Lillian Hucke ’24  |   Published December 14, 2021

Students’ Holiday Traditions

For this trio of Monmouth students, their Christmas traditions are shaped by culture and geography – and food.

MONMOUTH, Ill. – The close of the fall semester not only brings an end to the academic stress for Monmouth College students, but it also reunites students with their families for the holidays. Monmouth’s last day of fall final exams is Dec. 15.

HOLIDAY TRAVELERS: Gabriela Madu '23 (left) will once again head to Las Vegas over Christmas ...HOLIDAY TRAVELERS: Gabriela Madu '23 (left) will once again head to Las Vegas over Christmas break, while Emma Wolfe '23 will leave the area on a College trip to Italy. Monmouth juniors Gabriela Madu ’23, Julio Neri ’23 and Emma Wolfe ’23 come from different cultural backgrounds, but they are all looking forward to the upcoming break from their studies and participating in holiday traditions with their loved ones.

Neri is from Harvey, Illinois, but both of his parents are from Mexico. He and his family do not have a specific Christmas Day tradition, but they often have a Christmas Eve party with their neighbors.

“There were never any specific traditions that we had planned. We just take it day by day,” said Neri. “Usually on Christmas Eve we will have a party with neighbors and friends where we just eat. Last year, we didn’t have the party because of COVID. We still had gift exchanges but not the get-together.”

Neri and his family typically don’t overindulge with the usual holiday fare on the table. But there is one culinary delight that Neri anticipates. Around the holiday, his mother often makes tamales and capirotada (a Mexican bread pudding). If his mother makes tamales, there’s a specific store where she buys the masa, the maize dough used to make them.

“There is this one place in the city where everyone gets their masa from,” said Neri. “People have to get up at 6 a.m. and still wait hours in line. This is if we decide to make tamales, but sometimes we just buy them.”

The Caribbean meets West Africa

Madu, who’s from Montego Bay, Jamaica, also celebrates the holiday season with special dishes. Her family has a tradition in which each member of the family makes a specific dish for dinner.

“My mom is Cuban, and my dad is Nigerian, but then my sister and I were born and raised in Jamaica, so there are different dishes that we make.” Gabriela Madu

“My mom is Cuban, and my dad is Nigerian, but then my sister and I were born and raised in Jamaica, so there are different dishes that we make,” said Madu.

Her mother would always make yellow rice, along with the meat portion, which is usually steak or chicken. Her dad would fry plantains, and Madu would always help. Her sister would make any side dish she wanted, sometimes a salad or macaroni. When Madu finished helping her father, she would prepare a special drink, such as smoothies.

The pandemic also disrupted Madu’s family traditions. Madu was unable to go home to Jamaica, but she spent the break with her mom, who now lives in Las Vegas.

“My dad and my sister back home cooked the Nigerian and Jamaican dishes, while my mom and I cooked the Cuban dishes,” said Madu. “She told my dad and sister to take the same picture because she wanted to photoshop the two pictures together.”

A ‘supersized’ baking day

A native of Galesburg, Illinois, Wolfe is much closer to home than Neri and Madu. Her favorite part of the holiday season is her family’s “supersized” baking day.

“My family from Galesburg, and my family from Monmouth get together at Strom Center here in town, and we have a massive baking day,” she said. “We bake a ton of sugary treats and goods covered in almond bark and chocolate.”

“We have a massive baking day. We bake a ton of sugary treats and goods covered in almond bark and chocolate.” Emma Wolfe

The Wolfes’ baking day was slightly disrupted last year because of the pandemic. They were still able to bake and enjoy each other’s company, but there was more of a need to be cautious.

What they’re looking forward to

Neri, Madu and Wolfe all say they’re excited to catch up on some sleep over winter break.

Neri will sometimes need an alarm clock, though, as he’ll work for a Walgreens pharmacy over break.

“Even though I’m working a lot over break, I like the fact that I know my day is done at the end of each day, unlike school where the work and responsibilities carry over day-to-day,” he said. “Each day is a fresh beginning at work.”

Madu is looking forward to relaxing after a stressful semester. She has ambivalent feelings about being in America for another Christmas. She loves how people in the United States take Christmas decorations to the extreme, but it’s sad for her to be away from home.

“I am excited to try some new things and see different places (in Italy). I am bummed to be gone over New Year’s over here with my family, but I know they will all be here when I get back.” Emma Wolfe

“I love seeing how people decorate their houses, because at home people would have their tree but just put up a light or two,” she said. “So coming here to see how people decorate their houses is just so exciting to me.”

Wolfe is looking forward to her annual baking day, to Christmas itself, and to time with family, but this year, there’s another major element of her winter break: she will be part of a trip to Italy organized by the College’s classics department.

“I am excited to try some new things and see different places over there,” she said. “I am bummed to be gone over New Year’s over here with my family, but I know they will all be here when I get back.”

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