Ho, Ho, Holiday traditions: How Iowa State students are gearing up for the holiday season


David Boschwitz/Iowa State Daily

Iowa State sets a Christmas tree up for display each year near Beardshear Hall.

Iowa State is saying goodbye to the fall semester, and students are gearing up to go home and see their families for a well-deserved break.

Most students who return home for the holidays are excited to participate in traditions they have done since they were children, whether it be Christmas dinner, snowball fights or even sitting by the fire while waiting for Santa Claus.

Tessla Schmid, a sophomore studying animal ecology, is an international student from Japan looking forward to seeing her family for Christmas break.

“We make a big dinner every year,” Schmid said. “Our main dish is usually duck or quail. Both are delicious. Then we use traditional side dishes like mashed potatoes, stuffing and vegetables. We’re usually left with many leftovers afterward.”

Aside from the Christmas dinner, Schmid and her family also do a lot of activities to get out of the house and enjoy the season.

“We switch it up yearly,” Schmid said. “Sometimes we go to the movies or visit the beach. It’s a lot of fun doing different things.”

Schmid is not the only student who looks forward to yearly traditions. Maximiliano Stenson, a freshman studying aerospace engineering, hails from Texas, with family down in Mexico that has celebrated the same family traditions since he was a child.

“Just a few days before Christmas, we like to do white elephant,” Stenson said. “Everyone gathers around, and we switch presents if we see something we like.”

During the white elephant exchange, friends and family gather and trade presents with each other until everyone settles on an ideal gift. However, this is not the only event Stenson’s family celebrates. They also participate in a fun challenge.

“My grandmother bakes twirled bread and hides a small Jesus figurine in it,” Stenson said. “We all take turns taking pieces of bread, and whoever gets the piece with the figurine has to cook for the next holiday.”

Some students who have grown up in Iowa make merry of the holiday season with traditions closer to home. Jason Feils, a freshman in kinesiology and health, celebrates twice as much holiday spirit with two sides of the family.

“On Christmas Eve, we visit my dad’s side of the family and have a party with gift exchanges and stuff like that,” Feils said. “Then, on Christmas day, we visit family on my mom’s side and have dinner while talking about stuff going on.”

Getting together for the holidays is a beautiful experience for students who miss home. Hallee Ashby, a junior in business, returns home every Christmas to join a party with her family.

“My family gathers together every Christmas at my house, and I mean my whole family,” Ashby said. “It’s a large gathering, so there’s a lot of food and presents for everyone.”

Aside from family gatherings and parties, students stick to traditional celebrations in their families dating back a century or two.

“We celebrate St. Nick’s Day, which is a tradition where we leave our stockings outside and wait overnight until Christmas day,” said Alec Rosentrater, a senior aerospace engineering major. “In the morning, we find little things like candy, small toys or other unique trinkets that ‘St. Nick’ put in the night before.”

Rosentrater has celebrated St. Nick’s Day since he was a child and shares fond memories of waking up on Christmas morning to see what was inside his stocking. It is a tradition that he still looks forward to when he returns home.

“You’re never too old for St. Nick’s day,” Rosentrater said. “It’s always nice to go home and leave a stocking outside for the next morning.”

Students look forward to going home and baking around the holidays as well. Amber Best, a junior kinesiology major, bakes with her siblings.

“Just a few days before the holidays, my sister and I bake peppermint bark and tiger bark,” Best said. “My sisters and I make a batch of treats every season. I still make some with my younger sister as my oldest sister is married with kids, but we always send some over for the holidays.”

Peppermint bark and tiger bark are two holiday desserts that live up to the name. After these desserts are ready, they snap like tree bark.

“We make peppermint bark by laying a peppermint coating on chocolate and adding bits of candy cane in it,” Best said. “For tiger bark, we mix peanut butter and chocolate for a swirl pattern.”

For many students, the holidays cannot come soon enough, and students are ready to be with family and friends to spend Christmas with and relax from the stressful school semester.