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Holiday Traditions with area families

Family customs broaden awareness, acceptance of different cultures, religions and backgrounds.

Families have their own traditions and ways to celebrate holidays that ensure a sense of belonging and comfort.  Gathering with family, and participating in certain rituals, makes the group complete.

November and December host many celebrations including  Hanukkah, Diwali, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Kwanzaa and New Years Day. 

We asked these families to share their family traditions and rituals.


November 2-6, 2021

Diwali is a festival of lights celebrated by Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and some Buddhists.  A time to celebrate the triumph of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance and good over evil, Diwali is celebrated over five days, each day having a different focus. The first day celebrates wealth, prosperity, youth and beauty. On the second day, twinkling lights are displayed to celebrate victory. The third day, the most important of the Diwali festival, is for visiting family and friends to feast and exchange sweets and gifts. Day four is the beginning of the new year followed by the fifth day of the celebration where brothers and sisters honor one another. Diwali is a time for feasting with family and enjoying sweet treats.


November 25, 2021

The Bakers believe in giving to others. They did mission work before their children were born and have raised the kids in that spirit of giving. The family celebrates Thanksgiving by giving of themselves. Each year on the holiday, mom Carrie, dad Patrick and adult children Savannah and Noah leave their home in Wood County and go to the Cherry Street Mission where they help prepare and serve the holiday meal before breaking bread with attendees. Carrie describes their service as a “humbling experience.” She repeatedly sees how many Mission clients are misjudged, human beings. Carrie and her family feel privileged to serve and share a meal with those who have no one to visit on Thanksgiving and feels that the Mission client’s are part of her family. 

Savannah is now an employee of the Cherry Street Mission, focused on family and service on this holiday. 


November 28 – December 6, 2021

Hanukkah is an eight-day holiday commemorating the triumph of the ancient Maccabees over the Syrians to recapture the Temple. To rededicate the Temple, the Maccabees had to light a menorah, or candelabra, that would burn continuously, although there was only enough oil to last for one day. Miraculously, the oil burned for eight days, allowing time to find a fresh supply of oil.

While not a major Jewish holiday, Hanukkah is a time for rededication. Each evening, the family  gathers to light candles placed in a menorah, adding an additional candle each night for eight nights.

Traditional foods are fried in oil as a further reminder of the substance’s importance, include latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (jelly donuts). Traditionally, small gifts of nuts, raisins and coins were given to children but in America, Hanukkah has evolved into a gift-giving holiday.

Allie Berns, a development professional at the University of Toledo and her husband Dan Berns, a music instructor for Toledo Public Schools have two school-age children. The Sylvania family are  self-described “traditional jews.” They make Hanukkah a family and philanthropic event giving the gift of time or treasure to schools and literacy programs. On the eighth night, the family jointly selects a charity as a recipient for a larger gift. Every night, the four family members light their own menorah and placed them in the kitchen window for their neighbors to enjoy.  Looking past their lighted menorahs to see neighbors’ Christmas lights is a warm recognition of sharing religions, cultures and traditions. 

Family is welcome at the Berns home throughout the holiday, with one night set aside for a meal of brisket and latkes, playing dreidel (a traditional game played with a small spinning top) and sharing. Out-of-town family members attend the festivities via Zoom, and join in singing traditional songs. 

The Feast of the Seven Fishes 

December 24, 2021

Each year, Ava Dustin’s Polish mother and Italian father create a family Christmas Eve celebration by preparing the Italian Feast of the Seven Fishes, with a few Polish touches added in. The seven-course meal, with origins in the Roman Catholic tradition of eating fish on holidays, also includes the number seven found in multiple Catholic symbols — the seven sacraments, the seven days of Creation and the seven deadly sins.  Some families serve seven different fish, while others serve fewer types of fish with different preparations for each course.

Ava’s parents prepare the Italian Feast of the Seven Fishes for Christmas Eve. The meal includes Baccali (salt cod cooked with onions, potatoes and tomatoes), shrimp (usually cocktail style), angel hair pasta with anchovies, fried smelts, deep fried cod, clams and a shellfish, like crab or lobster.  A nod to the Polish side of the family includes pickled herring served with a salad and bread. Before the meal begins, a thin Polish wafer, Oplatek, stamped with a religious image, is shared by attendees who break off a piece while saying a prayer for loved ones, with good wishes for the coming year. 

After midnight mass, the extended family is invited for a large feast often featuring ham and traditional cookies. An extra place is set at the table as a Polish tradition reminder to welcome strangers. Visits are enjoyed with other families where sharp cheeses, small boxes of candy, such as La Florentine Torrone, and Italian olives are shared.


December 25, 2021 

Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Holbein raised 11 children on a few acres in Springfield Township. Those children had children and those children had children. Today, there are 111 in the immediate family. It’s not easy, but each year the family joyously gathers together for Christmas dinner.  Generally, they assemble in the one family home large enough to hold all of them. Santa arrives for a visit with gifts for the 40 great grandchildren, with each gift selected and wrapped by Santa’s designated helpers (the parents of each child). One aunt, a kindergarten teacher, takes charge of the little ones with games and activities, including singing and dancing. Mrs. Claus uses her special iPad to determine if family members have been naughty or nice. (Before his passing, great grandpa was found to be naughty every year, to the absolute delight of the little ones.) Dinner includes lasagna (one brought by each household), salad and bread, guaranteeing a wide variety of lasagna choices.  The grandchildren bring appetizers and desserts to be served along with Great Grandmother’s cut-out cookies. Each family supplies their own beverages. Dinner is followed by a rousing game of Bingo, with catching up and sharing memories peppered by loud bursts of laughter. The Holbeins know the importance of family and demonstrate the meaning of love every year.


December 26 – January 1, 2022

Kwanzaa, an African holiday, is a 7-day festival celebrating family, community and culture as a means to help families and individuals connect with their roots with activities that foster and strengthen the Seven Principles— unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith. Large communal meals, music, dancing and reflection are a part of the holiday.

A candle is lit each day of Kwanzaa, both at home and in larger community settings, to mark a time when one of the Seven Principles is considered.  

New Year’s Eve

December 31, 2021

Toledo attorney Jim Yavorcik and Rick Kelly met while they were students at The Ohio State University in the early 1980’s.  In 1983, they first brought in the new year together, beginning a longstanding tradition. The Yavorcik and Kelly families have now shared 35 of the last 37 New Year’s Eves together. One year the celebration is hosted at the Yavorcik’s home, the next at the Kelly’s. The host makes a “very good New Year’s meal which is the centerpiece of the evening,” according to Jim. The evenings included overnight stays and, when the Kellys moved to Pennsylvania 25 years ago, the tradition expanded into a few days’ stay. With the arrival of children, what started as a gathering of two couples became a family event. Only twice in 37 years has the celebration not taken place— once for a wedding and in 2020 due to COVID.  This year, Jim, Rick and their families will be together for the best way to bring in the new year.

New Year’s Day

January 1, 2022

Each New Year’s Day, the Cocoves family gathers for a midday meal.  The entry changes from year to year but Greek favorites like lamb pita, spanakopita (spinach pie) and tiropita (cheese pie) are always on the menu. The lamb pita, which contains a small Greek coin hidden in the layers of filo dough, is cut and served to attendees in age order (usually oldest to youngest) and the person who receives the piece containing the coin receives good luck for the year to come.  At the Cocoves home, the day’s celebration includes watching football games which, while not traditionally a religious activity, is part of joining together to celebrate good fortune and the beginning of the new year.

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