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Life at East: Family traditions make holidays a special time

With the holidays coming up, it’s time for families to pull out their traditions. My family has its fair share, and we definitely put our own unique spin on some of them.

Ever since I could remember, all five of us have piled in the car – either at Thanksgiving or Christmas – and driven all the way to Pennsylvania, where pretty much all of my extended family lives. We’ve done it so many times that we have it down to a science.

Leave by 9:30 Central Standard Time, stop once in Ohio (making sure it’s not the first two – or last – rest stops), and make it to Pittsburgh in time for dinner. We usually stay for a day or two before heading further east to Allentown, where my dad’s family lives. Within a span of about a week, we usually see everyone but a handful of relatives.

On Christmas Eve, my dad video records his own version of “The Night Before Christmas” on our 20-year-old video recorder, though his version varies from the traditional story. Sometime between 11 and midnight, he goes into everyone’s rooms to get a shot of us “sleeping.” While he claims that we are all faking it, I can honestly say that I have been asleep every single year. That night – before we go to bed – we watch the previous year’s tape along with some from classic years. Some highlights are the year I got my American Girl doll, Molly, and the priceless moment when I was so excited for my Barbie VW car that I ran out of the room.

The next morning, we have to wait patiently until everyone is awake to open presents. Before we can run downstairs, we must drink a full glass of orange juice (yes, this too is videotaped).

Although my parents claim that it’s for the vitamins and minerals in the juice, I think it was originally a ploy to calm my anxious 7-year-old self.

These traditions aren’t limited to the winter holidays. On Fat Tuesday – the day before Lent starts – we celebrate Fastnacht Day, which comes from my dad’s Pennsylvania Dutch side. Whoever gets up the latest is considered the fastnacht of the family. I don’t know if there are any punishments or prizes that come along with this title, only that these are early mornings and include homemade potato doughnuts for all.

The night before Easter, we’ve always put carrots into a pair of shoes; the next morning they would be bitten off. It’s just like baking cookies for Santa or setting a trap for St. Patrick’s Day leprechauns.

I was convinced that these carrot stubs were proof of a giant bunny visiting my house. When I was younger, my neighborhood also held an Easter egg hunt in our backyards. We kids would line up in our Sunday finest, then race to collect the most eggs in our baskets.

Although my family’s traditions may seem weird to other people, they are all I’ve ever known and I wouldn’t change them for the world. It’s these days that bring my family closer together and provide memories that last for every other day of the year.

This holiday season, while my family is enjoying its holiday traditions, I hope you can enjoy your own with the ones you love. Happy holidays!

• Brigid Ackerman is a senior at St. Charles East High School. She enjoys playing the trumpet, eating bread and writing this column, which runs every other Thursday. Contact her at

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