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Longtime residents share their favorite Christmas traditions & memories
Jack and Barbara Hinton - photo by Contributed to the Courier

Ceres residents and some who have been linked with Ceres for many years were asked to tell us about their favorite Christmas holiday memories or traditions.

Here are their essays:

Stan Risen
One of my favorite parts of the Christmas season is joining the cast and crew from Grace Community Christian Church in the annual production of "Journey to Bethlehem," an interactive walking journey that lets you experience what it might have been like to follow the path of Mary and Joseph as they traveled to Bethlehem some 2000 years ago.
For the past 18 years, I have played the role of "Samuel," leading our "family" on the journey, encountering Roman guards, Magi, shepherds, angels, the markets in Bethlehem, and the Christ child laying in a manager.
As we cross the "Jordan River," I share with our "family" the miracle that occurred when Joshua parted the waters and normally end by saying "So when I come to this river, I am reminded of what an amazing God we serve, who still works miracles in the hearts and lives of people today."
As I crossed the Jordan River and recounted that story in 2013, it suddenly took on a deeper meaning to me. Earlier that year my grandson, London, was born with significant heart defects which required two open heart surgeries in his first month of life. We were blessed with our own little miracle and have learned to take each day as a gift from God.
London will be facing another major open heart surgery in 2016 as his dad, Stuart, our son-in-law, battles cancer and has his own surgery.

As I crossed the Jordan River again this year, I was once again reassured that the same God who parted the waters for Joshua, touched a virgin women to carry the Son of God in her womb, and protected the baby Messiah from the evil hand of Herod, is still in the business of working miracles today!

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Brenda Herbert
I loved Christmas as a child.
Christmas Eve was always spent at my Maw Maw and Paw Paw's house with my parents, brother, aunts and uncles it was such a wonderful time of year.
I remember my Maw Maw would always have socks hanging from the fireplace as our stockings and inside would be oranges and nuts. It was such a grand time.
From the time I was a very small child I always wanted Barbie dolls. I loved Barbie so much it was always so much fun to wake up in the morning to see what Barbie Santa had brought me or what house or Barbie vehicle I would receive. I had them all growing up and to this day Santa still brings me a Barbie and I still love her just as much. A few years ago my niece Casey and I bought Barbies and clothes just so we could play with them, those were good times and precious memories.
Through the years though I learned that the true meaning of Christmas is not about what you receive - but I still love getting those Barbie's - but with whom you spend them. My Dad had to have open heart surgery the day after Christmas in 1991 so his last Christmas was spent in the hospital; he passed away eight weeks later so that made me realize that you need to celebrate with love and happiness and being thankful for all you have.

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Louis Arrollo

The question about Christmas memories was a gift in itself in that it offered me the opportunity to reach into my memory bank and relive the wonderful memories of many Christmas past and the associated activities that bring families together during the joyous time of Advent.

Christmas for the Arrollo family began on Christmas Eve when mom and dad would load me and my three sisters in the car for a trip to downtown Turlock for the city's Christmas celebration. Dad would always have to go back inside the house for some unknown reason and leave the rest of us in the car, seemed like forever. Years later we learned what he was really doing.

When we returned home we were treated to the surprise of our life, Santa had been there. One Christmas I recall wanting a Schwinn bicycle so bad and was really hoping it would be there when we returned home. I was a little disappointed when I discovered a shiny new J.C. Higgins bike Santa left for me. The disappointment only lasted a short time however and I rode that bike all over Turlock until it was not becoming of a teenager, at that time, to be riding a bike.

Christmas morning mom and dad would load us all in the car and our day began with Mass at Sacred Heart Parish. Christmas dinner, at first, was the traditional Turkey and trimmings. Somewhere around sixth or seventh grade dad decided that enchiladas, Chili Colorado with all the required trimmings would be the Christmas dinner of the future. To this day that has been and still is the tradition of the Arrollo family. Although mom and dad are gone and my wife Kathy has passed, the tradition has been carried on by my daughter Shelly, son Troy and daughter in law Denise. Shelly moved out of state some years ago so now Troy and Denise carry on the tradition. I get to prepare the Chili Colorado, using a recipe from my grandmother who brought it to the states when her and Grandpa migrated here from Guadalajara.

* * * *

Kim Chapman

Christmas is my favorite holiday and every year we sit as a family and share a favorite memory at the dinner table. Sometimes they are funny, sometimes tinged with sadness for the family no longer with us, but always an enjoyable part of our day.

My new husband, David, is a widower as well and as we have moved into this next phase of our lives, we appreciate even more that all our children, their spouses and our grandchildren will have this tradition of reflection as we include John and Teri (Dave's late wife) in our homes, celebrations and memories so that they may "know" them too.

The picture I chose to include is with my own grandmother, Evelyn Witgen, my mom's mom. Although I was only six when she passed away from cancer at a very young age, I was lucky enough to grow up next door to my grandparents and therefore saw them every day. My memories of my time with them are still some of the most vivid I have even as an adult. My grandmother was full of life, fun and laughter. She loved her family and always showed it. She celebrated holidays with great enthusiasm and Christmas Eve at my grandparents' house included everyone, family or not, who wanted to be there! Presents always seemed to "overflow" the tree and room...even if there was only one or two for each person....there were a lot of us.

As with most kids, the gift is never as much fun as the box or paper it came in and in that spirit Grandma and I got covered in all the Christmas paper as the gifts were opened. The more "buried" we became, the harder we laughed and my mom captured our fun in this picture!
What she didn't capture was even funnier as at this stage in my life I had an imaginary friend named "Judy" who went everywhere with me, ate dinner at our table and even attended church with my family. On this particular Christmas when the boxes were being thrown into the fire, after Grandma and I finished playing, I began to scream and cry that "Judy" was still in a box playing and was now in the fire! My grandmother, bless her kind heart, reached in a removed the box I said Judy was in and saved my "friend" and the day!

She was not just my grandmother, she was my friend and playmate, the person who taught us to love and laugh at life. I was blessed to grow up close to her all siblings who all enjoyed the same wicked sense of humor, fun, practical joking and laughter. They all kept our memories of my grandma so alive as they shared story after story, year after year.

On this Christmas I want to honor her memory and the family she started with my Grandpa Hank. I am thankful to have grown up in a family that was so tight knit that no matter the miles between we were always in each other's lives just like my grandparents and theirs.

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Dave Hosmer
Christmas at the Hosmers was always a major production. That was due more to numbers than design, since there were as many as seven Hosmer children living in our home at any one time. My parents had a total of eight over a 25-year span (my brother Bradley was born when I was 19), and though there were changes to our traditions as we grew older, in the midst of my childhood there was a common routine.

We always had a natural tree. Many years we would take a day trip and drive up to the National Forest to cut one. Dad always said he had a permit, and most years it was him and me and sometimes one or two of my sisters. Selecting the right tree was always a time-consuming process, but usually it was a white fir about five-feet tall. One year my Mom got the idea of making a Christmas snowman out of tumble weeds and silver spray paint instead of getting a tree. It looked good at first until it started dropping all of its thorny seeds that seemed to get everywhere. We only did that once.

We kids all decorated the tree together. We had lights and tinsel, and we would always pop popping corn and string it together and drape it around the tree. Half the popcorn was hung and half got eaten during the stringing process, but that was kind of the point anyway. Some years we strung raw cranberries also, but it's hard to snack on those.

My favorite tree lights had a vial of clear liquid above the colored light that would boil after they were on for a few minutes. I took many chemistry classes in college but I never did know how they worked or what was in them. I haven't seen them in many, many years. They probably were banned because they caused house fires, or the liquid was carcinogenic, who knows.

My parents hid all the presents quite effectively and didn't put them under the tree until late Christmas Eve and after we were all asleep. It seemed like every year I could hardly sleep, but I always did and didn't discover their procedure until the Santa myth was well over for me.

Christmas morning the living room where the tree and presents were was closed off and off limits until after we all had breakfast. Of course sometimes we would sneak a look and marvel on how all those presents could have been delivered without any of us knowing when Santa had come. Dad would make pancakes, and though they were delicious, it was an excruciatingly long time to have to wait until everyone was done before we got the okay to go into the living room.

So the presents were opened, and the toys were played with, and the mess was cleaned up and it wasn't ‘til then that we all got dressed. Then some years it was over to the Hosmer grandparents' house on Fifth Street for the next round. Grandma Hosmer always had home-made fudge that was so delicious. I think making desserts were her specialty she retained from her childhood in Denmark.

Almost every year we went to my Grandma Streeter's house on Roselawn in Modesto, either Christmas Eve or Christmas evening. My mother had nine siblings and with the kids in my family there were a total of 42 cousins. Some years the Streeter house would be literally packed with people. We would each bring a gift that was gender appropriate so the gift exchange would all come out even. My grandma Streeter had her own Santa suit complete with beard and wig and glasses, and it was us kids' job to sing Jingle Bells until we were red in the face before Santa himself appeared to hand out the gifts. Occasionally we could tell that Santa was really one of our uncles, and one year it was Grandma Streeter in that outfit. But it was always fun and everyone had a great time.

Most years we made it a point to load in the car and go around and see all the lighted trees and houses at least once during the season. One of the new things then was lighting a white flocked tree with a spotlight shining through a rotating multi-colored disc. It was so beautiful to stop and watch as the tree would magically transform through the colors of the rainbow. Later, when I was a teenager, we started to go through Christmas Tree Lane, (yes it has been going that long). We knew the Bowens who lived on Vaughn Street, and sometimes we'd sit with them and watch the cars and the pedestrians go by.

When I had my own children we kept some of the traditions, especially cutting a natural tree. We made it a family affair, usually going to a tree farm in Gustine owned by some friends of ours. We'd also like to take a car trip and look at all the Christmas lights and decorated houses, even coming back to Christmas Tree Lane occasionally. I still think that is the most enjoyable thing to do.

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Barbara Hinton
When I was growing up my family always celebrated Christmas on Christmas Day and exchanged our gifts Christmas morning. However, we didn't have any type of celebration on Christmas Eve. We always had a tree and sometimes a wreath, and that was the extent of our decorating for the holidays.

The first time I walked into my future mother-in-law's home at Christmastime, I was a bit overwhelmed. I had never met anyone in my life that decorated or celebrated Christmas to the extent she did. Her Christmas spirit and enthusiasm for the holiday was contagious, and I was ‘bit' by the bug within a matter of minutes. Fifty-seven years later, and I still get as excited over Christmas Eve as I did that first Christmas Jack and I spent together.

Jack's mother had some type of decoration on every wall, table, etc. Everywhere you turned you found a candle glowing. Her little duplex was transformed into a Christmas wonderland, and she planned a big family celebration each Christmas Eve so the family could have their gift exchange. Her standard Christmas Eve menu included homemade chicken pot pie. The evening was very festive, and she always dressed up -- velvet dress, jewelry to the hilt, etc. I absolutely loved Christmas Eve.

Jack and I had more space in our home, so as the family grew we started hosting the Christmas Eve dinner and invited my family too. It was not unusual for us to have 30 people or more at our home Christmas Eve. Instead of the usual chicken pot pie that my mother-in-law had always served, I started preparing a huge appetizer buffet. I followed my mother-in-law's example and really decorated our home for Christmas.

Several years my friend Tim Edwards surprised us by stopping by our home Christmas Eve in full Santa Claus attire. This was a big thrill to all of the children in our family. I remember hosting a Christmas open house for Ceres Christian Church one year and having five decorated Christmas trees in our home. My granddaughter helped with the decorations for the open house by covering all of the cabinet doors in my kitchen with Christmas wrapping paper. At that time our church had a Christmas Eve service at 11 p.m., so every year, as soon as the family went home I would hurry to the church to play my keyboard for the worship service.

I have now passed the Christmas Eve baton on to the next generation, and this year one of my nieces will be hosting our annual celebration.

* * * *

Scott Siegel

Every Christmas Eve we go to my in-laws house on Grayson Road near Westport. My mother in-law, Jan Hightman, was a longtime Westport School employee. We have a Christmas Eve dinner and open presents. We end the evening every year with me reading to my daughters and niece The Night Before Christmas. However, I suspect that year I may have been reading The Grinch Who Stole Christmas to them.
This is a tradition that we carry on to this day even though the young girls in the picture, my daughters Leah and Sarah and my niece Hannah, are all now in high school.

* * * *

Linda Stubbs
I grew up in Turlock. My father was a professor at CSU Stan and my mother was a homemaker with six children (I'm fifth). We weren't poor, but we definitely weren't rich either so we didn't have a lot of extras in terms of material things. Christmas was always a religious celebration in our home. In fact, other than the ornaments on the Christmas tree, we didn't have any decorations that were not focused on the birth of Christ. Before opening presents, we would gather around the fireplace and read the Christmas story from the Bible. We were reminded that the greatest gift we can ever give is part of ourselves-which is what we children did for each other and our parents. We gave coupons for doing someone else's chores, gave homemade gifts, performed "plays" or "musicals" that we had written or directed - not great gifts but we had a lot of fun trying to be creative. My favorite memories come from these gifts-my older sister giving me five coupons to make cookies together (I used them all in one night and we had cookies for days), my 16-year-old brother giving me a coupon to play games with me whenever I wanted for a 48-hour period (much to his dismay, I received a Barbie that year), playing Maysie in How the Grinch Stole Christmas. I still smile when I think of some of the silly things we did.

Christmas was the one time of year for "extras"-we each received one present from our parents. Because we only received one store bought gift, we kids spent most of the year thinking about what we really wanted before making it official. I can remember the boys (there were four of them) getting a weight set, an air hockey game, ping pong table and a pool table. Cool stuff! I always received dolls, board games, arts and crafts sets, which were nice, but not my passion. When I was in sixth grade, I finally asked for the one gift I wanted more than anything else in the world: a basketball! To this day, it is the best Christmas gift I've ever received.

Thanks for making me take a trip down memory lane. I'd forgotten a lot of these things. In fact, today is my brother's birthday. I called him this morning and reminded him of our "Barbie-fest". We both laughed.