Our favorite ways to celebrate the holiday season often come from traditions passed down generation by generation. Between holiday songs and movies, our favorite family recipes, and must do events, each family has their own way to celebrate the season. We asked some of our residents to share their most cherished holiday traditions and memories. We hope you enjoy reading their stories as much as we did!
My Family Christmas Story
“My family lived in the anthracite cool region in northeastern Pennsylvania. My father was a carpenter at one of the coal companies. The United Mine Workers called a work stoppage “a strike” in December, 1933 for better wages and benefits. No work, no paycheck, my parents were worried. I was six years old, my sister three, and we were excited about Christmas.
Around the 10th of December my father came home with discarded wooden Hercules Deamite crates. He tore them apart and used the wood to make doll beds, a high chair, and wardrobe for doll clothes. He painted them, decorated with some decals. My mother used an old treadle sewing machine to make blankets and pillows for the beds, and doll clothes.
On Christmas morning my sister and I were thrilled with Santa’s gifts. My father was so shocked at our happiness, he went out the front door to a snow covered porch and cried. My mother, for the next twenty, thirty years, at holiday gatherings told us about what they experienced on Christmas Day, 1933.” – Elizabeth (Bette) Campbell
“One of the long standing traditions associated with the celebration of Hanukkah is dining on potato pancakes (Latkes). I remember when I was a child how my mother hand grated potatoes and onions in preparation of making the potato pancakes. Then she would fry them in vegetable oil until they were light brown. The whole house was filled with the delicious odor of frying potato pancakes that made your mouth water. I ate those pancakes with a smile on face and a satisfying feeling of motherly love in my stomach. It’s a memory I cherish to this day.” – Ed Wirkman
A Christmas Story of 1945
“It happened long ago; shortly after WWII – our first Christmas since that terrible war. Peace had come in Holland in May 1945 but as the rest of Europe, it was in shambles. The reconstruction of the cities and economy had begun but it would take years and years to come back to its former glory, but even better than before.
Our family had come through the war with scars and sacrifices and my parents had lost everything; their home, and possessions. But we had survived the war in a small town in the country, not far from Arnhem, where so much fighting had taken place between the Allies and the German troops.
Without a home we had to rely on help. I was the oldest of five children, 15 at that time. I had one sister, ten years younger and three brothers, of which the youngest was only a year and a half. Without transportation we had to make it to Amsterdam, where my grandmother would take us in. My father was not a part of it. But six more persons in a house that already had eight people living there would be–say at least cramped.
We made the journey to the city in two days in August; a short train ride and walking long distance in soaring temperatures with the help of a sister from mom and her husband; the grownups carrying the little ones. It had been a nightmare but our welcome at Grandma’s house was overwhelming when we arrived.
I had three uncles in their twenties, who during the war had to work in the German factories and so had my uncle who had rescued us in August. They all had their share of sacrifices and stories to tell but were now a part of the family again. And Grandma was so grateful to have us all together at the holiday. Fourteen people, including the children, were sitting spread out, around three tables. We laughed about the stories and jokes from the uncles and they had us all in stitches like there was no tomorrow.
It is so long ago that I hardly remember what was on the menu, but it couldn’t have been much, although OMA, my grandmother, was thrifty and saved up food way ahead of the holiday. I think we had one rabbit for meat and I remember potato pies for dessert with applesauce. It was the greatest meal we had in a long, long time. And there was a real live Christmas tree with real candles in it.
After the cleanup and tables and chairs were removed we found a place around the Christmas tree, many of us sitting on the floor, singing Christmas carols. Hot chocolate was served and speculaas, a gingerbread cookie we all loved. There were presents mostly handmade by my aunts and uncles. I never forgot my present from mom’s oldest sister; my first bra. I thought I died from embarrassment in front of my uncles. Was it meant to be a joke? She certainly succeeded [if it was] but she had meant well.
Some of the gifts I still treasure; a jewelry box made by my uncle, and a cache for hankies, made by the aunt who gave me the bra. Everyone got something special and I can’t tell you how wonderful that Christmas was. Love for each other had shone true and I can honestly say the years [spent] at Grandma’s house were the best years of my life.” – Martina Vanderley