The holidays provide people with a chance to share moments with family and friends

SUBMITTED PHOTO: ELENA LEE - Baking cookies is one the best things about the holiday season for Lake Oswego High student Elena Lee and her familyHoliday season means something different to each person. For some, it's all about cookies and carols and spending time together.

For others, though, it's also a chance to reflect on the meaning behind the holidays and remind ourselves of how we should treat people all year long.

"We tend to become more forgiving, more open-minded, more generous when our days are filled with snowflakes and holly," says Lake Oswego High student Elena Lee. "The holidays are a small peek into how we should, ideally, act every day of our lives."

Wilsonville High student Sydney Byun agrees.

"No matter what you celebrate this time of year," she says, "the holiday season is intended to be a time of love and contentment for all people."

With schools now closed for winter break, we asked members of the Spokesman's Student Writers Advisory Group to talk about what the holidays mean to them. Here's what they had to say:

Sydney Byun

Wilsonville High SchoolBYUN

With lights illuminating neighborhoods and Michael Bublé and Mariah Carey's respective Christmas albums being played on a continuous loop, it seems ridiculous to say that the Christmas spirit is being squashed. Nonetheless, every year when December rolls around, arguments erupt about the supposed "War on Christmas."

There is no doubt that Christmas is, at its core, a religious event; however, an increasing emphasis on the holiday's commercial aspects have made religion less of a focal point. Many members of the population without strong ties to Christianity celebrate Christmas and enjoy the holiday season.

While it is very likely that there are some who truly lament this drift away from religion, the argument that people are being barred from saying "Merry Christmas" for the sake of political correctness is a weak one. Christmas is present everywhere — in stores, in neighborhoods and even in schools, so much so that other religions that also have holidays in December are somewhat of an afterthought.

When it comes to the debate around whether it is appropriate to say "Merry Christmas" or not, it comes down to the context of the situation. When speaking to someone who is known to celebrate Christmas, it is, of course, fitting. If you know that someone celebrates Hanukkah, acknowledge this fact and wish them a happy Hanukkah. Otherwise, "happy holidays" will suffice — not as a statement meant to attack Christmas, but as a simple courtesy.

The religious and cultural diversity within the United States is one of its greatest strengths, and should be recognized as such. The "Merry Christmas" versus "Happy Holidays" dispute is far from the biggest issue to plague the nation, even if it has been vastly inflated to create a conflict. It is vital to remember that, no matter what you celebrate this time of year, the holiday season is intended to be a time of love and contentment for all people.

Ainsley Mayes

Wilsonville High SchoolMAYES

It's that time of year again! The Christmas music has started playing on the radio, stores are filled with all kinds of gifts for the holidays and kids are counting down the days till winter break.

But does it really feel like the Christmas season is here? I found myself asking this question this year. As I've gotten older, Christmas has gotten a little less magical with every passing year — but why?

Thinking back to the build-up to Christmas in elementary school, it was my favorite season and I was always so excited for Santa to come. It all felt so real to me. But that all ended with one sad recess conversation, when I was told the big man in the red suit wasn't "real." I was devasted, and could barely keep the tears in before school ended and I arrived home.

Coming through the door with tears streaming down my face, I cried out the words to my mom, "At school, they said Santa isn't real!" My Mom gathered me up in her arms, whispering that it would be alright, and told me something that I still think about every December.

"Santa Claus is real because Santa isn't just one person; Santa isn't just a him. Santa is a we, and an us, and a them. If you believe in the true spirit of what Santa Claus means, that giving something is better than receiving something, then Santa will always be real. And the really special gift is now you get to be a Santa, you get to join all the other Santas and make the magic real for another little girl or boy."

As a teen, Christmas is a lot about sleeping-in during break, being with friends, movies, coffee and what gift cards you're going to get for presents. It's not about waiting for Christmas Eve to ring great-great-great grandfather's sleigh bells to tell Santa you're off to bed, or leaving out carrots and celery for the reindeers. But if we can remember that we are Santas to the kiddos of our community, then we can keep the spirit, the meaning and the magic of Christmas and Santa Claus alive in our hearts.

Reem Alharithi

West Linn High SchoolALHARITHI

Whether or not we can admit it to ourselves, we could all stand to learn a thing or two from Hallmark movies about the meaning of Christmas.

Corporate capitalism and false expectations have changed the idea of Christmas into a perfect reunion of people who normally dread a five-minute, obligatory "Happy Birthday" phone call with each other. But the real meaning of Christmas is spending time with the people you truly enjoy, whether they be family or not.

The meaning of Christmas doesn't need to have a religious connotation — it is whatever represents a break from the stress of our daily lives to appreciate those around us.

In our family growing up, my parents made sure to never do the same thing twice. The only constant would be that we all were together. This innocent tradition of not having a tradition kept Christmas untainted, because instead of looking forward to the activity, everyone would simply look forward to being together.

Being happy around the ones we love is more important than having a "picture perfect" family reunion — that's what the Fourth of July is for! Beloved comedian Bob Hope said it best: "My idea of Christmas, whether old-fashioned or modern, is very simple: loving others."

Elena Lee

Lake Oswego High SchoolLEE

I love the holidays. From Thanksgiving to Christmas to New Year's, I bathe in a constant stream of cookies, radio Christmas carols, holly and hot chocolate. Everyone seems to be more cheerful, more willing to smile and give out candy canes.

In my family, we make Christmas cookies every year and (I must admit) set out a couple on a plate for Santa. Yes, I am 17 years old. Please don't judge — it's tradition. For some reason, simple sugar cookies taste much better when they are shaped like snowflakes and reindeer and covered with sprinkles.

Every year, we open gifts around the tree in the morning, go on a walk around the neighborhood, watch a holiday movie, and eat Christmas dinner with the same family friends. I watch my father winding lights around our plum tree and smile at the sight of our wreath on the front door.

Admittedly, Christmas is a holiday with religious roots, and my family is not religious in the slightest. Yet the main reason I love the holiday season is that holiday cheer is open to all. I know that sounds cheesy, but does anyone not smile upon smelling hot chocolate, listening to carolers or making snow angels?

It is true that many people do not celebrate Christmas for religious or other reasons, but hardly anyone remains aloof from the general cheer and carefree spirit that surrounds the holidays — whether one's definition of "holiday" includes Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year's or simply the student's paradise known as Winter Break.

I feel that we tend to become more forgiving, more open-minded, more generous when our days are filled with snowflakes and holly. The holidays are a small peek into how we should, ideally, act every day of our lives. Until the human race becomes perfect, however, I will enjoy as fully as possible this one month of good cheer and peppermint hot chocolate that lightens our days at the end of the year.

Lily DeVine

Lake Oswego High SchoolDEVINE

My family celebrates Christmas, and growing up, I could not wait until this time of year. I would think about hanging out with my family members, getting presents and watching holiday shows.

Since the media appeared Christmas-themed as well, my excitement about the holiday advanced. Whenever I turned on the TV, only Christmas shows and movies would be on. In any store I walked into, the shelves would be covered in toys and Christmas decorations. It seemed the media, like me, thought Christmas was the most important holiday in the world — and I was delighted the media had the same ideas I had about Christmas.

When I got older, I became more aware of other people's celebrations and beliefs. The media, though, still seems to think that Christmas is the only holiday that occurs in winter.

Of course, it's great that a group in society is having its holiday recognized — but what about everyone else? Everyone should be accepted. That is why I think the media should focus more on saying "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." Saying only "Merry Christmas" is not enough, because it discounts other traditions people have. Individuals are entitled to their beliefs, but society in general needs to be more inclusive.

I wish that this holiday season includes wonderful moments, snow and, most important, acceptance, which is what everyone deserves all year long. `

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