Families share traditions through the generations
By Victoria Hampton
The warm, fragrant smell of plum pudding steaming on the stove is an English hallmark passed down to sisters Susan Cort Johnson and Jennifer Hinrichsen of Westwood and Sacramento, California, respectively, from their grandmother Gladys Morley Cort.
“Eating plum pudding brings good memories of my grandmother to each Christmas celebration even though she is no longer physically with us,” says Susan. “Also, it keeps us connected to our English heritage.”
What enriches our country is the melting pot of culture that shines during the holidays when generations-old traditions are shared with family and friends. Many of the season’s celebrations are based around feasts, decorations and activities that are reminiscent of Christmases past.
Gladys Morley Cort immigrated to Sacramento from Eccleston, England, in 1922 because of the poor economy in England after World War I. Gladys brought with her the Christmas tradition of making plum pudding for each of her childrens’ families, three daughters and one son.
Before Christmas, Susan and Jennifer’s family would drive from Latrobe, California, to Sacramento to visit their grandparents. Susan says her family would be given their presents along with a bowl of plum pudding with bird’s custard to pour over the dessert.
“She had bowls she steamed all of the puddings in and would give to each of her children,” Jennifer says. “I believe she tied them with a ribbon.”
Jennifer has carried on the tradition of making two plum puddings for her family during Christmas. She even uses her grandma’s original bowls.
“They are kind of beat up now, but work great,” she says. “I have special Christmas dish towels I cover them with. One is for all of the family to share and one is for Dad.
“We grew up eating plum pudding and loved it. We always looked forward to it as children.”
Staying True to German Upbringing
While Susan and Jennifer enjoy a centuries-old English tradition during Christmas, for Barbara Milford the holiday is all about the bird.
When Barbara moved from Hamburg, Germany, to Melbourne, Florida, in 1978, she stayed true to a few of her German holiday traditions, including the holiday feast of goose, potatoes and red cabbage.
To ensure she does not have to settle for a lesser-quality bird, two months before Christmas Barbara orders a goose from a company in New York. It costs her more than $200, but she insists it is the best.
“I always think of all the effort it takes cooking it so I want the best,” Barbara says.
On Christmas day, she invites friends over for a dinner—but only friends who enjoy goose, she says, noting that some people think the bird is too greasy.
“All my friends are excited for this Christmas,” Barbara says. “If you like goose, you love it.”
While a home-cooked meal satisfies family and friends, decorations truly bring the holiday spirit into a home.
On Christmas Eve, Barbara’s family would decorate the tree, garnish their dining room table with pine branches and enjoy carp for dinner.
“We had real candles on our tree,” says Barbara. “They were only on when people were in the room because of the fire hazard.”
Trimming the Tree and Packages
The tradition of Christmas trees came to America in the 1800s with the Puritans. Ornaments did not become festive fair until the 1840s with the immigration of the German and English.
The first ornaments were made in Germany of hand-cast lead and hand-blown glass. As they gained popularity, they became more elaborately made of silk thread embellished with tinsel, stiff spun glass and figurines.
Stores such as F.W. Woolworth Co. in New York City sold German-made ornaments in a five-and-dime fashion, offering an assortment of inexpensive household items.
In an industry dominated by mass-produced ornaments, Verla Jean Zielke of Hermiston, Oregon, stays true to the fine craft of ornaments, hand-painting a variety of scenes on glass ornaments for her family and gifting them in small boxes.
On Christmas morning, Barbara would discover her presents under the tree. Before she could open them, she had to recite a poem.
“My mother said I never got past the first stanza,” Barbara says with a laugh.
Celebrating in Song
For centuries, poems and songs have been a communal way to commemorate holidays and cultural history.
Classic caroling songs from Russia and Yupik tribal songs are the center of a holiday tradition in Dillingham, Alaska.
Carol Shade of Dillingham started participating in the starring ceremony at St. Seraphim of Sarov Russian Orthodox Church in 1977.
Carol says the tradition is to go from house to house with a star made of wood and decorated in garland, and sing festive songs in Slavonic. Because of the local Yupik’s tribal influence in Dillingham, the starring groups also sing in Yupik.
The houses the starring groups visit offer something to eat or drink.
“Some families bake or make a meal,” says Carol. “It’s not about the food, though. It’s about bringing the joy.”
The starring ceremony represents the star the three wise men followed when Christ was born, which the Russian Orthodox Church celebrates according to the Gregorian calendar on January 7, with New Year’s Eve on January 13.
“I was not used to the different days, but it’s still celebrating the birth of Christ,” says Carol.
The starring event starts the night of Christmas, January 7, with a ceremony at the church and the first starring at the priest’s house. Starring groups travel from house to house after work weekdays and for most of the day on weekends.
It ends New Year’s Eve, January 13, with another ceremony—known as the Molieben or prayer—and a bonfire.
“It’s a time of rejoicing and gathering,” says Carol.
When a Russian expedition discovered Alaska in 1741, it opened the region to immigration and a blending of Russian and native tribal traditions.
Today, the Russian Orthodox Church may be the hub of the starring ceremony, but the event is a way for the community to come together and spread holiday cheer. For residents in Dillingham, the ceremony is a hallmark of Christmas.
Whether a tradition is based around food, decorations or celebrations, the holiday season is about bringing family and friends together and, in some cases, sharing traditions that have been passed down for generations.
For Susan and Jennifer, Christmas would not be the same without plum pudding.
“Some things just are Christmas,” says Susan. “Even if you served plum pudding in the summer, it would still remind me of Christmas.”
Verla Jean Zielke with one of her custom-painted ornaments exhibiting an ice skating scene.
A Personalized, One-of-a-Kind Christmas Gift
When it comes to large families, it can be a struggle to get every member something they appreciate without depleting your bank account. Verla Jean Zielke of Hermiston, Oregon, found a solution. She hand paints ornaments for her four children, 10 grandchildren and 23 great- grandchildren.
“It’s something that is inexpensive and will last a long time,” says Verla Jean, who gives the ornaments in small boxes. “It is a gift each grandchild could keep even after grandma’s gone.”
Verla Jean has taken art classes and says she enjoys painting. It takes her one to three hours to finish an ornament. She uses standard glass Christmas balls and acrylic paint.
“I look through Christmas cards sometimes,” Verla Jean says, explaining how she decides what to paint. “Some of them I originate.”
She paints a variety of scenes, from elaborate flower designs to children playing in the snow. This Christmas, her family will enjoy snowman-themed ornaments, each with the words “Great- Grandma Verla 2014” inscribed on them.
Community members visit the Tillamook Animal Shelter in Tillamook, Oregon, to share Christmas morning with adoptable pets.
Photo by Maria Nagy
Share the Holiday with Adoptable Pets
Bring holiday cheer to four-legged friends by spending part of your holiday season at a local humane society or animal shelter.
In Tillamook, Oregon, community members are invited to the Tillamook Animal Shelter beginning at 10 a.m. Christmas to walk and play with adoptable dogs.
Shelter manager Maria Nagy says the event is important to the well-being of the dogs.
“Socialization of the dogs is important,” she notes.
The shelter dogs are able to experience groups of people of all ages. It is important to familiarize the dogs with different situations and people so the animals can be successfully placed in forever homes, Maria says.
Maria and volunteers offer hot chocolate and holiday treats to visitors. More than 20 people attended the event in 2013.
“There are still many people who don’t know about the shelter,” says Maria. “It was an amazingly good turnout.”
Maria says she was surprised so many people were willing to visit the shelter on Christmas morning, let alone bring gifts. Visitors donated toys, blankets, food and treats. She says the items needed most are blankets and towels, but everything helps.
“We’re a community-supported animal shelter and we wouldn’t make it without community support,” she says.
Check with your local humane society about holiday events and ways to give back to the four-legged community.
The Tillamook Animal Shelter is at 1315 Eckloff Road. For more information about the shelter, visit www.tillamookanimalshelter.org.
David Pichcuskie sets 150,000 lights to Christmas songs in his yard in Stanfield, Oregon.
Photo by EJ Harris/East Oregonian
Lighting Up the Neighborhood
By Victoria Hampton
A light display featuring dazzling arches, star-topped trees and frolicking reindeer transforms David Pichcuskie’s yard into a winter wonderland.
For the past seven years, David has made his Stanfield, Oregon, home a Christmas destination for people from the Tri-Cities to Boise.
“I saw musical lights on TV, looked into it and started doing it,” says David.
The display is set to music, with 13 songs played each night. David designed the display so certain lights turn on, off, flash or change colors during different parts of the song, keeping time to the beat.
“Silent Night” uses all of the 150,000 lights in a symphony of flashing colors.
David has an FM transmitter dialed to 106.9 so viewers can hear the music from their vehicle’s radio.
“People around here respect me a lot for the light show,” says David. “I don’t charge anyone anything. I couldn’t imagine doing that.”
David has set up bins for people to donate canned food for a church food bank, but this year he will raise money for Cancer Care Northwest in Spokane.
His wife, Terri, was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2013. In March, after battling nearly nine months, Terri died.
“My wife insisted I keep doing the light display,” says David. “I promised her no matter what I would keep doing it.”
He plans to set up an online account so people can donate to the center.
The display runs from December 1 to January 1. On December 23 and 24, the Stanfield Fire Department brings Santa on a fire truck so children can let him know what they want for Christmas.
“By the time the first is here, I’m usually struggling to finish it,” says David.
He hires two people to help him set up the display, which takes a month to complete. Aside from arranging the display in his yard, it takes David about 13 hours to program each song using Light-O-Rama software on his computer.
A cord runs from his computer to a main control box. It is hooked up to nine more control boxes, where various lights are plugged in.
Five miles of wiring and extension cords stretch around David’s house to deliver electricity to all the different light features, such as 18 arches, nine mega trees and many more figurines.
He changes the light display every year.
“I have to be able to picture the show in my head,” says David. “It’s a lot of work.”
David also has a Fourth of July display before Stanfield’s firework show.
He hopes to buy a public address system so people can hear the music better from outside their vehicles.
For people interested in visiting, David says there is plenty of parking since his house is across the street from Bard Park.
For the month of December, David’s electricity bill is about $600. David usually pays $100 a month, but he says the extra expense is worth it.
The event runs from 6 to 9 p.m. at 325 W. Roosevelt Ave. in Stanfield.