Tinseled traditions

Local Christmas customs take in books, bowling, baking and more

As a long-standing family tradition, Paul and Leah Antal, of Manistee, give their children holiday-themed books on Christmas Eve. Noah, Taylor, Heather and Griffen Antal are pictured in 2005, with their mom, Leah (center). (Courtesy photo)

As a long-standing family tradition, Paul and Leah Antal, of Manistee, give their children holiday-themed books on Christmas Eve. Noah, Taylor, Heather and Griffen Antal are pictured in 2005, with their mom, Leah (center). (Courtesy photo)

For many, this weekend will traditionally usher in their Christmas season.

For some, the season began Thursday when they watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on TV, and then gathered around their dining room table to break bread, carve turkey, and express joyful fellowship with family and friends.

For others, the season began the next day – Black (and Blue) Friday – when they elbowed and bruised their way through crowded stores to save a buck, or two.

And for a countless more, the Christmas season will begin today, or tomorrow, when they put up their Christmas trees.

Either way, either day, it’s festively fair to say this weekend – Thanksgiving Day weekend – has traditionally been recognized as the start of the Christmas season, one Legoed with tradition atop of tradition on top of tradition.

“My favorite Christmas tradition is having our children and grandchildren all home for a big Christmas breakfast with all the goodies, ya know, ham, bacon, pancakes, fruit, baked omelet, hash brown casserole, pumpkin roll and more,” said Sherry Revolt, 50, of rural Manistee.

“After breakfast, we open gifts, starting with the very youngest to the eldest. It’s a great morning. Then, in the afternoon, we travel to grandma’s house for Christmas dinner – another great meal with all the trimmings,” she said. “It’s an amazing day.”

Manistee High School graduate Taylor Antal, now a student at Albion College, has been an avid reader all her life, and for good reason.

“My favorite holiday tradition is that on Christmas Eve, my parents give my siblings and me a holiday-themed book that we read together, before we go to bed,” said the 19-year-old college student.

“My parents include a special note in our books. It’s exciting to see what book they choose, because they’re always something unique to us.

“They’ve been doing this since we were really little, which has resulted in a big collection of books for each of us,” she said. “And although the books have changed a lot as we’ve gotten older, it’s still something that means a lot to my brothers, my sister and me.”

Bill Tod’s favorite Christmas tradition is breathtaking – literally breathtaking.

“My favorite Christmas tradition involves snow tubing,” said the 72-year-old Manistee resident.

“Over the holidays I drive my grandchildren north to go snow tubing. The resort offers a J-Bar tow to the top of the hill, and an exciting ride

The Huber children of Manistee — Jeff, Katie, Megan and Sarah — enjoy their family's first gift-opening, entertainment show, which has since become an annual tradition. (Courtesy photo)

The Huber children of Manistee — Jeff, Katie, Megan and Sarah — enjoy their family’s first gift-opening, entertainment show, which has since become an annual tradition. (Courtesy photo)

to the bottom on a Teflon-covered truck tire tube.

“It’s a great bonding tool,” said Tod. “It’s a fantastic time for everyone.”

Andrew Huber, principal at Manistee High School, was only too happy to share his favorite family Christmas tradition, one that now takes “center stage” in their Manistee home.

“I’d like to say our favorite tradition is handed down from generations, but it’s something we started with our kids several years ago,” said Huber. “It was created out of simple childhood impatience – including my own.

“One Christmas one of our kids talked about how other families were able to open presents on Christmas Eve, instead of waiting until morning. The rest of our four suddenly wondered why we couldn’t switch our present opening time as well. It made perfect sense to not wait.

“I suddenly remembered my envy of such families from my own childhood, so my wife and I made a compromise,” said Huber. “We suggested that we would each have a present for one family member that could be opened on the night before – the price of an early reveal would be a display of talent to entertain the entire family.

“A few weeks later Christmas Eve was here and truthfully, I didn’t expect that much would be taking place as I hadn’t seen any rehearsing. However, Marcy and I were delighted at the display of acts we were presented.

“This had turned out to be the best present exchange we could have imagined that every year since produces a night of entertainment, laughs, and fun for all of us,” he said. “This will certainly be a tradition we maintain for our family.”

‘WE’D HAVE SUCH A GOOD TIME’

For former Manistee resident Dave Yarnell, one Christmas tradition literally bowled him over, year after year.

“Strangely, (my favorite Christmas tradition) probably developed out of boredom from the ‘traditional traditions,’” said Yarnell.

Being “Kid No. 5 in a family of six,” the 65-year-old Yarnell said his “older brothers and sisters were instrumental in helping me grow up.” The younger kids in his family, he said, “looked up to the older ones.”

So, whenever his older siblings came home for the holidays from college or military duty, a 10-pin, 10-frame “tradition” took them hostage.

Chuck Willis enjoys making gifts for his children and grandchildren, such as rag rugs, wooden picture frames and gift baskets with homemade canned good like stewed tomatoes and pickles. (Courtesy photo)

Chuck Willis enjoys making gifts for his children and grandchildren, such as rag rugs, wooden picture frames and gift baskets with homemade canned good like stewed tomatoes and pickles. (Courtesy photo)

“For some reason, the tradition we carried out for many years was to go bowling on Christmas Eve day,” said Yarnell. “Usually, we had the place pretty much to ourselves. We had a blast.

“We’d drink ginger ale – maybe because it looked like beer – and ate all kinds of bad snacks. We’d have such a good time we couldn’t wait for it to roll around next year … a great tradition.

“We never considered going bowling any other time of the year,” said Yarnell. “It was a Christmas Eve day sort of thing, only.”

Chuck Willis happily takes a hands-on approach to fulfilling his favorite annual Christmas tradition.

“My favorite tradition is making gifts for our kids and grandkids,” said Willis, 47, of Manistee. “I’ve made rag rugs with a loop, and picture frames out of recycled wood from our house.

“My wife, Dawn, enjoys crocheting and making slippers for our grandkids.

“We enjoy canning, too, so we pull things out of our garden and put together nice gift baskets of stewed tomatoes, spaghetti sauce, pickles and more,” said Willis.

‘WE’VE ALWAYS KEPT IT A SECRET’

Nancy Fortin, 50, of rural Manistee County, chuckled as she explained her favorite Christmas tradition. Well, sort of.

“It’s a secret,” she said. “When our kids were young, we all went to church and when we came home, the gifts were ‘magically’ out and waiting for us. It was a tradition.

(From left) Sarah Howard, of Manistee, visits with Santa in 2014, with her mom, Denise Dursum, her daughters Molly Martz and Emily Howard, and granddaughter Adeline Howard. (Courtesy photo)

(From left) Sarah Howard, of Manistee, visits with Santa in 2014, with her mom, Denise Dursum, her daughters Molly Martz and Emily Howard, and granddaughter Adeline Howard. (Courtesy photo)

“How? Who? We’ve always kept it a secret, even until today. Santa? Yep.”

Sarah Howard, 53, of Manistee, also chuckled aloud as she described her favorite Christmas tradition, or at least “one of my favorites.”

“Every Christmas Eve our three children – Emily, Molly and Jack – would all crawl into the same bed because they were so excited,” said Howard. “They’d laugh and giggle and it was just so nice to hear all that.

“A few years ago – grown as they are – they did the same thing. And of course, they laughed. We all laughed. It was pretty special.”

Brianna Pettinato, 16, broke into a big smile as she described her favorite Christmas tradition.

“It’s baking cookies,” said the Brethren High School junior. “I love decorating them. The hardest part, for me, is leaving some for the others to eat.”

Larryn Kukla, 20, of Manistee, said he especially enjoys sitting around the family Christmas tree and watching others open their gifts.

“We have a tradition where the youngest opens their gifts first – all their gifts, not just one, but all of them – and then it goes on from there, youngest to the oldest,” said Kukla. “It’s always nice and always fun.”

For Chelsea Harvey, 28, of Manistee, the best Christmas tradition is delivered by sleight-of-hand.

“My favorite holiday tradition has been our get-together on the eve of the holiday with all my aunts, uncles and cousins of about 40 people,” said Harvey.

“We have a potluck Christmas dinner, and then a white elephant gift exchange. This exchange allows us to ‘steal’ a gift from someone who already opened something, or pick a new gift once it’s your turn.

“The gifts stolen the most have included old, not-wanted items in my relatives houses like a 60-inch, 50-pound pipe wrench, to flying toy helicopters,” she said.

“With a family full of jokesters, everything is always a great laugh, and very interesting.”

Perhaps such seasonal sentiment should not – and cannot – be limited to a singular response to the question, “what is your favorite Christmas tradition?” After all, to structure that restriction – to confine answers to just one – would be too Scrooge-like.

Rather, there are unending answers to that question – an endless buffet of meals, gift-giving, caroling, nativities, sparkling decorations, festive trees, and on and on – that we all enjoy.

Just ask Sherry Revolt, who offered multiple choice answers to our supposedly restrictive question.

‘I TOUCH ALL THE CHRISTMAS TREES I SEE’

Sherry Revolt enjoys many Christmas traditions, including reaching out and touching every Christmas tree she sees. (Courtesy photo)

Sherry Revolt enjoys many Christmas traditions, including reaching out and touching every Christmas tree she sees. (Courtesy photo)

“As a young girl, our family traveled from Fountain on Christmas Eve to our grandparents’ home in Ludington,” said Revolt, in reflecting on other Christmas traditions she holds dear to her heart.

“My dad would always take the back way, no matter if there was a blizzard, or clear roads. It always seemed such a long way to travel.

“I remember Gram’s tree was always perfect, with those big clear colored bulbs and long glass ornaments,” she said. “I still remember touching those lights and ornaments and being told, ‘don’t touch that tree – you may look with your eyes, not your little fingers.’

“What made Gram Lessard’s Christmas memorable was my brothers and I would always, every year, receive a pair of socks, and a glass jar of Planters roasted peanuts. I looked forward to that Christmas gift, every year.”

And there’s still one more Christmas tradition Revolt shared.

“I touch all the Christmas trees I see, in stores, homes, wherever,” she said. “ I think they’re awesome. I have to look at the ornaments to try and see if they’re old, or new. Maybe there’s a story behind a specific handmade one.”

And finally, there’s Sharon Nottingham, who undoubtedly touched a Christmas chord in us all in explaining her favorite yuletide tradition.

“It’s just spending time with family,” said the 70-year-old Manistee resident. “That’s it, nothing else, nothing more, just spending time with my family is my favorite Christmas tradition.”

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Posted by David L. Barber

David L. Barber is the retired editor of the Manistee News Advocate. He contributes columns weekly for the News Advocate. You can contact him at dlbarber1006@gmail.com.

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