From All of Us to All of You: Our Holiday Traditions

Wednesday, December 21st, 2022

This year, we asked our staff, both in the United States and abroad, to recount their favorite holiday traditions so that we can get to know our peers (and also so we could cover each other’s adorable recollections with heart emojis). You’re invited to join us and revel in the nostalgia and tradition that comes with this time of year.

The Water Project Staff Holiday Traditions:

Family photographs! I have a family photograph from every single Christmas/Thanksgiving these past couple of years! They do tell you how much you have grown. – Harnoor

We all go with the kids to see the Boston Pops holiday concert each year. – Tom

One of my family’s traditions was a Christmas Eve breakfast for dinner that included country ham from Tennessee (where my mom is from), homemade biscuits, and eggs. We have continued that—my mom still sends Tennessee country ham to us every Christmas. – Spencer

The past couple of years, instead of doing a big Christmas dinner, we each bring one or two of our favorite appetizers and a favorite dessert to share. Everyone loves appetizers and desserts more anyway. Growing up, my dad always brought home a bouquet of flowers for each of us girls and my mom on Christmas Eve day, and then we got dressed up and went to a fancy dinner before Christmas Eve church service. – Andrea

One of my family’s Christmas traditions was going to watch a nativity play and “A Christmas Carol” on Christmas Eve. On Christmas day, everybody will converge at my parents’ house for lunch of various traditional Congolese dishes courtesy of our Mom. – Sam

We are starting a new tradition that originated in Iceland where you give a book on Christmas Eve, and you read and eat/drink chocolate for the evening. We are a family of book and chocolate lovers, so thought this would be a great tradition to start!– Tess

Growing up, we always went to the Christmas Eve candlelight service, then over to the neighbor’s house for a holiday party. We also drove down to my grandparents’ house on the York River of Virginia every Christmas morning after opening gifts in Maryland, and the whole extended family converged for a gift exchange around the Charlie Brown Christmas tree cut from their property and my grandmother’s cooking. Her pecan pie called for a half-eggshell of milk, and her biscuits required “enough” flour and water to make them right. The day sometimes culminated with my grandfather entertaining the grandchildren by putting his
feet behind his head. – Amy

We do crab cakes for Christmas Dinner! Because that’s what Maryland does! My favorite holiday memory is from last year – for my mom’s 70th birthday, I asked all of her friends and family to share their favorite memory of her, or something they love about her – with a photo. I put it all in a book for her, and seeing her face when she opened it for Christmas was really special. – Alex

One tradition that we got from my paternal grandmother is to have veal kidney “stew” over toast every Christmas morning. We haven’t had it the last few years since, apparently, veal kidneys are growing harder to come by, and now that I’m an adult, I don’t love the thought of eating veal. Here’s a similar recipe (for lamb kidney stew). Whenever I told my friends at school about this, they would cringe and say it was gross, but I always thought it was delicious. – Jamie

Christmas is certainly a time for tradition, so with that in mind, I’d love to share my favorite holiday tradition! While growing up, my mother made Christmas an extra-special holiday for us, and I, being the last in a family of eleven, always looked forward to celebrating it in a special way, something that I have cherished in my own family now.
The tradition is all about reflection and strategy. During Christmas, we spend most of the time with the family. This is a time when we have an opportunity to bond, as we reflect on what God has done for us during the year and come up with a strategy of things we would wish to accomplish the following year. This is done during the Christmas Holiday. This starts from every Christmas Eve through [the] New Year. As a tradition, the first four days (24th December – 27th December) are spent at home with all [our] family members, including my sons in-law and two grandchildren. All those days are celebration days when we prepare good traditional dishes for the family and drink good soft drinks at home, and part of that time [is] spent away from home as a family retreat. While at home, we prepare a variety of food ranging from mashed-up potatoes, peas, beans, maize, chicken, [and] sukuma wiki, to be accompanied by either chapati or ugali. We also prepare some spiced roasted meat to make a delicious dish called nyama choma served with ugali.
Besides that, my husband and I task all our children to reflect on what God has done for each one of them during the year and put it down in writing so that they can be given an opportunity to share the same during a family retreat that is done away from
home (28th December – 31st December). We also task them to scribble what they expect God to do for them during the following year. The task is enjoyable for all of us as a family because that is the time when we sit down together and listen to each one of us speak of the goodness of God upon our lives during a family retreat for the other four days. Through this, we end up developing goals and a prayer list for the family as we get into the new year. We love this tradition! — Janet, Western Kenya

As a young girl, I always looked forward to [the] Christmas holiday. It was a very special day for all of us, together with my brothers and sisters. A day to celebrate with family and friends as well as share a special meal. A meal that is not on the ordinary menu like rice, chicken, mandazi, chapati, and even soda.
We grew up in a grass thatched and mud walled round house in a small village called Cheribo in Kericho county and raised single handedly with our mother since my dad passed on when we were young.
There is this particular Christmas holiday when I was around 12 years old that will always remain in my mind. My mother woke up very early in the morning went to the stream to fetch water, milked the cows, and prepared tea for us. Since it was Christmas, we hoped that she [would] give us something special ready to accompany tea, with like bread or Chapati. To our surprise, she pulled a plate of leftover ugali and said, “Start with this.” You don’t want to imagine the disappointment [on] our faces. Nobody picked [up] the plate of the left over ugali from her hand. She put it down and said, “It’s okay if you don’t want it.” Everybody was quiet and waited to see what she would do next. She reached [into] her shopping basket and pulled out two kilograms of rice, 2 kilograms of potatoes, [and] six kilograms of home baking flour for making mandazi (small pieces of bread), and told us that was for our lunch.
For her, she was going to church for a service then, later, [would] join her friend for a meal, and she [would] later come home in the evening. On seeing the shopping, our faces [were] filled with smiles, even if [the food] was not ready for eating at that point in time. The ideal picture of Christmas then had come true. At least we would celebrate like other people in the community.
She left all the responsibility of cooking to me and only instructed my brothers to help me slaughter a chicken. I did not mind the enormous workload ahead of me. What was more important was that we had a meal to prepare.
Work started by peeling potatoes, boiling, [and frying them covered in a sufuria  (cooking pot). Boiling chicken and later frying it was not a big deal, as well as boiling rice.
The real drama started when it was time for me to prepare mandazi. I had never cooked it before, but I had seen my mother cooking it. I had seen how she started by warming water, adding a pinch of salt and sugar, and adding flour gradually while mixing it ’til it thickened. So I warmed water, added a pinch of salt and sugar, mixed it, and I had to taste to ensure neither salt or sugar was too much. I then added flour while mixing it. What I didn’t know [was] how to measure enough water for the dough. I added all the flour, but the dough never thickened.
I panicked since I never wanted to disappoint my mother, knowing how much she struggled to buy the shopping for us. I stood for a while, thinking [about] the next course of action. An idea [came to] my mind. I thought, “Why don’t I add maize/corn flour?” I added almost one kilogram of maize flour, but [there was not] much difference, and the stress level increased.
“What do I do?” became the song in my head. Cooking mandazi to my mom was not complex, since it was a matter of making the dough, rolling it, cutting [it] into small pieces, putting oil in the cooking pot, then deep-frying [the] mandazi. This option was no longer possible [for] me since the dough never thickened. The only option remaining for me was to make something like a pancake, though at that time, I didn’t know what a pancake was.
We did not have a pan, so I had to improvise [with some] heavy metal that was cut from a water drum. I washed it clean and placed [it] on top of a lit fire using firewood, then oiled it well. Since the mixture I had was a little thicker for my “pancake,” I added more water and sugar. I now started cooking my “pancake.” After cooking some pieces, the dry firewood [ran out]. I had to use semi-dry firewood anyway. In [our] small, round grass-thatched house, the smoke became unbearable. Occasionally, I had to rush out to catch some fresh air and dry my tears. For almost two hours, I endured the choking smoke because I never wanted my pancakes to burn, and I also wanted everyone to smile at the end of it all.
My brothers came back in the afternoon from the stream where they had gone to bathe only to find all the food was ready. In the evening, my mother was expecting to bite some delicious mandazi only to find something else. I narrated the whole story to her. Being a strict mother, I expected her to scold me, but to my surprise, she smiled. That was a big relief for me. That is the Christmas I will never forget. – Catherine, Western Kenya

Thank you for all the support you’ve given The Water Project this year, whether it was reading our newsletter, liking our posts on social media, giving your hard-earned money (in an era of huge financial strain!), or—look at you!—visiting our blog. Each of these actions helps us gain traction in our fight against the water crisis.

We at The Water Project wish you the best of whatever holidays you celebrate, with plenty of traditions, old and new. Happy Everything!

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Jamie is a storyteller by nature. In joining the Water Project, she’s finally found a workplace where that pesky bleeding heart of hers can be put to use (and, less importantly, that BA in English Language & Literature from New England College).