As December grows cold, we turn inward — cranking the heat or lighting the fireplace, catching up on Netflix, drinking far too many of those Starbucks holiday hot chocolates. It is a sort of primal by: SUBMITTED - CELESTE NAHAShibernation in a modern world. Night comes early, and with it the eerie illumination of streetlamps engulfed in fog. Bare trees cut into the sky like severed arrows and sometimes, rare morning sunlight will fragment the grey world, reminding me of why I love winter.

In this season there is much to look forward to. It is a time to be with family, a time rich in tradition and stories. For students in Lake Oswego, it is also a time to celebrate.

For the Dutch, the magic begins as early as November, when Sinterklaas arrives in Holland with his Zwarte Pieten — the Dutch equivalent to Santa’s elves.

Alexandra van Alebeek, a senior at Catlin Gabel High School who grew up in Holland, remembers celebrating Sinterklaas with her Dutch grandparents. Sinterklaas would arrive through the canals on a big steamboat full of presents and pepernoten, a traditional candy. In the following weeks, van Alebeek and her siblings would set their shoes by the fireplace and sing songs like “Zie Gindst Komt de Stoomboat” (Look, There is the Steamboat), and “De Zak van Sinterklaas” (Sinterklaas’s Bag).

“Sometimes we would leave carrots, pumpkin pie or apples for the horses and zwarte pieten,” van Alebeek explained. “Then while we were sleeping, Sinterklaas rode on his white horse, Schimmel, on top of the roofs and dropped presents down the chimney into our shoes.” Even after moving to America, van Alebeek was able to carry on the tradition of placing her shoes by the fireplace.

In Japan, the main winter celebration is Shõgatsu, the Japanese New Year. On New Year’s Eve, families spend the evening watching Kõhaku Uta Gassen, an annual music show which has invited performers including American singers Susan Boyle and Cyndi Lauper.

Laura Suzuki, a senior at Lakeridge High school, explained Kõhaku to me.

“It is essentially a battle between two teams. The red team consists of all female singers, and the white team consists of all male singers.” She also told me about the New Years Eve tradition of eating Toshikoshi Soba — a meal that serves as a transition from the old year to the new.

At midnight, the Buddhist temples in Japan ring their bells 108 times, signifying the riddance of the 108 human sins. This is called Joyanokane. The following morning, the Japanese gather for Hatsumõde, where families visit temples to pray for the upcoming year. At home, a special meal is enjoyed which includes osechi ryori, ozoni, (mochi soup) and otoso, a type of sake.

Suzuki also told me about Nengajõs, or New Year’s greeting cards. “They are similar to the American custom of sending Christmas cards. The Nengajõs must arrive on New Years Day or later; they must never arrive beforehand,” she explained.

For the Jewish people, winter presents a time of reflection and togetherness. Shea Northfield, a junior at Lakeridge High School who celebrates Hanukkah, explains that the holidays are “more about celebrating together and lighting the menorah to enjoy the Festival of Light” than simply getting presents.

“It’s something we try to get the whole family present for,” Northfield explained, adding that because the basic traditions of Hanukkah are universal, people feel connected, even across generations. Her family still uses her great grandmother’s menorah and Northfield looks forward to listening to the Hanukkah CD she has had since childhood.

Even within the most widely celebrated winter holiday in Lake Oswego, Christmas, students have unique traditions. Lakeridge senior Carl Soder hides a pickle ornament in the Christmas tree and whoever finds it first gets to open the first present. Seniors Sophia Nielson and Arjun Mehra both claim to have baked more than 300 dozen cookies — which amounts to 3,600 treats!

Winter may be cold, but students are keeping warm through tradition and merry-making. Our repeating myths form tradition; our past and future become bound by our beliefs. So often, our holiday seasons are dictated by the stories we tell. And each winter, we dust off these stories to remind ourselves of who we are, wrapping ourselves in words to stay warm.

When I asked van Alebeek when she stopped “believing” in the myths of Sinterklaas, she confessed: “I believed in Sinterklaas until I was in sixth grade, so pretty late ... but my parents did a really good job keeping it a secret. Or maybe I’m just super gullible ... I like to believe the former.”

Either way, the winter sky is full of anticipation.

Celeste Nahas is a senior at Lakeridge High School and writes a monthly column for the Review. To contact her email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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