University of Southern Indiana

Favorite holiday memories and traditions

Favorite holiday memories and traditions

12/18/2020 | University Communications
News Photo

USI students, faculty and staff share some of their favorite holiday traditions and memories.

Ashley Arauz wearing Santa hat in front of a decorated tree

Ashley Arauz '24
Biology

"My favorite tradition is to decorate the Christmas tree. It is a fun thing to do with your family or friends. Putting all the ornaments on the tree with my siblings is one of my favorite memories. Being far from home made me appreciate those memories even more every year. It is a magical moment where you forget all your worries and you just have fun.

The best part is when the lights are turned on. It is the awesome signal that the holiday season starts with all its magic!"


Dr. Zachary Ward with his new bike as a young boy

Dr. Zachary Ward
Assistant Professor of Health Administration

"Looking back, the Christmas of 1991 was pretty memorable. I got my first bike, and if you can’t tell from
the photo, it was entirely too big for me.

The best part came when my dad tried to install the water bottle holder. My dad has no mechanical aptitude. Needless to say, he drilled all over that bike, scraping all of the new paint in the process (and saying plenty of colorful words) and never got that bottle holder installed."


Maddie Ganka and her family laughing

Maddie Ganka '21
Communication Studies

"My aunts, uncles, cousins, grandma and grandpa, and of course my siblings and parents all get together at our local church and have a family Christmas party.

It’s a tradition that we have a chili cook-off, so every family is in charge of bringing a pot of chili to share. With my mom being the youngest of seven, that means there is a lot of chili to try! We also play a white elephant gift exchange and have Santa come in to bring gifts for the younger kids! This is my favorite tradition because I get to see family I don’t always get to see, and it is the best reminder of how blessed I am!"


Various ceramic Santas handpainted by Dr. Shelly Blunt


Dr. Shelly Blunt

Associate Provost for Academic Affairs

“I have great memories of Monday evenings spent with my mother and other ladies at the local ceramic shop in my hometown through my high school and college years. We would order dinner, paint our projects and chat. We painted many different things, but I loved painting Santas and am still painting them today.

This photo includes some of the Santas I finished this year. They are not perfect, but I still love them.”


The Valadares family

Dr. Kevin Valadares
Professor of Health Services and Chair of Health Administration

"Growing up in Canada, my parents (immigrants from India) wanted to combine Indian and Canadian traditions during holidays. They usually revolved around food. Ever since I can remember, we had French Canadian tourtiere on Christmas Eve. Tourtiere is a simple meat pie that is traditionally shared late at night on Christmas Eve. I borrowed my mother’s recipe, and our family has it every Christmas Eve… preferably with Worcestershire sauce on the side."


Sydney Burkhart and her family

Sydney Burkhart '21
Exercise Science (Pre-Physician Assistant)

"We go bowling each Christmas Day. My family is extremely competitive, so we do not split up into teams. It is everyone for themselves, may the best bowler win. The funny thing is, we are all terrible at bowling, but it’s fun regardless.

Having this tradition with my family means a lot, because throughout the crazy busy year we each have, we don’t see one another too often. However, everyone makes a point to be present on Christmas Day and spend as much time together as we can."


Rachel Davidson's students pose with the stuffed animals they received as gifts

Rachel Davidson M'22
Master of Education in Leadership and Administration 

"I work at a high poverty school in Evansville. When I started teaching five years ago, a colleague's friend generously offered to donate gently-used stuffed animals to the kids in my third grade class as a Christmas gift. 

Mrs. Watters, who washed and mended and then donated the stuffed animals, came to watch the students open their gifts. My colleague, Mrs. Hodge, who works at Thompkins Middle School, brought several of her students dressed as elves to participate in the fun. The elves wrote letters to my students and brought gift bags.

Each student got to open a stuffed animal, and their faces lit up when they discovered the unique identity of each toy. The day was even more magical for me than it was for my students! We have continued this tradition every year, and I look forward to it all year long! This year will be different because of COVID restrictions, but I cannot wait to gift the stuffed animals to my class this year."

(Photo taken in 2019)


Variety of cookies on a table

Nathan Payne
Program Coordinator, Student Development Programs

"My favorite holiday memory involves baking all different types of cookies with my mom. We keep a lookout for new recipes to try and no matter what we’re doing or how busy we get, we always clear out a day to make cookies together.

My favorite since I was a small kid is the peanut butter blossom with a Hershey kiss on top. Those are always a must have!"


Charlotte Merris sprinkles reindeer food in the yard


Erin McCracken Merris

Marketing Specialist, Lifelong Learning

"Our 3-year-old daughter, Charlotte, has made reindeer food each year at daycare so Santa knows where to stop and visit our house! Last year she got so into sprinkling it all over the lawn and had to check in the morning to make sure Rudolph and the reindeer ate it! This year she can hardly wait to sprinkle the lawn with a mixture of glitter and oats!

It is the little things like this that make you pause from the craziness that can happen during the season and see the magic and beauty a child sees in the simplest of Christmas activities!" 


Decorated tree with gifts underneath and a dog sitting nearby



Mikala Gogel '22

Health Services

"Every Christmas morning, our family eats a big breakfast together with coffee or hot chocolate. Then, we open presents. It is a holiday tradition we all look forward to each year!"

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News Photo

Photo Credit: Photo provided by Dr. Zachary Ward

Dr. Zachary Ward poses with his new bike during Christmas 1991

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