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With the last couple weeks of the fall semester upon us, it can be challenging to focus on much else besides finals week. While my stress levels have been higher than I would have liked, the long-awaited winter break has been my light at the end of the tunnel. Between much-needed rest and relaxation, spending time with family and friends and celebrating various holidays, there is so much to look forward to over the coming weeks. Here are some of my favorite holiday traditions that I am looking forward to this year.

Opening presents at Grandma’s house.

One of my favorite traditions for as long as I can remember is opening gifts on Christmas Day at my grandparents’ house. My dad’s side of the family is fairly large, with eight adults and eight cousins, for a total of 16 people. With everyone’s schedules becoming increasingly busy over the years, this is one of the few times in which we can all take a step back and spend quality time with each other. My grandma is notorious for having all of her Christmas gifts bought and wrapped around Thanksgiving time and arranging them around her tree in what seemingly appears to be a mountain of gifts. As one could imagine, it would take a long time to open presents with no rhyme or reason, so my family has developed a strategy: the cousins open gifts one at a time, going from the youngest member of the family to the oldest. This strategy allows for easy cleanup, and it allows for bonding time in which we can appreciate both the gifts we have given and the gifts we have received. Some of my best Christmas memories have been from the discussions I have had during this time, going around in a circle and opening gifts. 

Baking an abundance of Christmas cookies.

Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, baking cookies is a fun tradition for the winter season in general. There is something so comforting about having a warm Christmas cookie right out of the oven with no other responsibilities on your plate. My family often tends to go overboard with the cookie baking, leading to dozens of cookies that are left to be decorated. However, the decorating in itself is another fun experience that has allowed me to bond with my mom and brother over the years. Through decorating cookies, we have been given the time to have quality conversations with each other that may otherwise not happen due to busy schedules and other commitments. Additionally, it is fun to see the creative ideas we all come up with to decorate the cookies, and it leaves a tasty dessert for the weeks to come during break.

Evening Christmas Eve service at church.

While not everyone who celebrates Christmas is Christian, as someone who is, I enjoy the Christmas Eve service held by my church every year. It is incredible to see all of the effort put into the service, and with all of the Christmas decorations in place, the sanctuary looks stunning. Christmas Eve service is a great way to connect with people that you may not get to see each Sunday morning, and it is a great way to take a step back from all the pre-Christmas chaos that I feel is so common for many families. From the bell choir, to the worship band, to the reading of various Scriptures during the service, it is a unique experience to be able to see people of so many generations coming together for a common goal. Finally, one of my favorite parts of the Christmas Eve service is when all of the lights are turned off, and we are each holding a lit candle in a moment of silence and prayer. The entire experience is so calming, and once again, the sanctuary looks beautiful. Church can truly feel like a second family, and services like the one on Christmas Eve strengthen the bonds we have with one another.

With the demanding nature of school during the last few weeks of the semester, it can seem like Christmas sneaks up on you before you even have time to enjoy it. That being said, there are so many traditions that I have enjoyed during my winter breaks, and I look forward to making many more over the years. The holiday season is a magical time, and I truly believe that it is the most joyful time of the year.

Hi everyone! My name is Abby, and I am currently a third year in UMKC's six year B.A./M.D. program. My hobbies include running, exploring coffee shops in the Kansas City area, and playing the piano.
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