Is it really the most wonderful time of year?

December 7, 2022

Dalin Dohrn

It’s the season of holidays, celebrations and gatherings. Almost everyone has something to celebrate, brightening the colder months. While a diversity of holidays are celebrated this month, certain traditions seem to overshadow the rest. So consider testing your skills on the ice rink to munching on tasty treats or finding something new to engage in — you won’t regret it.

Christmas season keeps creeping closer

On the morning of Nov. 1, Chicago receives a drastic makeover, swapping the pumpkin and skeleton decorations to fill the streets with Christmas embellishments. Walk into Target or Macy’s for the next two months and you’ll find red and green ornaments dangling in every aisle and Santa hats everywhere. However, is immersing everybody in two months of Christmas too much?

While students treasure holiday spirit, many are confused by why Christmas serves as the focal point for this winter joy. They believe the season’s upbeat air can be achieved without giving an overshadowing importance to a religious holiday that either excludes many people or coerces its celebration. 

Christmas is a sacred religious holiday for Christians that celebrates the birth of Jesus. However, its prominence has made the occasion intertwined in winter festivities worldwide and makes it impossible to miss due to its heavy presence in the commercial world. Students feel that some non-Christmas celebrators or non-Christians are uncomfortable due to the strong correlation people have made between winter holiday spirit and Christmas. 

A survey conducted in 2013 by Pew Research asked people what they liked least about the holidays, and the top response was the commercialism and materialism of Christmas throughout the holidays, which was 33% of the answers.

Furthermore, the discomfort toward Christmas’s heavy dominance over the holidays has increased significantly, as seen in a 2015 Pew Research study that found roughly 30% of those surveyed saying Christmas displays should only be allowed if they are accompanied by other religious symbols, like a menorah for Hanukkah.

Junior Sophia Shahul found that Christmas had expanded beyond the stores or malls and into her schooling as a child.

“I remember as a kid, my parents didn’t think it made sense to raise me with a Christian holiday. We’d still celebrate winter holidays with snowflake and snowman decorations, or by going ice skating as a family,” Sophia said. “But it was impossible to get through the season without people trying to immerse me in more Christmas-y traditions, like teachers pretending to be Santa or being told Christianity-based Christmas tales that I then believed were true.”

According to Sophia, this trend doesn’t make sense, and she feels uncomfortable that a celebration from a religion different from her own had been made the foundation of winter celebrations ever since she was a little girl. She believes that celebrating the holidays should not entail a Christmas celebration as a requirement.

It spreads the celebration too thin and makes December 25th less special, because everyone’s already been talking about it for, like, two months. I also just find the way that stores advertise Christmas to seem so unauthentic.

— Ben King

Senior Ben King also believes that the power and long duration of Christmas celebrations during the holiday season can be too much and take away from the authenticity and warmth around the celebration.

“I love Christmas so much. It just brings my family together. But I agree that it goes on for so much longer than it needs to, or starts too early,” Ben said. “It spreads the celebration too thin and makes December 25th less special, because everyone’s already been talking about it for, like, two months. I also just find the way that stores advertise Christmas to seem so unauthentic.”

Other students believe the overpowering presence of Christmas during the season overshadows other cultural and religious holidays.

Senior Lauren Tapper loves winter holiday spirit because it brings light during cold and darker times, but she believes that Christmas’s heavy presence distracts from her and her Jewish peers’ celebration of Hanukkah. 

“I don’t think that Christmas should be the defining holiday for the winter,” Lauren said. “I think the United States has so much diverse cultures within it that celebrate so many different holidays and events during the season, and it would benefit our country to celebrate all of these holidays and have them come to the forefront rather than be overshadowed by Christmas.”

There’s enough traditions like hot chocolate, skating, gift shopping, snow-angel making, snow fights, winter wonderland parks, et cetera, that I think eradicate the need for Christmas emblems to be everywhere altogether.

— Hannah Shubin

But how should the holidays be celebrated without making the Christmas spirit a necessity for everyone? According to junior Hannah Shubin, winter holiday spirit doesn’t need to entail Christmas at all.

“I think I feel more comfortable hearing ‘Happy holidays’ rather than ‘Merry Christmas,’” Hannah said. “It would be so ideal and easy to celebrate the holidays without having to hear about Christmas. There’s enough traditions like hot chocolate, skating, gift shopping, snow-angel making, snow fights, winter wonderland parks, et cetera, that I think eradicate the need for Christmas emblems to be everywhere altogether.”

Senior Maile Nacu agrees with Hannah.

“I mean, I get how Christmas can make some people uncomfortable. I feel like it’s too assumed that everybody celebrates it, even if they are not Christian, which shouldn’t be the case now that I think about it,” Maile said. “I think we could celebrate the holidays without Christmas by just doing winter-y things and that would be enough.”

Winter weather can be rough, and it’s wonderful to celebrate and engage in activities with family and friends to embrace the holidays. To make sure everyone is able to do this comfortably, though, means not assuming Christmas is on everybody’s winter holiday tradition list or excluding other cultures and traditions.

Additional writing contributed by Amy Ren.

Manage family differences, emotions during holidays

Families, friends and older siblings come together for the holiday season for a time of warmth and togetherness, but differences can also arise about anything from politics to household rules. U-High counselor Aria Choi gives advice and solutions to some of the most common issues which arise from family gatherings. 

Aria Choi

How should students address differences in household culture of hosts, especially if they don’t feel comfortable conforming to it?

If you have a strong preference, I think from a guest’s perspective, it’s totally OK to ask the host what they feel comfortable with things like, say, wearing shoes or not wearing shoes. If you are the host, it’s best to just gently tell folks, you can put your shoes here. If you are a guest hopefully you feel comfortable asking questions about appropriate behavior while you’re being hosted. Hosts, just remember to remind folks how to be or how not to be in your space. 

If a student doesn’t want to discuss politics but another attendee might, what’s the best way to resolve the conversation?

Folks should feel OK stepping away from conversations. If they genuinely do not want to engage in a conversation around politics, then just communicate to the other person that they’d rather keep the conversation lighter, or want to focus on something other than politics, and then broach whatever topic they would want to discuss. 

If people have differences in political views and want to discuss them, how can people ensure that the conversation stays constructive? 

If they want to engage in a conversation about politics or something similar that they do feel really passionate about, I would say approach the conversation to seek understanding and not a victory. By victory, I mean there’s a winner and a loser, right and wrong, or good and bad. If you approach conversations to seek understanding, hopefully it naturally reshapes your statements to be questions. Stick to responding to the idea, and avoid making judgements on the people. That’s one way to really help manage feelings, because they can get really strong. 

How would you advise students to deal with tension sometimes caused by newfound differences with older siblings returning from college for the holidays? 

As humans, changes are uncomfortable — they can be scary. I think it’s to be expected to have a reaction or deeper strong feelings about someone you thought you knew who has changed. That can feel disruptive and scary and confusing at times. When people don’t recognize their sibling in some way, it becomes harder to trust and understand them the way they did before. Connections are made, and remade, when people feel understood, so be shocked or scared, have your feelings. You just have to seek understanding. Similarly, if someone is having those feelings towards you, it’s the same thing: seek understanding.

Light up the season with city’s holiday activities

Take in the holiday spirit with a variety of locations and activities throughout the city. From holiday lights to extravagant drinks, there’s something for everyone to engage in seasonal festivities. 

Food & Drink

Téa Tamburo

Starbucks holiday menu

The holiday menu provides a festive spin on quintessential winter items with drinks such as toasted white chocolate and peppermint mocha, and treats like snowmen cookies to indulge in the holiday spirit. Drinks will be served in Starbucks’ disposable holiday cups to add to the festivity. 

Making your own hot chocolate 

While cafes have extensive holiday drink menus, you can make your own holiday hot chocolate beverage at home. Ghirardelli, Godiva and other companies sell hot chocolate mix in different flavors, and it’s typically more affordable to make yourself, especially if you’re a frequent hot chocolate consumer. Just imagine curling up in your home with a holiday movie and your hot chocolate as the fireplace blazes in the background. 

Cookie baking 

It’s not the holiday season without delicious sweets! Fill your home with the scent of home-baked treats and listen to some of your favorite music while doing so. Gingerbread and shortbread are classics, or give Taylor Swift’s trending chai cookie recipe a try.


Patrice Graham

Ice skating

What better way to spend the holiday season than testing your ice-skating abilities! Try the Midway Plaisance ice rink or Maggie Daley Park’s skating ribbon for a seasonal outdoor activity. Online registration is required for both locations. Open skating is free, but there’s a fee to rent skates if you don’t have your own. 


Stop by the BomboBar in the West Loop to try hot chocolate with toasted marshmallows and bomboloni doughnuts. Bomboloni flavors rotate seasonally, and the current selection offers white chocolate malt, s’mores and more. Offering delivery and pickup, their sweets will get to you even in a snowstorm.

Gingerbread house decorating

Get crafty this season with gingerbread house decorating. Using pre-made decorating kits or homemade gingerbread, whip out some icing and gumdrops for a holiday activity that turns tasty afterward. As a bonus, the gingerbread house will fill your home with cinnamon and nutmeg scents, and it’s also a great excuse to eat more candy.


Michael Barera, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Millennium Park Christmas tree 

This year, Millennium Park’s Christmas tree is 55 feet tall and is considered Chicago’s official Christmas tree. Viewable from the intersection of Michigan Avenue and Washington Street, you don’t even need to enter the park to see it. This is Chicago’s 109th annual tree, and it will be up until Jan. 8.

Navy Pier’s “Light Up the Lake”

Bringing the winter festivities inside, Light Up the Lake features multiple attractions and interactive light displays. A skating rink, reflection pond, light show with 600,000 bulbs and more are all inside Navy Pier’s festival. Tickets must be booked online in advance and include a ride in the Ferris wheel.


With one of the largest holiday lights displays in the city, Lincoln Park Zoo’s ZooLights features various light displays, holiday snacks and live ice carving. For more activities to enjoy, ticketed attractions include an animal-themed Ferris wheel, light maze, s’mores and more. Tickets are required. Mondays are free and other days cost $5.  

Vox pop.

What’s your favorite memory of celebrating Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa or New Year’s, and what are you looking forward to celebrating this year?

Lauren Tapper

Hanukkah: Lauren Tapper, senior

“My favorite memory of celebrating Hanukkah is definitely seeing my family, it’s really special, lighting the menorah together, and I’m looking forward to eating latkes this Hanukkah.”




Max Gurinas

Christmas: Max Gurinas, sophomore

“We used to decorate the Christmas tree together as a family every year. We would go to the store and pick out this Christmas tree. We’d all just hang out, picking out the Christmas tree and just decorating it, and that was really fun. We are going to be traveling for the first time this Christmas, so that is going to be interesting but different.”


Olivia Adams

Kwanzaa: Olivia Adams, sophomore

“When I was younger, my mom and I would get invited to, like, her friend’s family Kwanzaa celebration. And I think that was kind of my favorite memory because I got to hang out with a lot of family friends and it was just, like, a really nice community and we just had a really nice celebration. I’m looking forward to celebrating it this year because it’s something that my mom likes to celebrate, and it’s kind of become a part of what I celebrate, too.”


Valeria Godina

New Year’s: Valeria Godina, junior
“One memory I have from New Year’s was trying to frantically find a channel or any online website that would provide the countdown in Chicago time while also being in the Spanish language. We saw
that it was about time for it to be the new year and we were in a rush to get the countdown going because this was our first year doing the traditional eating the 12 grapes to bring luck. Once we found a countdown, there were only a few seconds left and we unfortunately were unable to finish our grapes before the countdown hit zero. However, I remember how funny it was to see the entire family be in a frenzy to get a televised countdown going.”

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