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At its heart, the story of Christmas is a story of family.
Strip away all the latter-day Victorian accretions like Christmas trees and cards, put the older tradition of a great feast to one side, turn off the warblings of Bing Crosby and Mariah Carey, and what you have is that most profound, most central of human institutions: Family, gathered together in solidarity, united in hope, and cocooned in love.
Maybe that's why the Palm Beachers who shared their Christmas memories with us turned so often to home and hearth as they told us what makes this holiday so special. Here they are, offered with a wish for the merriest of Christmases to those who celebrate:
Skip Aldridge, co-chairman, Citizens' Association of Palm Beach
One of our best Christmas memories is from 2011. I was being treated for stage 4 tongue cancer, and I had a brief break between my chemotherapy and my radiation treatment for two weeks prior to Christmas. My son, daughter-in-law, and grandkids flew to California from Kansas City and surprised me for Christmas. They helped my wife, Linda, throw a Christmas party for our friends in southern California and from around the country.
Though it was the worst of times, it was the best of times for our family. Despite my illness, we spent Christmas as normally as possible, and will always remember Christmas of 2011 as one of our most blessed times together.
We will be in Kansas City with our family and friends for our traditional Christmas. We are hoping for another white Christmas.
Julie Araskog, Town Council member
The joy of Christmas was always in our home. When we were young, my father, mother, brother, sister and I loved to gather together to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, sing Christmas carols and attend the Church Pageant as congregants or participants. My mother would make our favorite Swedish meatballs, turkey, the best stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy imaginable, and homemade cranberry sauce — a traditional meal we continued through the generations.
Years later, my father, mother, sister, her husband and I loved seeing our tradition continue as my three nieces and nephew participated in their glorious pageants telling the story of Christ’s birth. We joined my sister's wonderful in-laws and sang carols reminding us of years past. My father had a beautiful voice. He loved to sing, and I can still hear his voice belting out "Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord." ["Battle Hymn of the Republic"]
We would gather with my brother’s and sister’s family — 15 in all — for beautiful Christmas lunches. Christmas was always loving, spirit-filled and a time we celebrated all of our blessings, but especially the grace of our Lord and our time together as a family.
Maggie Zeidman, Town Council President
I have the best time at Christmas. I grew up in a Christmas family, with Nativity scenes in every room, a 10-to-12-foot noble fir tree, goose and wild rice for dinner, and the entire house outlined in red lights, like (the movie) "Christmas Vacation."
But my most favorite memory is my husband, my wonderful Jewish husband who becomes Santa Claus every year both in spirit and attire. He is the best Santa. When Santa drops by early on Christmas Eve and tells them he knows how good they have been, you can see the relief and the anticipation in those little angelic faces.
Donald Singer, co-chairman, Citizens' Association of Palm Beach
My wife, Sylvia, and I wish all a happy and healthy holiday season.
We plan to celebrate with our family (both here and in New York), take a cruise after a three-year wait, and enjoy all the richness of our town's cultural and community activities, from Kravis to Dramaworks, to restaurants, to Civic Associations events, and to tree and Hanukkah candle lightings.
Scotty Moses, resident
A few Christmas memories: Going on Christmas Eve to the late-night Festal Eucharist and homily and listening to the Bethesda Choir at Bethesda-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church. Hanging out on Christmas Day with Lucy Anthony Webster, who is from one of Palm Beach’s pioneer families, in her cabana at the B&T — and then heading back to her place for a lovely Christmas dinner. And having to watch the movie “A Christmas Story” over and over.
W. Bradford Gary, resident
My wife, Susan, and I are 20-year residents. Here’s the story of how wer arrived in Palm Beach in 1999.
We sailed south over 1,000 miles offshore through freezing temperatures and icing weather from a yacht club In Annapolis, Maryland, to reach Lake Worth Inlet — our jumping off point for a planned winter cruise to the Bahamas.
On Christmas Day we sailed into Lake Worth, where we would anchor overnight prior to an early morning departure across the Gulf Stream. Unfortunately, our boat ran aground on the hard bottom of Lake Worth. To celebrate, we broke out a bottle of rum and waited for high tide.
Finally, in the twilight of Christmas Eve, a “Good Samaritan" vessel passed us a tow line and pulled us over to a dock on Palm Beach.
The friendly dock owner allowed us to stay overnight at his dock. He suggested we have a walk around his North End neighborhood to see the Christmas lights. We discovered the charming North End of Palm Beach and ended up buying a small Bermuda-style house, where we now live full-time.
Our first Christmas in Palm Beach was well-spent.
We never reached the Bahamas.
Michael Pucillo, former town councilman
Petite Marmite, the Worth Avenue restaurant run for many years my parents, Gus and Gerri Pucillo, was always very busy around Christmastime, beginning on Christmas Eve and continuing through the New Year.
Late on Christmas Eve, after the restaurant closed for the night, my father would bring home a lot of traditional Southern Italian dishes — linguini with clam sauce, a salted cod dish and others. A couple of times, he even roasted a pig. At our house on Brazilian Avenue, we would have a party that lasted until after midnight for friends from Capri, restaurant workers and family, including cousins, aunts and uncles.
The next day, it was back to the restaurant, which was always open on Christmas.
Maura Ziska, resident
A favorite Christmas memory of mine was when my girls were younger and the Elf on the Shelf made its daily visits. One day it surprised my daughters with plane tickets to New York City for the weekend. The flight left a couple hours later, so we scrambled to pack our bags. We then enjoyed a wonderful time seeing the tree, the Rockettes and shopping on Madison Avenue.
Josh Martin, alternate architectural commissioner
My favorite Christmas memory was three years ago when I spent Christmas in Washington, D.C., with my first, newly born niece, Caroline, my sister and my brother-in-law. We enjoyed the cold weather and rare snow in D.C. It was a heartfelt three days with my family and one I will cherish for the rest of my life.
Patrick Segraves, Landmarks Preservation commissioner
My favorite Christmas memory as a child was having Christmas at my grandparents' home with my family and having Christmas dinner at the children’s table with my sister and cousins. This has transitioned to recent Christmas memories of having Christmas with my wife, family and grandchildren on the beach here in Palm Beach.
Bobbie Lindsay, Town Council member
My most favorite Christmas memories in Palm Beach were the annual Christmas Eve rooftop Santa landing and festivities at a best friend's North End home. The growing family, with ultimately 11 children, threw the same party for 40-plus years in the same house. Over that time, multiple generations of their children and their friends' children attended, with the happy crowd expanding each year. By the 2000s, some grandchildren had grown up to wear the Santa costume, and great-grandchildren were being thrilled just the same way we were decades earlier.
Somehow, Santa's bag of gifts always seemed to replenish itself, and all children, in and outside of the family, received a gift. In the house decked out with décor and Christmas cheer, carols were sung to live piano accompaniment, adults enjoyed a cocktail or two, and a very joyful and memorable time was had by all.
Mayor Danielle Moore
Our family tends to have a very low-key, casual day. We open presents in the the morning, and then I usually cook burgers for all of us for lunch. Then it's off to my mother's to open the presents under her tree. Dinner is a quiet event, with just two or three friends. I'm so grateful and thankful to my friends and family. Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah.
Beth Johnson Lane
My husband Fred and I are residents of Palm Beach only three years. We first purchased Elisabeth Gillet’s home on Sandpiper (Drive), then moved to The Phipps Estate. This is our first Christmas in Palm Beach. … We’re creating memories and traditions as we speak! Wishing all the very best for 2023!
Rt. Rev. Archimandrite Glen J. Pothier, St. Edward Catholic Church
I grew up in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, in Eastern Canada. In some years, there was snow, but many times it was a green Christmas. I remember as a kid going to Mass on Christmas Eve with my parents and brothers, and then going over to my grandparents’ home for meat pie. At home, Mom made her Christmas bread, which was filled with raisins and cinnamon and sweet syrup, and we would have eggnog. Mom and Dad would tuck us in bed, and there was much anticipation of Santa’s coming. After opening presents on Christmas Day, we would go visit other relatives and show off some of our new treasures, but be back at home in time for a turkey dinner. We laughed and enjoyed each other’s company.
Another of my favorite things about getting ready for Christmas was listening to Christmas music — at that time on albums — with favorites from Gene Autry, Burl Ives, Bing Crosby, and Perry Como. I remember watching Christmas television programs about Rudolph and Santa and Frosty. It was all so much simpler then.
As an adult, my favorite Christmas memories are about going shopping here in West Palm Beach with my godchildren when they were little kids. We would go to Toys ’R’ Us and buy whatever they wanted, and lots of it! It was a day out with Uncle Glen and their parents. The kids were happy, and I got to give them presents and see their excitement and innocence. It allowed me to relive my own happy childhood.
Rev. Tim Schenck, The Episcopal Church of Bethesda-by-the-Sea
Some of my favorite Christmas memories come from the years my children were of pageant age. One year, when he was 5, our son, Zak, played one of the three kings. Before the pageant, he told us he was going to do the “Lambeau Leap.” In other words, he was intent on “leaping into the stands” like a Packers player following a touchdown in Green Bay. We thought he was kidding but, by God, he did. After the Magi presented their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, Zak turned around and jumped into my wife’s arms in the front pew. He then went right back into character kneeling before the manger.
And it’s a good reminder that when it comes to Christmas, as in life, things don’t always go according to plan. And that’s OK. Jesus still comes to the manger and is reborn in our hearts year after year.
Rev. Robert Norris, Royal Poinciana Chapel
I learned early on in my ministry that holy days are not holidays for clergy. Preparation for worship services begins long before the eve of Christmas, and the final surrounding details of readiness lead right up to the day before. Getting ready for everyone else’s chapel experience of worship on Christmas Eve (and this year Christmas Day) is likened to running a marathon that requires a sprint to the finish. Along with everything that culminates in a sense of awe and wonder by the workings of so many to the enjoyment of everyone present, there comes for me after all the holy commotion, the few sacred moments of quiet, the peaceful serenity of stillness, and it is then with a deep sense of gratitude that as a pastor, once again, I say to myself … this is what I get to do. Then after turning out the lights and locking the door, there comes that delightful anticipation of arriving home, where I put it all in the past and where, no longer as pastor, I get to be what I enjoy most, being Debbie’s husband, and Megan’s dad on Christmas. I am so very, very blessed.
Arlette Gordon, resident
So many memories ... I loved when it snowed on Christmas Day. I stayed awake all night so I could be the first one downstairs to open my presents, even though I found them hidden away weeks earlier. Now, it's all about spending holidays with family.
This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Daily News: Palm Beachers share their memories of merry Christmases past