Holiday Heritage

Readers delight in sharing their Christmas customs

Posted on Nov 28 2021 in Features

The December holiday season is all about celebrating traditions.

From the holy religious and cultural celebrations and commemorations to the folklore to the commercial “cornucopia … of unbridled avarice,” this time of year is special for most of us in many different ways.

Like various cultures, every family seems to have its own way of celebrating this time of year, year after year, as well.

We asked readers to share stories of their own holiday traditions, past or present. We received 59 mailed and emailed submissions from around the state. Many were accompanied with photos. All were touching or funny, colorful or sweet, or a combination. 

Those whose stories appear here received $50. One randomly selected submission was also selected for a $50 prize. That reader was Susan Brown of French Lick, who shared memories of cooking with her grandmother.

Here’s a holiday sampler, beginning at right and continuing through page 22. We hope you enjoy them as much as we did.

Cutting cake together

Christmas cake

When my husband Tom and I met, my kids were 14 and 12; his were 4 and 2. Not too much in common there. So, when Christmas came, I had to figure out something for both sets of kids despite the age difference.

Everyone loves a birthday party! What better way to include everyone? After all, it is Jesus’ birthday! So, I made a cake. Since it was Christmas, I put on a sprig of holly. No birthday cake is complete without a candle – a big red one. Then, we sing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus. Then the youngest gets to blow out the candle.

The best part is the “kids” are now 59, 57, 49 and 47, and we are still doing it! Now, the youngest is our great granddaughter.

Last year, I passed the candle, holder, holly, and recipe to our older daughter, but I’ll still make the cake while I am able.

Patricia Boscher | Mitchell, Indiana 

Baking up a tradition

Tray of cookies

Cookie Day is a favored tradition for several years with treasured friends. Not only is the day enjoyable (and tiring), so is the anticipation and preparation for the day.

The signature cookie for the day is Christmas cutouts … double batches … times two. We bake them, and our husbands decorate them. The guys’ tradition is to complain about how many cookies we make and devise ways to convince us to cut back. And then, they always turn out great looking cookies! 

We finish the day with milk and cookies while watching “Prancer.” 

Sandy Blilie | Angola, Indiana 

A season of light and memories

Decorated house

When I was growing up in Northwest Indiana with my two sisters, Mom and Dad always made this truly the most wonderful time of the year!

Now that I am an adult, this love for Christmas that my family created for me still burns like a wild fire in my heart. But unfortunately, I was never able to have a family of my own. So, each year at my home, I decorate the entire interior and exterior for this amazing Christmas holiday. It is not the average setup, and I have often been called “Clark” (as in “Griswold” from the movie “Christmas Vacation”) because of my “hobby” — now full-blown obsession. My display consists of approximately 40,000 Christmas lights all synchronized to numerous Christmas carols along with numerous other handmade Christmas decorations and props.

I now see about 5,000 guests each Christmas season as I nightly hand out candy canes and other Christmas treats to all. I see the glow of the lights in the eyes and on the faces of the children and even the “big kids” knowing that they are feeling like I do inside and that I am creating similar traditions for those families that my parents did for my sisters and me.

Christopher N. Lash | Lafayette, Indiana 

Piecing together family Fun

Puzzle photo

Our grandchildren enjoy working a Christmas puzzle together as each family arrives at our house to celebrate. The first grandkids to arrive begin work immediately on the puzzle with anticipation of the “Cousin Christmas Fun” about to begin.

This allows their parents to unload the car and settle in, and the necessary secrets and behind-the-scene activities to progress.

One year, the picture puzzle was themselves — the grandchildren in front of our Christmas tree! The family photo Christmas puzzle remains a big hit with the kids! 

The memories shared as the puzzle is completed is a treasured tradition to make our Christmas special.

Lisa Cramer | Greensburg, Indiana 

Links in the chain

Smoked sausage

Our Christmas tradition started in 1960 when my dad first made five pounds of sausage. We stuffed it using hog casings and an angel food cake pan. Our family always looked forward to the homemade sausage on Christmas morning. Mom always boiled the sausage a little too long, and I often wonder if it had anything to do with the eggnog!

Dad loved auctions and bought an antique cast iron lard press/sausage stuffer in about 1968 which we still use today. The sausage making has evolved into the Annual Kreighbaum Sausage Party with family and friends each Dec. 23. Everyone takes some sausage home. When we tipped the scale at about 90 pounds. (and ran out of counter space), we decided to set the limit to 50 pounds. Last year because of COVID, our tradition was canceled. We can’t wait until Dec. 23, 2021, to continue the fun.

And now, our son has started this tradition in St. Petersburg, Florida!

John Kreighbaum | Plymouth, Indiana

Seeking the true meaning of Christmas

Neumann tree

Christmas morning is such a magical moment. We began a new tradition when our girls were young to highlight the meaning behind Christmas. We decided to hide the baby Jesus from our Nativity set on Christmas Eve night.

Our girls wake up to the scene of gifts under the tree. But directly in front of the gifts is a small sign that says “STOP” — with a ribbon leading them across the room to our Nativity set missing the most important piece.

In place of the missing Jesus is a clue leading them around the house to other clues until they have finally found the most significant part of the Nativity set.

Our girls look forward to this fun tradition every year and say it’s the most exciting part of Christmas. My husband and I also look forward to finding new and creative places to hide the baby each year. The mystery of the lost Christ-Child has become such a fun, anticipated part of our Christmas morning.

Darcy Newnum | Sullivan, Indiana 

Shadow boxes of memories

Glenda Ferguson

One Christmas, when my brother and I were adults, my mom gave us a handmade patchwork quilt. Right after the holiday, she hinted about her next creative idea, and all year long worked on making the gift. 

That handmade tradition lasted for over 15 years. Some of the items she made were a rug braided from strips of blue jeans, wooden birdhouses, and hand-wired lamps. Each one, she created with love. Unfortunately, the gifts didn’t last. The stitches would unravel, the wood splintered, and the lamps leaned to one side or the other. I never told Mom because I didn’t want to hurt her feelings. 

However, one gift is still very precious to me. Several years ago, Mom made three shadow boxes. Inside my brother’s and mine were our baby clothes and shoes, as well as photos of us wearing those very same outfits. She saved all those items to pass on to us inside this special gift. Mom made one for herself, with her own baby clothes and a photo, that her own mother preserved. 

In 2018, right before Christmas, Mom passed away at the age of 86. I inherited her shadow box. As I was writing this story, I closely examined her baby clothing inside — a small white cotton dress and booties. Those were sewn by hand with small neat stitches and knitted carefully, probably by her mother or her grandmother. I always assumed Mom started the handmade Christmas tradition herself, but I now realize she came from a loving family that created unique gifts that have lasted many generations.

Photo above: Glenda Ferguson holds the shadow boxes assembled by her mom, Geneva White. The one she holds contains the blue coat she wore at 15 months old. The other has a handmade white dress and knitted booties worn by her mom as a child in 1932.

Glenda Ferguson | Paoli, Indiana

Meals on Wheels with dad

Meals on Wheels

After my father retired, he delivered meals for Meals on Wheels for many years. At Christmastime, one of my favorite traditions was to accompany him on his route. I’d wear my Santa hat, and we’d deliver the meals along with a special Christmas card for each recipient.

One year, my mother and I even put together small “goodie bags” of Christmas treats (we checked first to find out if anyone was on a special diet) and small gifts to give to the folks on his regular route.

My father passed away in 2018, but one of my fondest memories will always be of delivering meals with a smile and a side of Christmas cheer to his Meals on Wheels clients. It was a special bonding time for us and put a little extra sparkle in the holidays for those who we delivered to.

Amy Ratcliffe | Lafayette, Indiana 

Love remains


On Christmas 1987, my mom asked if I would play Santa for she was starting to have grandchildren. I was Santa for 30 years. I enjoyed having the children sitting on my lap and listening to their Christmas wish list.

Sadly, mom passed away in 2019, and everything as it was changed. At Christmas of 2020, I dressed as Santa and visited Mom’s gravesite. That made others who were visiting the graves of their loved ones smile. They said they never thought they’d see Santa there. I know Mom smiled as she looked down from heaven that day. She always told me, “No matter what happens, love always remembers.”

Dan England | Warsaw, Indiana.

Holiday on ice

Kids skating

Christmas is a wonderful time of the year for our family. We are blessed with four children and nine grandchildren. They love to ice skate. So, Papa and Mamoo make a 30-by-70-foot ice skating rink in the back yard.

We have a warm fire and watch the older kids skate, and they help teach the younger ones. We have so many memories of Christmas. It warms your heart to see them have so much fun with each other.

Randy and Shari Rennhack | LaGrange, Indiana