Howard Magazine - Page 56 - Winter Traditions (2)

Howard Magazine
- Page 56
Winter Traditions (2)

Traditions: Suri and his family observe the holiday by decorating their Ellicott City home with hanging lights along the entranceway and inside. They also dress in ornate — often shimmery — Indian garb.


Suri, a parent of a Mt. Hebron High School student and president of the school’s Indian PTA, hosted the school’s first-ever Diwali celebration in November. The three-hour Sunday event featured dancing, singing and vendors displaying Henna, authentic garb and jewelry.


“The primary objective is to share the culture,” he says.


Foods: Diwali sweets include kaju katli, a sugary cashew-based dish, according to Suri. Savory dishes made with lentils, rice and peas are served, too.


In January, Suri and other Hindus observe Pongal, a three-day celebration that honors the new harvest. On the first day, observers sing and dance around a fire pit and feast on sweets and drinks. On the second, observers eat foods that represent new crops — primarily wheat and rice-based dishes that are mostly vegetarian, according to Suri. The third day is filled with chicken and goat dishes.


Personalizing Hanukkah


Clarksville resident Craig Axler says that Hanukkah is one of his favorite Jewish holidays — even though he’s not supposed to choose.


“As a rabbi, you’re not supposed to have favorites. But Hanukkah is well up there,” says Axler, who is the rabbi at Temple Isaiah in Fulton. “For me, it’s about being able to have a holiday that is equally celebrated in the synagogue and the home.”


Traditions: Hanukkah revolves around light. Each night of the holiday, Jews gather to light the menorah’s candles as the sun goes down.


Each member of the Axler family gets their own menorah. Visitors to the home get one too. “Sometimes we’ll have 45 candles going,” he says with a laugh.


During the evening, the story of the lighting of the menorah in the Temple of Jerusalem is told.


“A major point is framing it and telling it from the perspective that this is a story about tolerance and to have respect for the religion of others and to show pride in our religion,” Axler says.


Like other Jewish families, Axler’s typically lights the menorah just outside the front door or in the front window of the house.


“You want to shine light out from the house into the world,” he says. “It’s drawing attention to the miracle of light.”


Food: Because the holiday is associated with oil, many of the foods served are fried in oil, Axler explains. Sufganiyot, a type of jelly-filled doughnut, is served. But potato pancakes, or latkes, are most popular in his home, which is known for having a latkes bar where guests can build their own latkes from a variety of root vegetables and flours.


“It’s kind of a fun way to express culinary creativity,” he says, adding he also has toppings such as applesauce, sour cream and sriracha. “The more creative you are, the better.”


American holidays with a Korean twist


For Grace Chang, 52, a program assistant at the Columbia Association’s International Exchange and Multicultural Programs, the holidays are a mix of cultural and religious traditions.


“We [Koreans] will generally celebrate Christmas like most Americans,” says Chang. “The way our family celebrates Christmas looks like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting.”


During Thanksgiving and Christmas — many Koreans in Howard County are Christians, according to Chang — meals would be similar to other American households’.


“Most Korean Americans have adopted Western holidays. During the holidays, we would have the Thanksgiving turkey or ham, but there’s always a side of kimchi at the table. There’s always kimchi on the table,” she says.


Traditions: New Year’s Day is a big day for Korean families, according to Chang. Her entire immediate family gathers at her husband’s parents’ home. Korean families traditionally gather at the patriarch’s family’s home, she explains.


There, children and grandchildren show honor to their elders by bowing or curtseying toward them.


“They wish them many new blessings for the next year,” she says.


In return, the children are “showered” with money by the elders, according to Chang.


Chang’s three children — ages 15, 17 and 19 — look forward to this day, she says. “It’s a time that they get a lot of cash,” she says with a laugh. “From their grandparents, uncles, anyone they have to bow to.”


In addition to the cash gifts, the day is filled with food and games, including a six-player Parcheesi-style game called yut nori.


Food: Rice cake soup — a large bowl of savory beef broth filled with pieces of chewy rice cakes and topped with seaweed and strips of fried egg — is the main course on New Year’s Day.