As a military brat, Linda Stuart has celebrated Christmas in many places.
Over the course of her childhood, she and her family moved from Oklahoma to Italy and then to Germany before settling in Texas. Throughout all the moving, Christmas remained her favorite holiday as she and her family picked up traditions along the way.
One of Stuart’s favorite Christmas traditions was setting up a model train to circle their Christmas tree, something her family discovered in Germany.
“Another tradition we found and left in Germany was actually giving bad kids coal in their stockings,” Stuart said, laughing. “Fortunately, I never got coal.”
As Christmas traditions get passed through generations and are sometimes lost, looking back on them offers a sense of nostalgia. These traditions vary greatly from family to family, though, and comparing stories offers a compelling look into peoples’ lives.
Stuart and three friends at the Papillion Senior Center recently shared their favorite holiday memories while making Christmas decorations.
Diane Gamel, for example, did not have the transient childhood Stuart experienced. Born and raised in Boston, she only recently moved to Nebraska to be with her daughter and her family.
Growing up in Boston, Gamel said she was surrounded by family. With two sisters and a brother, her grandmother living above them and a multitude of close cousins, Gamel said Christmas mornings were often very hectic.
“We’d wake up in the morning and run into the living room. There were so many of us, you were lucky if you could even get into the room,” Gamel said.
For Gamel and her family, decorating for Christmas was a process that often got drawn out throughout the month of December. They began putting lights in the windows on Dec. 1, she said, but never put up a tree until the week before Christmas.
“We always got a real tree for Christmas and decorating that tree together every year was my favorite tradition,” Gamel said.
Lynda Bertucci grew up in a different area of the country as well. Originally from Louisiana, this year will mark Bertucci’s first Christmas in Nebraska. She said she’s not quite sure what to expect, but she will miss the traditions she established in Louisiana.
Most of those traditions, Bertucci said, took place on Christmas Eve. First, she and her husband would attach their hay wagon to their tractor and drive through town singing Christmas carols with their family and anyone else who wanted to join.
“Then,” Bertucci said, “we’d go to the bonfire.”
Bertucci isn’t sure if that tradition is a common one in the South or something only her family did, but whatever the case, Bertucci and her family always followed their caroling by lighting a bonfire along the Mississippi River to light the way for Santa Claus.
While traditions often make for wonderful memories, sometimes breaking from tradition can be just as fun. For Mary Delacruz, that was how she celebrated Christmas three years ago.
Delacruz grew up in Fort Worth, Texas, and lived most of her adult life in San Francisco. She said her daughter and grandchildren in Nebraska did not enjoy the distance, and neither did she. So, three years ago, she decided to surprise them.
“I’m moving up to Nebraska,” Delacruz told her daughter when she called. “Don’t tell the kids.”
One of Stuart’s favorite Christmas memories also involved her family. When her youngest daughter was 12, Stuart said, she asked her mom if she believed in Santa Claus. Stuart told her daughter she liked to believe that there would be things under the tree in the morning that weren’t there the night before.
“That child stayed awake until two in the morning to put my Christmas gift from her under the tree,” Stuart said. “That was my favorite Christmas because that was really somebody doing something just for me, to make sure I know that she loves me enough to do that just for me.”
— Bre Smith is a student at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and her story was an assignment in a newswriting and reporting class.