Locals Share Their Personal Traditions

There are holiday traditions in aspirational books and television shows. Then, there are the real family traditions to celebrate the holiday season. Here are some good ones shared by local familiar faces. From an annual Christmas Eve date with a book to baking countless pies, locals celebrate this season in their own ways.

Luminarias.  Little brown paper bags filled with a scoop of sand and a carefully placed votive candle right in the middle of the sand.  I know exactly how to make them.  I could make them in my sleep.  When you light the candle, the bag transforms into a beautiful little lantern or luminaria.  I grew up trailing behind my dad and our red wooden Radio Flyer wagon filled with all we needed to make each little bag, and then another, to line our entire driveway and both sides of the street leading to our house.  I grew up in Arizona, where making luminarias and placing them out on Christmas Eve was a beloved holiday tradition.  At twilight, Dad would light them.  Magic.  Later, I will do this with my children in California.  And again, in Essex.  I hope they, too, will make magical luminarias with their loved ones one day.  

Holiday traditions are so wonderfully unique to each of us and, like the holidays, come only once a year.  This year, we decided to see what some of our friends and neighbors are up to as we all begin to look ahead to the holiday season.

Assorted fall pies flat lay on brown wood plank table, Thanksgiving seasonal baking
Assorted fall pies flat lay on brown wood plank table, Thanksgiving seasonal baking
Annie Cameron is a force ...

Annie Cameron is a force of awesomeness in Essex, from town business to community organizing, she makes it happen.  She is also number 11 of 12 kids.  For her, growing up, the holidays meant lots of people and lots of food.  “Think Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder,” she says.  Before Thanksgiving and Christmas, Annie and her family had to make pies, pumpkin and apple, with a few mincemeats as well (because, her mother explained, old people like them) for a very large crowd.  They lived in a big old house that had huge built-in refrigerators, so they had plenty of space to make plenty of pies.  If you were in the house, you had to help.  Bigger kids made the dough and sliced apples, while the younger kids had the happy job of peeling bags and bags of apples.  Annie recalls that her mother was amazing, making 20 or more of each kind of pie to give away to family friends and still have enough for the holiday.  “Her apple pie was spicy and flavorful - her secret was always to double the spice.”

To this day, Annie makes pies.  Because Christmas is so busy, she bakes pies before Thanksgiving and gives them to anyone she thinks needs a pie, every year is different.  Her grandmother was said to have a “pie hand,” so Annie has been striving to nail the perfect crust, and thinks she just might have.

“It’s my thing that makes me think of a very happy childhood,” she explains.  But adds, “If you’re waiting for me to tell you about how my kids join me in baking, or that we had a dance party and laugh, that’s not going to happen because they flee when I’m baking!”

Bruce & Dede Warren are arguably the nicest ...

Bruce and Dede Warren are arguably the nicest people in Manchester.  (Wouldn’t you agree?)   They are also, lucky for us, the owners of the Laughing Gull Cafe in Manchester.  It says something about Bruce and Dede that they were quite convinced that they did not actually have any holiday traditions when I approached them.  But sure enough, while leaning over the bakery case at the cafe and chatting, out came more than a few — I am guessing that lovely events are just so normal for this close-knit family that they no longer seem special; what a wonderful way to be.

The first tradition to come out was The Christmas Tree.  When Bruce began speaking of the yearly tree standing event, I was a little nonplussed—then I saw the images.  The tree is massive.  I mean really, really big.  Like whatever you are thinking, way bigger.  They estimate that it is around 25-30 feet most years.  They find it, they get it to the house, and then they erect it.  It’s a thing.  Always with a tinge of joyful recklessness, they have been doing this for as long as Dede can remember.  It takes no less than four people to pull it through the door.   And again to get it out.  I can only imagine the needle vacuuming that has to take place once it’s gone.

Besides the world’s largest Christmas tree, Dede and Bruce spoke of how the 16 family members all have stockings hand knitted by Dede and her mother.  They each buy small inexpensive gifts to fill one another’s stockings.  They call it “paper bag stockings.”  They also organize a Secret Santa and a Yankee Swap.  It came up that everyone in their family has a Christmas get up of some kind.  I was shown images of three of them in full-on inflatable holiday suits.  Gargantuan tree aside, I am feeling like the Warren’s holiday tradition may simply and wonderfully be just having a marvelous time together.

Be warned: Jade Gedon's untraditional holiday tradition ...

Please be warned: The next holiday tradition may cause acute envy.  Jade Gedeon, jewelry designer and owner of We Dream in Colour in Essex, and her family have created a holiday tradition to, as she puts it, “be untraditionally traditional and seek out different food/gifts/activities.”  Growing up in Trinidad, Jade’s family would often hop on a flight and spend Christmas wherever her mom fancied or, in fact, pointed to on a map.  

Jade and her husband have adopted this tradition with their own family, alternating years­ — one spent with family at home, then to another in a place that offers an entirely new experience.  She notes that it “1000%” takes the pressure off the holiday and allows her to appreciate time spent together much more than going overboard on gifts or hosting.  It also offers amazing inspiration for them as a creative couple and introduces the kids to all kinds of new foods, cultures and traditions elsewhere.  

Over the years they have visited Vienna, Mexico City, Marrakesh, London, Quebec, Bordeaux, Paris and Cape Town.  This year they are heading to Milan, Venice, and Zermatt.  Right.  I am definitely thinking I need to add this to my holiday traditions.

Anyone who knows Maria Schmidt knows that she is all about family.  

The Schmidts of Manchester blends their cultures for holiday magic ...

The Schmidts kick off the holiday season with a new set of matching holiday pjs for the whole crew.   Sometimes coordinated and sometimes not.  But always mandatory attire for Christmas Eve when one gift can be opened early.  Said gift is always (always) selected by Maria making sure to curate it such that the photo taken to send out on Christmas morning to family far away is perfect!

Christmas gift opening is followed by a Mexican brunch to celebrate Maria’s heritage.  This includes:  Chilaquiles (fried corn tortilla chips smothered in spicy tomato sauce and melted cheese), Huevos con Chorizo (eggs scrambled with soft, Mexican chorizo), chorizo, tortillas, and Atole (a sweet, thickened beverage steeped in cinnamon).  Yum!

In looking to Maria’s husband Gary’s German heritage, they play pickle hide-and-seek.  Right. Pickle hide-and-seek refers to the German tradition of hanging a pickle ornament on the tree after all the gifts have been opened.  The first person to find the pickle receives a special gift. 

Finally, Mark Stolle's date with Dylan Thomas ...

And finally, our beloved bookstore owner, Mark Stolle, who is, in my experience, endlessly wonderful, of course has the most charming way to kick off the holiday season. 

“At the start of every Christmas season I have a tradition of reading Dylan Thomas' A Child's Christmas in Wales.  But I need the mood to be Christmassy.  So, after work, on the day I set up the lights in my Christmas window, I shut off all the rest of the lights and sat on the couch and squintilly read "One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking ….” 

What better way to quietly welcome in the holidays than this.

Wishing you and yours a beautiful holiday season as we all look forward to our own traditions.  Happy holidays!