December is a month steeped in traditions — holidays, family, friends, special foods, decorations, gift giving, and spreading good cheer. With the December E-Forum, we are focusing on traditions that create meaning and bring joy to your lives. And you, dear readers, have shared some of yours! Many thanks. We hope you enjoy reading about others’ traditions.
Braille Prayer Books
I attended Camp Marcella, New Jersey’s camp for the blind, in the 1950s and 1960s. There was a set Sunday morning routine.
The Catholic campers all were driven to the Catholic church. The rest of us attended a non-denominational service in camp. I still remember Adrienne Asch, may she rest in peace, leading us at the piano in “May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart …”
One day I saw the prayer book of a Catholic camper. I do not remember the content at all. What caught my attention was that the braille was interpoint. However, the prayer book was arranged in such a way that you read the first side of each page straight through. Then you turned over the book and read side two (which, like side one, appeared on the right-hand page) all the way through. This meant that you didn’t need to shift yourself or the prayer book around every time you went from a left- to a right-hand page. This physical space-saving feature is significant in crowded houses of worship. Also, in houses of worship where there is no table to rest the book on when you rise, I find it much easier to support the book with my left hand and read from it one-handed with my right hand.
It would be interesting to know if any religious braille establishment produces prayer books in this manner.
— Michael Levy, Woodmere, N.Y.
I grew up in sunny southern California and spent the first 27 years of my life there. While most of the U.S. was blanketed in snow, southern California was basking in temps in the 70s and occasionally the 80s. Yet the holiday spirit was alive and well in our household. The holidays officially started the day after Thanksgiving in my house. Dad would drag the Christmas lights out of the attic, and we would spend much of the morning seeing what lights needed replacing. The next few weeks, we’d shop for that perfect tree and decorate it with homemade ornaments as well as store-bought ones to round out the tree. We always went for a real tree vs. an artificial one. The tree would stay up through the first week of the new year.
In the kitchen, many of our baking traditions included baking homemade apple cakes, chocolate chip cookies, snowball cookies and Mexican shortbread cookies complete with cinnamon sugar and nutmeg. On Christmas Eve, the baking was in high gear. We made tamales and menudo and shared all the baked goods with family members who dropped by to deliver gifts of their own.
The holiday season was a festive time. We took stock of our lives and did whatever we could to assist those less fortunate than us. As we were in close proximity to Pasadena, I was able to assist for many years in decorating many of the floats for the Rose Parade. It was a field trip that many friends and I participated in with the local Braille Institutes. We certainly felt pride in our small contributions to the parade.
— Richard Rueda, Sacramento, Calif.
My family has a Mexican holiday tradition of making tamales a few days before Christmas. Tamales are a food composed of spiced pork covered with masa, which is a dough made from corn, and then wrapped in corn husk. The tamales are then steamed.
We follow my mother’s recipe. First we cook pork roast. After it cools, we shred the meat. Then we cook the shredded pork in a mixture of chilis and other spices. The masa is purchased from a store or tortilla factory, and the husks are purchased from a store. We gather at a table to prepare the tamales. One or two of us spread the masa on the husk, leaving an inch or two at each end without masa. Then another family member places the pork on the masa as a filling. Another person rolls the husk with the masa and meat into a lump about the size of a medium-sized potato. Then someone else ties the ends of the tamale, which is then placed into a large pot to be steamed. This group effort is similar to the making of dumplings by the family depicted in the movie “Crazy Rich Asians.” On Christmas Eve, we gather as a family and eat the tamales.
My mother, who is 95 years old, supervises the tamale-making. My brothers and sister participate, as do our children and grandchildren. We have an opportunity to catch up with family happenings and to socialize. We have been making tamales all my life, 72 years, and my parents made them with their parents and siblings when they were younger.
— Charles Nabarrete, West Covina, Calif.
Our Christmas tradition began with a Danish exchange student. You wrap presents, anything from Kleenex, to hangers, to gift cards, often in weighted boxes with bright colored paper to make them look desirable.
The game has two rounds. In round 1, all presents are on the table. You take turns using one die. When a player rolls a one or a six, he/she gets to claim a present. When all presents have been claimed, the round is complete.
In round two, a timer is set for perhaps 15 minutes. In this round, when anyone rolls a one or six, he/she can take a present from another player. When time is up, each player keeps whatever he/she has left.
— Jeff and Leslie Thom, Sacramento, Calif.
The Wilson family enjoys a game where the producer places a $20 bill in Saran wrap, and then begins to wrap it in layers of Saran wrap. As the ball starts to increase in size, other items are included, such as lotto tickets, small items of any sort, candy, jewelry, etc. The ball can be as large as a basketball when finished.
The participants stand around a small table and one of the group is chosen to start unwrapping the ball. The first person begins to tear at the Saran wrap looking for goodies, and continues until the next player rolls the dice and gets doubles. At that point, the next player grabs the ball and starts unwrapping, until doubles are rolled by another player. The same process continues until the $20 bill is the prize by the lucky player. The game easily takes more than 30 minutes to complete. As the game progresses, the enthusiasm of the players increases.
— Clifford Wilson, Madisonville, Tenn.
My grandparents were from Norway and Sweden, so they had Scandinavian traditions and opened all of their presents on Christmas Eve.
My other grandparents were 11th generation Americans from England, Scotland, France, and Holland, and they opened all their presents on Christmas Day, usually after having Christmas breakfast. It was hard for the kids to wait, but it was worth it to have all the excitement on Christmas Day.
My husband’s family is of English, German, and Polish ancestry; they always opened one gift on Christmas Eve and the rest on Christmas Day.
— Holly Kaczmarski, Dayton, Wash.
Logs for the Needy
A friend of mine and I worked for a forest products company in northern California. We were both members of a local Rotary Club. Each fall our company would donate logs to be cut, split, and delivered by our fellow Rotarians to needy families.
My friend and I would also make special trips on Christmas Eve to families with kids. With our Santa hats on, we would deliver firewood and homemade cookies. Talk about excitement! This would put the Christmas spirit into perspective and make our own Christmases seem just that much more special.
— Tom Lealos, Powell, Wyo.
Santa Claus Is Comin’
Christmas Eves in our family were spent with my mother’s three siblings and their families, my grandfather “Poppy,” and my Great Aunt Jo. We 17 children were sent down to the basement with sandwiches and Christmas cookies to eat, play, and excitedly await the arrival of Santa Claus. When he finally arrived, we anxiously waited for our name to be called so we could sit on his lap and receive our gift.
The last party was held in 1974. Poppy died the following summer and we children were young adults, leaving home for careers and marriages. But when we think of Christmas, we still remember those fun Christmas Eve family parties.
— Jean Mann, Albany, N.Y.
New Year’s Eve
We always made a Canadian dish called rappie pie every New Year’s Eve. It was a family affair; we all had our jobs to make the process go more smoothly.
My mother boiled three whole chickens, keeping the broth. My sister picked the meat off the bones and then started helping me peel the 50 pounds of potatoes needed to have enough for the finished dish.
We enlisted the help of everyone to hand-grate all the peeled potatoes. Then my brothers got a workout by squeezing the spuds through cheese cloth to remove the starch.
My mother and sister mixed the potatoes with chicken broth and salt to achieve a thick oatmeal-like consistency.
In the meantime, roasting pans were generously buttered and put into a hot oven, so that when the first scoop of potatoes was poured into the bottom, you heard that sizzle. This meant a nice buttery crust when the pies finished baking.
A layer of chicken followed the layer of potatoes, and then another layer of potatoes. Butter was placed on top and the pans returned to the oven to bake for a couple of hours until the tops were golden brown and bubbly.
The best part of all was sitting around and eating! Over the years as we added family members, we added more helpers and the “icing on the pie” was the camaraderie and love shared by family and friends.
— Jeanne Donovan, Haverhill, Mass.