‘Tis the season: Community members reflect on holiday traditions, stories

The holidays are upon us, as residents are swarming local shops for the best deals, readily wrapping presents and joining the family for a festive afternoon baking seasonal cookies.

Many traditions are passed along for generations, whether its a gift exchange or a Christmas dinner with the entire family, who gather only one time a year.

We asked various city officials and community members to reflect on their experiences, sharing their favorite holiday traditions and the reasons they enjoy the holiday season.

Here’s what they had to say.

Upholding tradition

“Our family traditions have changed over the years as I have gotten older, and now I have children of my own. As a kid, we had many traditions, like who would be putting the angel on the tree; now there were four of us, so you had to wait of few years for your turn. Every year, we would go to midnight mass, then hurry home and wait for Santa to come. My mom always made sure our holidays were very special, and my husband, Troy and I will be creating those special traditions with our little girls. What I enjoy most about the holidays is spending time with my family and close friends, and enjoying the true meaning of Christmas.”

— Stacie Bytwork, Manistee Area Chamber of Commerce president

‘A Christmas Story’

“The only tradition that has survived most of my life is that I watch ‘A Christmas Story’ on Christmas Eve. My whole family moved to Florida, so the last seven years I went to my wife’s family Christmas. On Christmas morning, we open presents. I enjoy the decorations and other Christmas festivities.”

 Tyler Leppanen, executive and economic development director of the Manistee DDA 

Christmas morning festivities

“Early to middle of December, my wife and I host our family Christmas. Our two children, their spouses and our five grandchildren spend the weekend with us. This year my mother joined the festivities. We exchange gifts, have great meals and enjoy each other’s company.

“On Christmas Eve, my wife and I spend the night at one of our children’s homes, alternating each year. We’re able to partake in their Christmas morning celebration and spend quality time with the grandchildren. I enjoy spending time with family and maintaining our holiday traditions.”

— Thad Taylor, City of Manistee manager

Family by generation 

“We attend Christmas Eve church service; on Christmas Day, our family gathers at my parent’s home and celebrate Christmas together, my brothers come from all over the country — including Maryland and Texas. We usually have four generations of family there. My favorite thing about the holidays is time spent with family and friends.”

— Michelle Wright, City of Manistee clerk

Holiday carols by candlelight

“For as long as I can remember, on Christmas Eve we went to midnight mass and sang Christmas carols by candlelight. It was magical, and we continued that tradition with our own babies, along with skiing at Crystal Mountain.

“Every New Year’s Eve, our extended family would gather at Crystal Mountain for a full day of skiing. At night, the kids would join in the Torchlight Parade while the adults watched from the Vista; then we’d head home to a big pot of chili, and alternate between warming up by the campfire or fireplace. I cherish those memories, now that the kids are all grown and spread out across the USA.”

— Kathryn Kenny, executive director of the Manistee County Visitors Bureau

A ‘Charlie Brown’ tree

“One of our favorite family traditions is to select and cut a Christmas tree from one of our neighbors. It doesn’t need to have a perfect shape; in fact, we prefer ‘Charlie Brown’ trees. But it can’t be just any tree. Height is paramount. It has to be at least 10 feet tall, as we have vaulted ceilings and anything smaller looks out of place.

“Needless to say, a tree that big can be quite a challenge to cut, transport and get into the house, especially when there is considerable snow on the ground. This process has led to much laughter over the years.”

— Ed Bradford, City of Manistee chief financial officer

A time to reflect

“I will spend Christmas with the family, and bring in the new year with friends. For me, the holidays are a great time to decompress, study how your year went, and think about what ways you can improve the next year.”

— Xavier Verna, Ramsdell Regional Center for the Arts executive director



Posted by Ashlyn Korienek

Ashlyn is the cops & courts and city reporter for the Manistee News Advocate. You can reach her at (231) 398-3109 or akorienek@pioneergroup.com

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