Herriman High Students’ Holiday Traditions

A look into the unique traditions across cultures of students and Herriman High.


Alopa Nau and her family on Christmas morning.

When most people think of the December holidays, their first thought is Christmas—setting up a Christmas tree, Santa bringing presents, candy canes, and stockings—but there are a lot more holidays celebrated around the same time as Christmas, and many different traditions unique for each family and person. Some people enjoy classic traditions like opening presents on Christmas morning, sledding and making snowmen as winter rolls in, or decorating the house for the holiday season. But there are many traditions unique to specific people and some traditions unique to the cultures of specific students at Herriman High.

Every school year, Herriman High is becoming more diverse. People of all different cultures and traditions are joining our mustang herd. As the holiday season is coming around once again, there’s the curiosity about what holiday traditions the students at Herriman High enjoy participating in. 

One of Herriman’s foreign exchange students this year, Carlos Sanchez, is from Spain and celebrates Christmas and Three Kings Day with his family in the months of December and January. His holiday season starts in mid to late December when his family starts decorating the house, goes caroling together, and enjoys traditional Christmas treats—especially a Spanish nougat candy called turrón.

According to Sanches, not many people in Spain celebrate Santa along with Christmas. Instead, they focus their celebrations on the Christian story of Jesus Christ’s birth. People decorate their houses with big nativities depicting the story of Christ’s birth and some people put on live plays of the story. 

The celebration that marks the end of the Christmas season, Three Kings Day, is the biggest celebration of the holiday season in Spain. It is celebrated with a colorful parade where people dress up as the Three Kings, who are derived from Christian stories, and pass out candy to children as they walk with the parade. The Three Kings, or Tres Reyes Magos, are very similar to what Santa is to children in the United States and other western countries. On the eve of January 5th, after the parades and festivals are over, children in Spain will set out a clean pair of shoes and wake up the morning of the 6th to find that gifts were left for them there by the Three Kings during the night. Some kids will leave out water, milk, and turrón for the Tres Reyes Magos and their camels and the better-behaved kids are, the better presents they get. 

Another student at Herriman High, Emmilyn Denison, spends her winter months celebrating the holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas and a unique holiday her family came up with called, “Janover.” She describes this holiday as a pick me up against the depressing month of January. She explains, “No one in my family likes January. It’s depressing and just sad, so we made a holiday…a celebration for the last day of January.”

Emmilyn Denison does a lot of traditions with her family around Christmas time. Every year, her grandparents create an advent calendar for all the grandchildren to enjoy during the days leading up to Christmas. The advent gifts are left in large baskets to be found in the morning. She went into greater detail about the gifts themselves saying, “Occasionally she will buy us different Christmas books but usually it is the same books we’ve had for 17+ years.  Even though I am older and almost an adult, I still look forward to this tradition…My Grandparents will [sometimes] leave small gifts inside the baskets that hold these wrapped gifts. Some gifts include wrapped caramels, sticker books, and earrings. Some are random…but I love them all equally.” 

Other than these few unique traditions, Denison’s holiday experience is pretty similar to the stereotypical American holiday season shown in movies. She enjoys Thanksgiving dinner with her family, decorates the house in preparation for Christmas, and opens lots of presents on Christmas Day. She enjoys the holiday season and can’t wait for this year’s December celebrations to begin.

A member of the People of the Pacific club, Alopa Nau, also celebrates Thanksgiving and Christmas, but has a tradition unique to her and her mom’s side of the family. The week of Christmas, Nau’s family, and the majority of her mom’s side of the family stays in a hotel together. Her mother and the mother’s three siblings each get a day of the week where their family gets to plan the activities for the day. When asked about her family’s chosen activities she explained, “We usually take everyone bowling because our family is very competitive. [Bowling] is the thing our family is really good at.” The rest of their designated day is spent eating at different restaurants and spending time with their family.

Similarly, on Alopa Nau’s father’s side of the family, they spend Thanksgiving all together as a family. The women in the family cooks together in preparation for Thanksgiving, and this was the first year where Nau and her sisters were allowed to join the other women of the family and help cook. The rest of the holiday is spent eating and enjoying one another’s company. Nau’s favorite thing about the holiday season is being with her family. She further explained, “[The holiday season] makes me feel closer with my family… During the year, everyone’s always busy, my older siblings are never home, so we all meet up during the holidays.”

For many people, the holiday season is a time to join with their family and enjoy one another’s company. Cultures across the world celebrate the holidays differently, but the underlying message of the holiday season is togetherness and giving.