Unconventional holiday traditions take hold at Pitt

By Meagan Hart / Staff Writer

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.

Email This Story

 Alex Andrea’s family sacks Secret Santa each holiday season in favor of Fat Santa.

“Anybody that wants to come to our family Christmas party is welcome. We have an open door policy for family, friends, anyone,” Andrea, a senior information science major, said. “But if you want to receive a gift, you have to bring one.”

Each year, instead of distributing practical gifts, Andrea’s family buys gag gifts that correspond to a theme. 

“The funniest part is when people don’t know that the gifts are supposed to be funny,” Andrea said of the Fat Santa. “When non-family members, like friends and neighbors, come to the party, they expect a normal gift exchange.”

According to a 2013 survey by the Pew Reseach Center, 86 percent of adults said they exchange gifts with friends and family for the holidays. For Pitt students, who come from a variety of backgrounds, traditions and religions, holiday festivities can be vastly different from exchanging gifts on Christmas morning. 

About 50 people come to Andrea’s family gathering every year, he said, and his family has carried on this tradition for the past five years. Last year, Andrea said, one of his newneighbors came to the party with a set of kitchen knives to exchange, unaware of the gag gift tradition.

“[She] left with a kitchen apron with a picture of a naked fireman on the front. I don’t think she’s coming back this year.”

This holiday’s theme is “as seen on TV,” he said. 

“I bought a Shake Weight this year,” Andrea said. “Hopefully, I’ll get a Snuggie.”

Other students follow traditions based on their heritage or background.

Matthew Piamonte, a sophomore emergency medicine major, follows a Filipino Christmas tradition with his family. 

“We hang lanterns outside of our houses. The lantern is star shaped and made of metal and bamboo. It’s called a parol, and it represents the star that led the three kings to Jesus on Christmas,” Piamonte said.

Piamonte’s family also participates in what they call Simbang Gabi, a Filipino tradition that originated during the early Spanish rule of the Philippines. On each of the nine days before Christmas — Dec. 16 through Dec. 24 — Piamonte’s family goes to Mass for special services. 

“Following Christmas Eve Mass, we have a huge feast called the Noche Buena feast,” Piamonte said.

The family eats family usually eats lechón, a roasted pig, which is a traditional Filipino food.

Piamonte’s parents were both born in the Philippines, and they continued their traditions when they came to the United States in the 1980s.

“Simbang Gabi really brought a lot of the local Filipino community together to make new friends and celebrate Christmas together,” Piamonte said.

Sophia Cothrel’s family, on the other hand, does not have a Christmas feast. Instead of a homemade Christmas Eve dinner, she said, they dine out. 

“Ever since I was pretty little … we’ve always gone to a Japanese restaurant,” Cothrel, a sophomore pre-pharmacy major, said. 

When they lived in Indianapolis, she said, her family’s favorite was a hibachi restaurant. 

“The chefs would cook in front of you,” she said. “[They would] do tricks with their spatulas and flip shrimp into your mouth.”

At the hibachi restaurant one year, when the chef approached with his pan, Cothrel’s mom convinced him to fling a piece of shrimp into her mouth.

“It bounced off her face. We got a good laugh out of that. Cothrel said she doesn’t feel like she’s been missing out by not having a typical family dinner. 

“We’ve always left happy and full, ready to sleep before Christmas morning. It’s a tradition that has made for some good memories over the years,” Cothrel said.

Leave a comment.