Season to Celebrate

December 2021 View more

By Mark Loehrke

Photography by Olivia Kohler

Just as every family has its own traditions and customs, most countries around the world likewise have their own signature winter holidays. It is through this global spirit that we present a selection of meaningful traditions and local places to explore a variety of cultures. Along with a curated selection of thoughtful gifts, we hope you’re inspired by the many reasons for giving (and giving back) this season.


Bodhi Day: December 8
Although most contemporary Asian Indians practice Hinduism, the ancient Dharmic practice of Buddhism was founded in India by Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha). Of the several different festivals celebrating the Buddha’s enlightenment (nirvana), Bodhi Day is observed in many mainstream traditions, with services and rituals that may include meditation, study of the Dharma, chanting of Buddhist texts (sutras), or performing kind acts. 

This fashion-forward boutique offers a wide variety of designer Indian clothing and dresses from Raas International Clothing, which oversees two brands. The South Asian label Raas and the sustainable Western label Tanisi are created in and imported from its own manufacturing unit in India. 

“We started in-house manufacturing to abide by our mission to ensure fair wages and a good working environment for our artisans, who are the heart and soul of our brand,” says Raas cofounder and chief creative officer Shreya Patel.

Patel says the company’s most popular item from its South Asian brand is a multicolored two-piece set, versatile enough to be worn in many different settings. While mostly an online business, the Westmont store offers curbside pickup and returns for local customers.  428 Oak Ave., Westmont, 630.407.7419,

Gift Globally 
Prayer beads adorn this meditating Buddha made by Indian artisans in cast stone. Arhaus, $129 


Boxing Day: December 26
Imported from the United Kingdom, where its origins date back to the 1830s, this British and Canadian holiday was once a traditional day of almsgiving that involved giving “Christmas boxes” of money or presents to servants and the poor. These days, however, it is more likely to include the kind of post-Christmas activities that are slothfully familiar to most Americans: shopping, watching sports, and eating leftovers.

Fox Valley Ice Arena 
Looking for an affordable way to treat the family to an afternoon or evening of Canada’s national sport (read: obsession) without driving all the way into the city (or even to Rosemont)? The United States Hockey League’s Chicago Steel—described as a “powerhouse development program” by Sports Illustrated—are in their seventh season in Geneva, with a roster of hungry young players eying the bright lights of the NHL as they hit the ice most weekends through April. At presstime the team was ranked first in the USHL Eastern Conference, with a 8-2 record. December highlights include Winterfest with a postgame skate on December 11 and Star Wars night on January 15. 1996 S. Kirk Rd., Geneva, 855.517.8335,

Gift Globally 
Many of our beloved brands—MAC Cosmetics, Lululemon Athletica, Herschel Supply Co., Roots, Sorel, and David’s Tea—are headquartered in the Great White North. Handcrafted in Canada, this weekend bag has a large main compartment plus interior pockets to keep your jaunt organized. Roots, $468


Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe: December 12
Catholics in both Mexico and the United States celebrate this holy feast, which commemorates the Virgin Mary’s apparition to St. Juan Diego in the hills of Tepeyac in 1531. In Des Plaines, the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe—the largest such shrine outside of Mexico City and the most-visited Catholic shrine in the world—features a 12-foot statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe and a six-foot statue of St. Juan Diego. After a year off amid the pandemic, the shrine will once again prepare to welcome almost 300,000 pilgrims on and around the feast day, offering Masses in English and Spanish throughout the week, daily rosary streamed via Facebook and YouTube, and a holy hour of adoration every evening. 1170 N. River Rd., Des Plaines, 847.294.1806,

National Museum of Mexican Art
The collective act of mourning is a fundamental aspect of Mexico’s Day of the Dead commemorations, offering a healing way to acknowledge, accept, and bear the inevitable. The 2021 edition of the museum’s 35th annual Day of the Dead exhibition, Dia de Muertos: A Time to Grieve and Remember, pays tribute to and remembers those from Mexico and the U.S. who have died from COVID-19 over the past two years, through works by local artists and site-specific installations by artists from both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. The exhibit runs through December 12. 1852 W. 19th St., Chicago, 312.738.1503,  

Gift Globally
A small artisanal fragrance brand based in the heart of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, Coqui Coqui unisex products are influenced by the sights, sounds, and scents of tropical Mexico. Rosas Secas has notes of fresh tobacco leaves and dried roses. Saks Fifth Avenue, $125


Hanukkah: November 28–December 6 
Compared with other religious occasions on the Jewish calendar, the Festival of Lights is generally considered something of a minor holiday—but it’s also one that strikes a popular chord thanks to several of its well-known markers, including the menorah and the dreidel. Unlike many other Jewish holidays, however, Hanukkah is celebrated not in the synagogue but mostly in the home—making it the perfect occasion to spend time with friends and family. 

Chabad of Naperville

The new 8,000-square-foot Abrams Center for Jewish Life—a massive expansion from Chabad’s prior 1,500-square-foot Brookdale Road facility—includes classrooms, a teen lounge, library, sanctuary, café, and social hall. The organization is planning a Family Hanukkah Celebration at the new building on December 5 that will include children’s activities, latkes, and much more (details pending; see website). 651 Amersale Dr., Naperville, 630.344.9770,

“Our goal is for the Abrams Center to be a place where every Jewish family can feel welcome and comfortable to stop by, regardless of their affiliation,” says Rabbi Mendy Goldstein. “All are welcome.” 


Chinese New Year: February 1, 2022
The Year of the Tiger is ushered in with a festival that lasts for 16 days. 

“The Lunar New Year is one of the most important holidays in China as well as Chinese communities around the world,” says Ben Lau, executive director of the Chinese American Museum of Chicago.
“It is also known as Spring Festival, and was traditionally a time to honor gods as well as ancestors.”

Lau says Chinese families clean their houses thoroughly before the New Year to sweep away bad luck, and decorate with red paper cutouts and couplets to welcome good luck. Family members often come together on the New Year’s Eve for a reunion dinner, sharing dishes such as steamed fish (which symbolizes surplus), chicken (togetherness and rebirth), and braised pigs’ feet (get rich quick). The first and second day of the celebration is a time to visit extended families, relatives and friends, as there is usually a long holiday in many places. During this time, married family members give red envelopes containing cash (“lai see”) to junior members of the family as a form of blessings, while some businesses also give red envelopes to employees on the first day they return to work after the long holiday. The 15th day of the celebration is the Lantern Festival (“Yuanxiao”), during which families eat glutinous rice balls brewed in a sweet soup and children carry lighted lanterns in the street or parks in the evening.

Nichols Library 
Building on the success of a pilot program offered with a volunteer parent group at its 95th Street facility in 2018—as well as its popular Spanish-language events—the Naperville Public Library partnered with Ray Chinese School in the fall of 2019 to offer special family story times in Mandarin at the downtown Nichols Library. 

“With such a large Chinese-speaking population in Naperville who regularly uses the library, we wanted to have the ability to expand our services to these communities,” says Ellen Fitzgerald, manager of the 95th Street Library.

These days, bilingual Children’s Services associates Amy Mei and Yali Zhang run the Chinese story times on Monday mornings at Nichols and every second Sunday at 95th Street, respectively, drawing a steady and growing crowd of families since resuming after a pandemic pause. Featuring stories and songs, these sessions also usually include an interactive element like shaker eggs, scarf activities, or movement songs where participants learn and engage with the storyteller. 

The weekly story times at Nichols take a break during December and January but will resume in February. The library will also present a Lunar New Year Craft event on Thursday, January 27, from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. at the 95th Street Library and Tuesday, February 1, from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. at Nichols. 630.961.4100,

Gift Globally 
Mahjong likely originated in Shanghai in the mid- or late 1800s and became popular among Chinese Americans when expatriates brought the game to the U.S. in the 1920s. Gift Brouk and Co.’s classic four-player game, similar to dominoes, and build a winning set of tiles to yell “Mahjong!” at holiday gatherings. Neiman Marcus, $180


Yalda: December 21
Celebrating the victory of light and goodness over dark and evil, Shabe Yalda is a Persian winter solstice festival that unfolds on the longest night of the year. Extended family and friends gather to enjoy fruits (especially red pomegranates and watermelons), nuts and sweets paired with hot tea. Celebrants stay up well past midnight to drink, converse, dance, tell stories, and read verses by 14th-century Iranian poet Hafiz, like this one:




So much from God

That I can no longer



A Christian, a Hindu, a Muslim

A Buddhist, a Jew.

The Truth has shared so much of Itself

With me

That I can no longer call myself

A man, a woman, and angel

Or even pure


Love has

Befriended Hafiz so completely

It has turned to ash

And freed


Of every concept and image

My mind has ever known.

Hafiz (1315–1390),
translated by Daniel Lazinsky

Jibek Jolu 
In addition to locations in Chicago and Glenview, this 12-year-old family-owned restaurant also runs an in-store outlet at Garden Fresh Market in Naperville, serving up dozens of authentic ready-to-eat meals such as golubci (ground beef, onions, rice, and spices wrapped in cabbage leaves), jarovnya (pan-sautéed steak or chicken and vegetables), and plov (a traditional rice dish cooked with seasoned broth, beef or chicken, carrots, onions, and garlic in a traditional cast-iron kazan). 955 W. 75th St., Naperville, 630.961.9204,

Gift Globally 
Despite its substantial inventory of floor coverings, the Persian Knot is more fine art gallery than suburban rug store—with a long history that spans the globe.

“My family has been in this business for almost 100 years,” says owner Mostafa Beik, “but mainly in Iran. That’s where the business was until the revolution in 1977. At that point the family decided to gradually move it here.”

“Here” is an unassuming sublevel space in Barrington’s Ice House Mall. From runners and area rugs to gallery- and mansion-sized pieces, the gallery houses Persian treasures that could not be imported today. “My father started to bring some of the finer pieces of his collection in 1977,” Seik explains. “I’m glad he did it back then, because you can’t bring anything now.”

One-of-a-kind antiques—such as the Persian saddle bags, area rug, and pillow show here—can be viewed by making a private appointment. The Persian Knot, $300+

Costa Rica

Tope Caballos: December 26
On Christmas, families will gather together to assemble and enjoy traditional tamales. The following day, the largest equestrian parade in Costa Rica features cowboys dressed in their finest wares, hand-painted carts, bands, carriages and—of course—horses, all marching down the streets of the capital city of San Jose. Here in the U.S., such parades are more likely to unfold in horse-populous states like Texas and Oklahoma.  

IrazÚ Restaurant 
Henry Cerdas and his team have been serving up the traditional flavors of Costa Rica to Chicago diners since 1990, dishing out specialties like casado, chifrijo, and pepito sandwiches. The son of original founders Gerardo Cerdas and Miriam Cerdas-Salazar, Henry started as a dishwasher and worked almost every job in the family operation before taking over as owner in 2007. Cerdas says the philosophy of Irazú is embodied by the Costa Rican greeting “pura vida,” which serves as a mantra for both his staff and his customers: Live. Enjoy. Relax. 

Featured everywhere from the Food Network to Check, Please! over the years, this Bucktown institution recently brought its “pura vida” to the suburbs in partnership with Dwell Social, a development that Cerdas says was forced by the need to seek out new markets amid the pandemic—and one that has ultimately worked well in spreading the Costa Rican spirit beyond the restaurant’s humble home base. Check the website for availability in the west suburbs.  1865 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, 773.252.5687,

Gift Globally   
The fusion of Spanish culture and equestrianism is witnessed in the country’s horse parades, or topes—the Costa Rican version of our Kentucky Derby event. Bring the strength and beauty of the saddle horse into your home’s decor. RH, $430


Kwanzaa: December 26–January 1
This celebration of African American culture, heritage and values started in 1966, and is centered on the kinara (candle holder), which symbolizes the seven principles (one for each day) of unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith. 

“The principles of Kwanzaa are core principles in traditional African cultures, across countries, that African Americans are encouraged to focus on in honor of their ancestral heritage,” says Kim Dulaney, director of education and programs at the DuSable Museum of African American History in Chicago. “Kwanzaa is now a sort of a checkpoint celebration, where people of African descent around the world recall, reconstitute, and realign themselves with these core values of their ancestors and with the continued aims of the worldwide collective of people of African descent.”

REACH Community Services
Established as a nonprofit in 2006 by the Reverend James Miller, pastor of DuPage African Methodist Episcopal Church, REACH is a permanent pantry dedicated to providing food assistance to vulnerable members of the community. The organization serves nearly 200 families monthly, delivers food to sick and shut-in residents, and is always eager to hear from new donors and volunteers. 4300 Yackley Ave., Lisle, 630.969.9800,

Gift Globally   
Use this motion basket—crafted by women artisans in Uganda using raffia and banana stalk—as a hallway catchall or a boho wall installation. Fair trade products from this retailer generate income and impact to residents of emerging countries. Ten Thousand Villages Glen Ellyn, $35