Story by Jesse Wright
The holidays are rapidly approaching. For many Drake students, this will entail going home and celebrating Christmas and New Year’s Eve in the usual ways: meeting family and friends, grabbing gifts from under the tree, reading The Night Before Christmas out loud and watching “A Christmas Story” 500 times on TV.
However, Drake also has students on campus who celebrate the holidays in their own way, putting a twist on the traditional yuletide enjoyment.
Drake sophomore Emma Wilson is a practicing Unitarian Universalist.
“Unitarian Universalism is a diverse religion with Judeo-Christian roots that encourages people to seek their own religious paths,” Wilson said. “It has no creed.
“It affirms the worth of human beings, advocates freedom of belief and the search for advancing truth and tries to provide a warm, open, supportive community for people who believe that ethical living is the supreme witness of religion.”
Unitarians celebrate Christmas fairly traditionally, but their celebrations also harken back to the holiday’s pre-Christian beginnings. “Many U.U.s celebrate Christmas differently, but my family tends to celebrate Christmas much like any non-practicing Christian might,” Wilson said.
“We exchange gifts and talk about Santa, but from a young age my parents taught me about the pagan roots behind the idea of the Christmas. Additionally, we do not usually attend mass on Christmas like many of my Catholic relatives in my extended family do,” Wilson said.
She adds that while her traditions were different from many of her closest relatives, those traditions never caused conflict, and they broadened her knowledge of other religions.
“I remember asking my parents as a child at our shared family Christmas why all my cousins were going to midnight mass, but I was staying home,” Wilson said. “My family and Unitarian Universalism in general believe in encouraging children and even adults to continue to explore other faiths as the grow and develop on their path towards truth and wisdom.
“Several times as a child, I attended mass with the rest of the family, and I believe that openness lead to a greater understanding and appreciation of different faiths later in life.”
Recent Drake graduates Bree Hess and Jacob Fross are engaged and have also have found a way to work around their religious differences to celebrate the season.
Hess is an atheist and former vice president of Drake’s Secular Student Alliance, yet Fross is a practicing Catholic. Hess said they compromise around this time of year.
“Jacob and I went back to my place last year, Hess said. “I ended up going to Christmas mass with him in my hometown in South Dakota. With Jacob, I don’t impede him from celebrating Christ.”
“Honestly, I have always celebrated Christmas without the Christ bit,” Hess said. “The only thing different is that now I have a theist fiancé, to whom I love. While we respect each other, we get into a number of quips about it all.”
Senior Mark Lesser practices Judaism and celebrates Hanukkah every year around Christmas time.
“Hanukkah is the festival of lights,” Lesser said. “The holiday was originally a very minor holiday, but it was played up in the early 50s due to it being close to Christmas.
It celebrates the Jews, led by the Maccabees’ victory over the Greeks and the rededication of the Second Holy Temple.
The miracle involved in the holiday is that after the Jews rededicated the temple, they only had enough oil for the ceremonious Menorah for one night, but the oil lasted for eight days, just enough time to create a new batch of oil.”
He said while he belongs to the Congregation Tikkun Olam in his home town of Crystal Lake, Ill., his celebration here at Drake is very informal.
“I usually have a small home service,” Leser said. “I have a prayer book and my own menorah, and I’ll call my family on the first and last nights just to wish them a happy Hanukkah.
“I keep it pretty simple, but it’s still important to me to celebrate with my faith.”
Like Wilson, Lesser also says he has relatives of different religious faiths, but that those differences do cause any family tensions.
“My mother, step-mother and uncle are Catholic, so I’ve been a part of both celebrations for my whole life,” Lesser said. “My mother and step-father hold a Christmas party that I go to every year.
“As clichéd as it sounds, it’s never mattered what holiday were celebrating, it’s always been about celebrating with family and friends, regardless of religion.”