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The varied traditions of the holiday season | Stu Bykofsky

Pajamas, pancakes, wafers, and music: Readers share their family holiday traditions

Philadelphia's Christmas tree shines brightly in LOVE Park. (Clem Murray / Staff Photographer)
Philadelphia's Christmas tree shines brightly in LOVE Park. (Clem Murray / Staff Photographer)Read moreClem Murray (custom credit) / Clem Murray

In a pre-Thanksgiving column last month, I suggested some dinner-table topics that could be discussed without provoking a civil war. One was a tradition of some kind that your family had observed.

That encouraged some readers to send theirs in.

The only one my family had was a gathering for the Passover seder. I recall my maternal grandfather -- tall, straight, bald, blue-eyed -- standing over the table, which held 20 people. Poppa led the prayers.

That was when the family all lived close. Now that we are scattered, the large seder exists only in golden memory.

Annmarie Ely of North Wales says her family gathers for Boxing Day, Dec. 26: “This gives everyone a chance to stay home on Christmas Day and relax before traveling to see extended family. At Boxing Day, we always sing Christmas carols and have a few people playing instruments. My aunt plays guitar and brings hand bells for the little kids. My brother-in-law plays the piano, and now and then my sister will join in on the flute. I am not a great singer, but love this tradition anyway.”

Center City’s Marsha Bailey says her tradition began “when my sister noticed that our Christmas tree ornaments were beginning to look a bit tattered and woebegone, so she suggested that every year we would bring a new ornament and something to eat and drink for the tree trimming, which we did on Christmas Eve.

“That was way back in the mid-’70s and this tradition continues to this day.

“My mother began to keep a written record of who brought what, and as we would trim the tree she would call out the year, the person, and what they brought, and you would pick it out of the box and hang yours.”

One Lansdowne native prefers not to give her name because she thinks her tradition is silly. Maybe it is, but what’s wrong with that?

It starts Christmas Eve, when the family gathers for a big dinner prepared by Mom. But here’s the kicker: Everyone is in pajamas of the same design. Mom and Dad and sisters and brothers and cousins, all in pajamas.

They finish trimming the tree and place the presents. Then everyone goes to sleep.

The next morning, Dad is up first and makes pancakes for the entire household. They are the size of appetizer plates and they just keep coming. Dad stands at the stove until everyone is stuffed.

Former broadcast executive Vince Benedict, who lives in Collegeville, says his tradition had him making a small batch of martinis, after which he would “sit sipping my drink as I watched my wife and four sons decorate the Christmas tree.

“My greatest joy came from seeing our tree decorated with the handmade ornaments the boys had created over the years, from nursery school right on through high school.

“And now, year by year, as Christmas gifts we return to each son the ornaments they made, to be used on their own Christmas tree, carrying on the tradition.”

Sister Linda Lukiewski runs Harrowgate’s St. Joan of Arc worship site and is third generation Polish American.

On Christmas Eve, she says, “we celebrated what is called the wigilia, or vigil, which is a meal of fish. Before the meal we break and share the Oplatek," the Christmas wafer, with someone else. “You then tell that person that you love them and wish them health and a happy and blessed New Year.”

If I hear from more readers, I may start a holiday tradition of publishing their stories.