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Kendal at Oberlin Blog

Multi-Cultural Diversity during the Holidays

Posted by Molly Kavanaugh on Dec 5, 2017 10:00:00 AM

holiday wreath with red ribbonIt’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas — and Santa Lucia, Winter Solstice and Hanukkah — everywhere you go at Kendal at Oberlin.

It’s December, and the retirement community celebrates the holiday season in a variety of ways, including different languages, music, food and activities.

Brightening Up the Dark Days

The longest night occurs a few days before Christmas, and residents have observed the Winter Solstice since 1995. The evening program, usually enjoyed by an overflow audience, is full of ancient and modern readings (both serious and humorous), music, costumes, dance and singalongs, followed by food.

Themes have varied over the years, from replicas of English performances and 1930s American music to last year’s “Color of Light.”  

This year’s celebration will be held on Dec. 15 and the theme is “Cornucopia: Feeding a Hungry Spirit.” Organizer Carol Harvey describes the upcoming program as a “happy evening based on food,” followed by a feast of eats brought by residents.

Residents and staff with Scandinavian roots gather annually for dinner and festivities to celebrate Santa Lucia, or St. Lucy, whose holy day is Dec. 13. She is associated with bringing light to the world during the darkest times.

The Scandinavian countries (Denmark, Norway, Finland and Sweden) are known for their long, dark winters, as well as a white codfish called “lutefisk” and herring. Along with a smorgasbord of native foods, the event includes decorations of St. Lucia wearing a wreath of candles on her head and music, entertainment and storytelling about ancestors.

Two maps are hung on the wall: the Scandinavian countries are marked with dots indicating the birthplace of each resident’s ancestors and a U.S. map shows where the ancestors settled – primarily Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, western New York and Pennsylvania.

Happy Holidays in Different Languages and Religions

Given the residents’ educational, cultural and professional backgrounds, it’s not uncommon to hear residents share holiday greetings in various languages. Many of them are bilingual, even trilingual, and attend one of the three language tables (French, Spanish and German) that meet weekly for dinner and conversation in that language.

While the language tables don’t do anything formal to celebrate the holidays, sometimes a member brings a favorite holiday dish, such as stollen, a traditional German sweet bread.  Last year Colombia native Monica Fuquay, a server in the dining room, brought her Christmas figurine collection to share with diners at the Spanish table.

As part of a focus on intergenerational living, a Hanukkah tea brings together Early Learning Center children and residents for an afternoon of songs and stories, complete with gelt chocolate coins.

Almost every year since Kendal opened in 1993, residents have enjoyed a Marimba Christmas Concert. About a dozen percussion students from the Oberlin College Conservatory of Music join residents for Sunday brunch and then entertain the crowd. Along with marimbas, students also play glockenspiels, xylophones and vibraphones.

Christmas caroling begins on the first Saturday in December and continues through Advent. Kendal at Oberlin residents meet at the First United Methodist Church to pick up song books and then head outdoors to sing carols along the downtown streets.  Occasionally residents bring an instrument, such as a flute or harmonica, to add to the holiday sounds.

Merchants often invite the carolers inside and greet them with cookies. “It’s a very nice community affair,” Mary Louise VanDyke says.

On Christmas Eve, many residents gather around the piano to sing Christmas carols, often accompanied by resident musicians playing stringed instruments. Poetry and prose, and favorite Christmas cookies, are shared.

And on Dec. 31, residents gather again around the piano for the final singalong of the year.

Join the Celebration at Kendal at Oberlin

The holidays are a particularly enjoyable time of year, but there’s always something fun and vitalizing going on at the community-directed Kendal at Oberlin. Schedule a tour to enjoy a day with us and learn more about the camaraderie and diversity that set Kendal at Oberlin apart.

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In the past, Molly Kavanaugh frequently wrote about Kendal at Oberlin for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, where she was a reporter for 16 years. Now we are happy to have her writing for the Kendal at Oberlin Community.

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