With Thanksgiving and Christmas arriving soon, we asked members of the Times-Union/Jacksonville.com Email Interactive Group to share their favorite family traditions. Here are the responses:
My personal favorite family tradition is having a real tree for Christmas. Love the smell and the decorating together. The tree has been smaller in last few years, due to cost and have not had much of a family locally to help decorate. This year, my daughter and my 16-year-old grandson may be able to help some, as they’re not going out of state for that week.I still look forward to having that pine smell in the house this year … even at age 79. Merry CHRISTmas !!!
Salli Cartledge, Middleburg
When my son finished his understudies at UNF in 2006, he left for law school at Stetson University of Law in St. Petersburg. As a form of keeping in touch with him daily, I started sending him a text at 11 p.m. every day. He in turn would respond each time. Nothing special, just a “Good night, hope ya had a great day, Luv ya, etc.” Kind of corny, but it made me feel “in touch” when he was 250 miles away. He lives in Jax now and is a successful attorney. After approximately 4,000 texts, we still keep this tradition to this day …
Lee W. Hart, Mandarin
We’ve changed traditions over the years, but my most memorable was taking off early Thursday morning for Wakulla Springs to have Thanksgiving dinner at the old hotel there. We stayed for a couple of days, rambled around in the woods, took the glass-bottomed boat tour and sat mesmerized before the huge fireplace with a grand fire going. Now there is prohibition against wandering around in the woods, but the lovely familiar things are still there and on occasion still enjoyed.
Sharon Scholl, Atlantic Beach
My favorite family tradition is very much like an un-birthday. I’ll explain. Many marriages are remembered because the stress of the event and the ridiculous costs are burned forever into the couple’s memories. My wife and I, however,were married in a low-key manner (no tuxes, organs, flower girls, or ring-bearers) in an Alabama courthouse in 10 minutes or less. The “ceremony” was peaceful, informal, inexpensive, and legitimate. Until we had children eight years later, our vacations, always in summer, were spent traveling in Europe as happened on our first anniversary. When I realized too late that I had not remembered it, I apologized and hoped she wasn’t going to be hurt, but she hadn’t remembered it either. We laughed. We’ve laughed a lot about this event because the omission occurred the next year and the next and so on until it became, by default, a family tradition, usually introduced by my saying, in amazement: “Do you know what we forgot … Again?”
C.J. Smith, Southside
I am one of 56 first cousins originating in Nebraska. While born in that state, I’ve lived in New York most of my life and, for the last 13 years, in Jacksonville. When I was a kid, we’d travel to our home state every few years and that’s where I acquired the taste for relatives — young, old and in-between. Fast forward to 1982. We lived in an 1850 farmhouse with nine bedrooms. With my loving husband agreeing, we sent out the invitations. “Just get here,” I wrote, “and we will feed you and house you.” Everyone had a rollicking good time and thus a tradition was begun. We decided to have a reunion every three years wherever a cousin lived and was willing to host. It involved the cousin planning the activities, finding hotels, etc. Every family paid their own way. Our roll call of states visited is New York (twice), Nebraska (three times), Colorado (twice), Nevada (twice), Florida, Vermont and Missouri. That brings us to 2018, where we will be ensconced in a state park not far from Omaha, Neb. In the beginning, I was one of the younger cousins who organized, and now we look forward to seeing what the next generation will do.
Judy G. Martin, Argyle
I/we are blessed with an extended family of children and grandchildren, all of whom live in Jacksonville, but since we comprise four separate households, the holidays present a challenge of how to get us all at the same place at the same time, so we have a simple tradition to make this work. On Christmas Eve, we gather in our (the elders of the clan) house in the late afternoon. At 5, all 18 of us sit down for a large traditional Christmas Dinner with all the fixings. We then go to the 7:00 Children’s Candlelight Service at a local church. On our way home, we tour the neighborhood to see the lights and house decorations. We’re home by 9, when we all sit in the Living Room, around the extensively decorated Christmas Tree (with many child-made ornaments) and open all the family presents (i.e., not Santa presents or stockings). We spend the rest of the evening (till the kiddies start falling asleep) just being a family together. The next day everyone is free to go to the in-laws or just be at home. But that one evening every year is the time I cherish the most. We are all together — as a family should be — celebrating our many blessings, chief among which, is each other.
Pat Crandall, West Beaches
After my wife and I were married many years ago, each wanted to bring to our new union what we thought would be so meaningful to the other from our own past. She had a tree in mind that would be all loaded down with decorations that were cherished and memorable from her past. I, on the other hand, had more of a traditional “German” kind of tree … with white candles we could light (and watch together with a bucket of water nearby) and big red velvet bows with large, green bulbs attached. As you might imagine, each of us felt strongly about “gifting” each other in our own way; whether the other would go along with this decor or not was secondary. After some loud discussion, I retired early from that Christmas Eve night “discussion.” Christmas morning, I wandered into the living area to see what had happened and how it had turned out. To my surprise, there was this … this … tree! For all the world, it looked like Walt Disney had thrown up on it! The poor tree, dripping with the weight of the prior disagreements the night before, stood as proudly as it could before us. It offered candles, bows, bulbs along with a mass of assorted other decorations and baubles, streamers, various other bulbs and electric lights of various colors trying as best they could to shine through all the other ornamentations that virtually hid any and all limbs on the tree itself. It had sacrificed its life to try to offer some degree of harmony and happiness to us and our new holiday home. After much laughter and reconciliation, that burdened tree did bring harmony and happiness — and still does to this day.
Rev. James Black, near Beaches
Our family has several, and don’t vary or there will be trouble. First one: We begin the Christmas holidays with celebrating St. Nicholas Day on December 5. Nicholas was my grandfather’s name and we would have a big family dinner at the grandparents’ home, then home to hang our stockings. Next morning, they would be filled with oranges, peanuts and small toys. I now have adult children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren and most of them have carried on the tradition. Birthdays are celebrated with the birthday table cloth (everyone’s name is on the tablecloth with birthdates). It’s always fun for the young ones to find their names. This year, we have a new name to add, that’s always a celebration.
Ruth Saunders, Mandarin
My favorite family tradition was from my childhood. Early each December, Mom would bake 150 or so Christmas cookies of various shapes. Christmas trees, sleighs, wreaths, bells, stars and Santa. She would make colored frostings and Mom, Dad, my brother and I would spent several hours frosting, putting white piping along the edges, putting sprinkles, etc., on them with great care. Mom would put them into a large dress box with wax paper separators and put them in put second refrigerator. We enjoyed both the effort and the reward of delicious cookies for weeks on end.
Jim Kresge, Jacksonville
One of many traditions comes to mind, but this is a favorite. Back in the ’70s, we had a very large square coffee table in our living room. Every Christmas Eve, we would pull it up very close to the Christmas tree, and prepare this table for our annual Fondue Christmas Eve dinner. We sat on cushions on the floor, and placed the fondue pots on the table, one with cheese fondue and one with oil for frying. We would have several courses, and my two children thoroughly enjoyed the departure from usual dinner routines; they knew this was something special. We would turn out all the lights and let the table be illuminated by tree lights and candles. Conversation was all about the coming event of Christmas anticipations and school vacation activities. What fun to spear your selections and do the dipping! Of course, the main event was dessert. Who doesn’t like chocolate fondue! The fondue pots now reside out of reach in my top kitchen cabinet, unused for many years as my children are now grown and have children of their own. Perhaps they will find them wrapped as a Christmas present under their own trees this year.
Donna Janesky, St. Nicholas
Actually, my family has two wonderful traditions. First one: My kids take their turn for having Thanksgiving Dinner at their home. We all bring a wish list for Christmas. We sit around the table having dessert and laughing while writing down our wishes. The second one is Christmas Day. First, breakfast at one of my daughter’s homes and then onward to my home. We gather around our gifts and then someone starts with the silly string attack. OMG! From that we open our wonderful gifts to one another. Dinner and dessert follow after the big clean up. Merry Christmas to all and God keep us all safe. Frances Setaro
Frances Setaro, Jacksonville
Thanksgiving is my favorite family tradition. Beyond that is Saturday lunch, usually with just my wife. We started that to get away from the children and teens populating our house. In the ’70s, it was hard to find a sit-down restaurant open on Saturday. Neither one of us had smart phones, so interruptions were minimal. We could talk about important things or just things. We still do that to this day. Today, there are hundreds of places open for lunch on Saturday that we enjoy.
Jeff Cooper, Southside