be incredibly busy, so taking an evening to reflect, simply just think and enjoy my own company helps me hit reset and gives a renewed sense of purpose and positive energy going into the New Year. Due to COVID-19, I plan on enjoying my self-reflection evening from my favorite seat in my living room. Maybe if the weather is nice, I will find a nice spot outside to sit down, enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of nature with something hot to drink, meditate and journal.”

Makoto Toyoda, Assistant Arts & Culture Editor

“While my family gets into the Christmas spirit every winter like most Americans, with our fake mini tree and snowflake decorations, the most important holiday that we observe is New Year’s Day. In Japan, New Year’s is a day most people celebrate — the day is centered around family and setting the tone for a good start to the year to come through reflection and quality time. Every New Year’s, my family makes traditional Japanese dishes eaten on this day. This includes dishes such as grilled porgy, ozoni (soup with mochi), fish cakes, stewed root vegetables, sweet black soybeans and more. Japanese people tend to be superstitious, which is why each dish represents a certain value in Japanese — for example, porgy in Japanese is called “tai,” which is supposed to reference the word “medetai,” meaning “joyous” or “auspicious.” Through honoring and eating these dishes, Japanese people hope to bring prosperity, good spirit and happiness in the New Year. After the large meal around noon, my family shares their New Year’s resolutions one by one and spends some time together writing calligraphy that represents our goals or hopes for the next 365 days. At the end of the day, we take a walk as a family to see the sunset. New Year’s has always been a very special holiday to me, full of fun traditions and warm, cozy time spent with family. In celebrating this day every year, I feel connected to my culture, my family and my ancestors.”

Netali Zaff, Arts & Culture Intern

“The holidays look a little different this year, and many of the activities I once held dear to my heart as annual traditions have had to be relinquished at the hands of the pandemic. For Thanksgiving, my family and I always gather together at our cousins’ apartment in Manhattan, sharing drinks and conversations — and an especially beloved charcuterie board. Every year when I was little, my dad would drive me in early to see the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade with my cousin. We would traipse through the cold, often slushy New York City streets, our toes growing numb as we waited in the crowd and then quickly run back to our favorite diner for warmth and a good pre-feast brunch. Though we weren’t able to have a normal Thanksgiving this year, we found ways to modify and adjust for the current circumstances. My brother and I drove in to the city early in the day for a socially-distanced outdoor hangout with our cousins, and ate lunch at our diner’s new outdoor seating area. Then we all returned home for the night and joined a Zoom call together after cooking our favorite Thanksgiving foods. On normal years, we would follow our post-meal food coma with a few rounds of The Resistance, an interactive group card game. But this year, our solution was to get everyone playing Among Us, which follows a very similar premise but on a virtual platform. Prior to our Thanksgiving, I had given up hope that the holidays would feel warm and joyful like they usually do this year. But I soon realized that the same qualities which contributed to those positive feelings in years past were present this year too, in the gathering of family and loved ones to be together — be it online or in person.”

Caroline Doherty, Arts & Culture

“My favorite holiday tradition is cutting down my Christmas tree with my family and dogs. It’s always an adventure! Some years it goes smoothly and feels magical, and other years are met with our car almost getting stuck in the mud and trees that could be the sibling of Charlie Brown’s tree. Regardless, it’s my favorite thing about Christmas and I look forward to it each year.”

Lorena Maggiore, Arts & Culture

“My family tradition on Christmas is to watch Hallmark movies while cooking lasagna with my mom. I have always helped my mom cook lasagna for the holidays, and now, I’d like to say I’m nearly as good as she is at cooking it. I used to hate watching Hallmark movies because of how cheesy and predictable they are, but now I can appreciate them because they are such feel-good movies. I have especially appreciated Hallmark movies since they’re a nice separation from reality and the state of the world. On New Year’s Eve, my family has a tradition of cooking lenticchie (lentils). My dad prepares the lenticchie in a delicious soup. In the Italian tradition, the more lentils you eat, the more fortune you will receive in the new year.”