HIGHLAND | Family traditions bring a lot of joy to Alexandria DiSanto.
They also brought a free pizza party to her classmates at Our Lady of Grace Elementary School.
The fourth-grader took the top prize in the second annual Aurelio’s Pizza Family Traditions Essay Contest, which was open to all fourth-grade students within a 10-mile radius of any of the 41 Aurelio’s locations.
The 300-word essays were an opportunity for children to interview their family members and share their personal traditions, whether they involve Christmas, Easter, Hanukkah, Thanksgiving, other holidays or even summer vacations.
Because she won first place, Alexandria received a private pizza party for her class Thursday, a free family dinner from Aurelio’s and a $100 gift card for classroom supplies.
In her essay, Alexandria wrote about Christmas and traditions that include her dad reading “Twas the Night Before Christmas” to her and her sister before they go to bed. They also set out carrots, milk and special reindeer food that sparkles in the night so the reindeer know where her house is.
They have a scavenger hunt that leads to a special gift, which one year included putting puzzle pieces together that in the end spelled out “We are going to Disney World.”
When asked what she wants this year for Christmas, Alexandria said “just good health for my family.”
Second place in the contest went to Alexandria’s classmate, Kathedra Csyani. She won a family dinner at Aurelio’s and a $50 gift card for room supplies.
Kathedra wrote that one of her favorite Christmas traditions involves an Advent calendar she and her brother receive to start the holy season. They open a window on the calendar each day and get a chocolate from inside.
She also enjoys the family’s Polish tradition of breaking and eating oplatki, a Christmas wafer.
Kathedra wrote in her essay that December is also her birthday month.
“I was really excited and happy and my mom was happy that I won,” Kathedra said.
And what does Kathedra want this Christmas?
“I’m just happy for what I get,” she said.
The girls’ teacher, Ann Renner, said she couldn’t be more thrilled with them because they give “120 percent effort in the classroom.”
“To be recognized like this is very rewarding,” she said. “It’s very moving and that’s how they are. They’re such sweet girls.”
Among the students enjoying the free pizza was Alex Munoz, who was proud of Alexandria and Kathedra.
“I think it’s a great thing they did that,” he said.
Kirk Mauriello, director of franchising Aurelio’s Pizza, said his staff was impressed by the many creative, well-written essays received.
“One of the best things about this contest for us is seeing the world through the eyes of fourth-graders,” he said. “Traditions are important to Aurelio’s, too, because we’ve been part of so many throughout our 54 years in business from the Friday pizza nights and family game nights to the sports team celebrations and big holiday get-togethers. That’s what it means to be a family-owned business that celebrates families.”