Let Music Fill the Air!
Director of Organizational Strategy Hillery Tsumba says, “Singing carols was an important part of our holiday traditions. We would spend time singing carols around the piano, in the car, and even when cooking in the kitchen.” As a teenager, Hillery also visited nursing homes to sing carols as part of her holiday custom.
“Now my family is very spread out, and we all live in different parts of the world. To keep the joy of music strong and to pass it on to the next generation, we have started a tradition where on each day in Advent, we record children singing a carol on WhatsApp and send it to their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins around the world.”
Keeping the Tomte Happy
“My family has many traditions, but one that may be somewhat unusual is that on Christmas Eve, we make risgrynsgröt (rice pudding) which we put outside for the tomte, who are mischievous creatures,” says Board Member Kirsten Haalboom. “If you are kind and give them a treat, they watch over your home and bring gifts, but if you don’t, you have to watch out for their tricks throughout the next year!”
Sibling Setting Indelible Memories
Tom Lewis, the CIO for PCC’s IT infrastructure and one of five siblings, has memories of his older sister trying to organize her version of a perfect Christmas. She always “insisted that all five of us brothers and sisters line up in age order and have a few pictures taken to send our grandparents, aunts, and uncles before she would allow us to go look for presents under the Christmas tree,” he recalls. “We tried to evade her, but never successfully.” According to Tom, “The result is that I still do not like to have my picture taken.”
The same sister also thought that an angel should always be at the top of the tree, and Tom thought it should be a star. “She almost always won,” says Tom, who did gain an ongoing interest in cooking from his role in preparing the salad, mashed potatoes, and gravy for Christmas dinner each year. His holiday traditions also included a model train set. “I liked to set up my model railroad trains to encircle the tree, which aroused the curiosity of the family cat and made for some interesting encounters.”
Not One, But Three Days of Celebration
As part of an Armenian-American family, PCC Development Manager Kristine Gallagher Sargsyan enjoys at least three days of celebrations during the holiday season. “We get together with all of our family for Christmas Eve on December 24 with lots of great food and many gifts and surprises.” Then her family celebrates the new year on January 1, right after midnight, with “enormous amounts of food, drinks, and dances.” According to Kristine, “the fun part starts when we go out to visit each other’s homes all night and usually come back home early at 6 or 7 in the morning.” The festivities continue for a few days until Armenian Christmas, which is January 6.
“Christmas in Armenia has more religious value,” said Kristine. On Armenian Christmas Eve, January 5, “we go to church, participate in a Christmas mass, and bring the light home (a candle) that represents the light of Jesus Christ in our lives. When the light comes in, our whole family sits for a prayer, and we have a special Christmas dinner – fish, usually oven-made trout, rice with raisins, walnuts, and dried fruits like Armenian apricot, and wine to toast the Holy birth of Christ.”
Keeping the Holiday Spirit Alive!
COVID affected many aspects of our everyday lives. But Elizabeth Arend Dutta, Director of Behavioral Health Program Design and Strategy, wasn’t going to let it disrupt her winter holidays. “When I grew up, my mom would take my sister and me to see Santa Claus, and we'd write our Christmas wish lists. We decorated a big (fake) Christmas tree (my dad was convinced that the house would burn down if we had a real tree), and we had a string of colorful lights outside the house. I put out cookies for Santa and carrots for the reindeer, and we'd go to midnight mass at our Catholic church. My mom would give my sister and me warm milk to help us get to sleep, which always felt impossible when we were anticipating all of the presents that would be under the tree the next morning!”
Elizabeth never realized how much these traditions meant to her until Christmas 2020, when all travel was canceled, and she prepared to spend Christmas alone in her DC apartment. “We made the most of the holiday and kept these traditions alive. I put up my own tree (a small, real one, just the right size for my apartment), and just as she did throughout my childhood, my mom wrapped presents and sent them to me in the mail, so I could put them under the tree and have something to open on Christmas morning. My family organized a four-way video call; ironically, we spent more quality time talking that Christmas than we had any year before.”
Starting the New Year Right
Senior Development Manager Stephanie Narayanan's family has a New Year's tradition familiar to anyone with roots in the deep South: black-eyed peas and greens. "They're supposed to be essential for good luck and prosperity in the coming year," she says. "I'm not especially superstitious, but why take chances when the superstition is delicious?" Collard greens are the traditional choice, she explains. "But my family is full of picky eaters, so we've taken lots of liberties with what we mean by greens. My grandmother made an Emeril Lagasse recipe of green cabbaged sautéed with bacon for years because it was a version everyone would eat."
“My father was from Beckley, West Virginia, and didn't grow up with much in a family of seven children, while his dad (my grandfather) toiled away in the local coal mine,” recalls Board President Shawn Bartley. “Every Christmas as a child, my dad's father would find a way to buy enough oysters to treat his seven children to two oysters each on Christmas morning. It was a gift taking into consideration the time. I never met my grandfather, as he died from black lung at an early age, but he lived on through my father, who passed on the custom of frying oysters on Christmas morning. Every Christmas morning, my dad would fry two jars of oysters, and we would eat the oysters for breakfast while playing with our new toys/presents. I carry on that tradition with my family. I fry oysters every Christmas morning. It reminds me of the goodness of our all-American family life as a child.”
Whatever your winter holiday traditions or memories, everyone at PCC wishes you peace and good health this holiday season and throughout 2023.