Special Holiday Memories and Traditions
From Members of the IT Division


Throughout the recorded history of the world, the time of the mid-winter solstice, has been recognized as a time for celebration. There are family and social gatherings as well as reflection on the previous year and hope for the coming year. In the United States the primary holidays during this time are Christmas, the Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth; Chanukah, the Jewish eight day celebration of the Festival of Lights; and Kwanza, the African-American seven day celebration of family, community and culture. No matter which of these holidays are celebrated, the traditional celebration emphasizes family. It holds its special memories and traditions shared and cherished by each individual. In this special issue of In Touch with IT, some members of the IT Division share some of their special memories and holiday traditions. In the following paragraphs are the reflections of Lisa Becker, Kim Breighner, Gavin Foster, Beth Helm, Carl Leinbach, Chris Marsh, Travis Mathna, Gary Milburn, Don Speelman, and Rod Tosten.

Lisa Becker, PS ERP DataSystems Programmer: I love everything about Christmas from decorating to baking to presents. When I got my first apartment, my mom came to help me decorate and it became a tradition. My mom would bring eggnog and we would play Christmas music and decorate. I have some ornaments that my Grandma Becker made that are very special to me. They are probably 50-60 years old. At the end, my son would put the angel on top of the tree and we would sit and drink eggnog and enjoy the lights. Our Christmas dinner always included the traditional food but also some other stuff that my mom’s side of the family included such as fried oyster sandwiches, hog maw and baked macaroni and cheese. Every Christmas Eve our entire family would go to my mom’s church where they had a candlelight service and when we got home we got to open one small present. Some things have changed since my mom passed away and my son is now married and lives on his own. However, when I decorate every year I still listen to Christmas music and drink eggnog and I remember all those Christmas pasts. And Christmas Eve, my family goes to church and when we get home we drink eggnog, listen to Christmas music and open one present.

Kim Breighner, Digital Center Coordinator: My husband, Jack, and I have always centered our celebrations around our family and home. Christmas Eve is the time when we have our family dinner with our children and grandchildren. Our son, Chad is there with his son, Tucker. Our daughter, Shannon together with her husband, Shane and children Erin, Madison, and Ethan travel from their home in McSherrystown to join us. The dinner is a traditional turkey dinner with all of the trimmings. After the dinner we have a present exchange. We videotape this part of the evening to keep the pleasant memories for our family archive. The rest of the evening is spent in conversation and the children playing. It is a wonderful, relaxing time that ends too quickly. On Christmas Day, Jack and I exchange our presents and have a quiet day.

Gavin Foster, AVP for IT: I was raised in a village in northern Leicestershire on the River Soar. In England, Christmas Day is typically a family day which includes listing to the Queen’s Christmas Message and our Christmas dinner. The dinner is very similar to the American Thanksgiving dinner, turkey, stuffing, and other trimmings except for the pumpkin pie and pilgrims. The pie is replaced by a traditional Christmas cake. It is cake made with chunked fruit. It is made about a month before Christmas Day and moistened every few days with Sherry or Whiskey (Scotch). Prior to serving it is given a coating of marzipan and a thin layer of icing. As for the pilgrims, they are long gone! The day after Christmas is called Boxing Day. It is a time for visiting and other activities. One of the activities in our village, Barrow-upon-Soar, is the traditional fox hunt that starts in the town square. At 10am there is a gathering of about a thousand people, fifty horses with riders in traditional huntsman garb and a hundred foxhounds. It is always quite chilly, so everyone carries a hipflask to provide fortification against the cold. This year Felicia and I will be taking our son, Guy, to visit with his grandparents in Barrow-on-Soar during Christmas.

Beth Helm, Division Business Coordinator: I love to decorate with a natural look with the smell of oranges with cloves pomanders, cranberry and popcorn garlands, fresh balsam and red apples with white candles. I also enjoy baking cookies and cakes and Christmas music has to be playing or it’s just not the same. Some Christmas dinner favorites are roasted turkey and gravy, twice baked potatoes with shrimp and cheese, strawberry pretzel salad, sauerkraut (but some in the family call it sour crap), rolls in the shape of candy canes, apple crisp, pumpkin bread, my great Aunt’s rum cake recipe, sweet tea and coffee. When the children were young, my husband and I would always make sure that Christmas wouldn’t escape without driving around to see all the Christmas lights in the local towns with our three boys in the backseat, Christmas CD’s playing and hot chocolate in tow. My husband and I enjoyed this ritual but the boys were always saying- “It’s too hot in the vehicle, Do we have to listen to Regis Philbin & Kathi Lee Gifford again? Can we just go home?” Oh the happy memories some day they might enjoy this memory. And each year, I purchase a Christmas ornament for them that best represented that year like if they were playing football, learning to play an instrument, golf or horseback riding, etc. And we have always enjoyed going to Eyler’s Valley Chapel which has no electricity, a treadle organ, a church bell that rings before each service and an old coal stove for their candlelight service.

Carl Leinbach, IT Newsletter: Pat and I always have two (sometimes more) trees in the house. One is a large tree located in the downstairs and visible to guests as they enter the house. The other is upstairs in a family area. The downstairs tree is decorated with garlands, ornaments we accumulated through the years, and lights. The upstairs tree is smaller and is decorated with ornaments we purchased during our travels or that were given to us by friends. It is a tree for remembrance of special moments during our years together. The house has a wonderful, festive smell of evergreen and the evenings are awash in a soft glow of tree lights.

Chris Marsh, Computer Support Specialist: I grew up in Somerset, Pennsylvania and my special memories of the holidays are of the Christmas Eve meals and Christmas Day dinners. My mother’s heritage is Slovenian and the holiday meals were always prepared featuring ethnic dishes that reflected that heritage. On Christmas Eve we had our family version of the Velija, or the Holy Supper. It is a Fasting Meal, meaning that it is meatless and contains no dairy products. The meal traditionally consists of twelve dishes: one for each apostle. Ours was a scaled down version, but always had Machanka, a sour mushroom soup. Other dishes that I can remember are: Boblaki, a savory dish containing sauteed onions and sauerkraut which is eaten only at this time of the year and Pagach which is a bread that is kind of like a pirogue pizza. The entire meal was eaten in one bowl using the Pagach to clean the bowl between courses. On Christmas Day, the Christmas Eve Fast ended and we celebrated with a meal of ham and kielbasa. Of course there were leftovers from our Velija.


Travis Mathna, AV Systems Integration & Support: One of my traditions is to put all blue lights on my Christmas tree. I started to do this when I had my own house and in memory of my grandma on my Dad's side of the family. When I was a kid I can remember driving around looking at Christmas lights folks put out and my grandma really liked the houses that would be done in all blue lights. So in memory of her, I put all blue lights on my tree. Sometimes I even decorate the outside of the house with all blue lights but that takes a lot of time and I do not always get to do it. And I like the old fashion style C7 Christmas lights and we use them on our tree. Although I do like the new LED lights that look like the old style, we might be changing up to them in the future. I have a few other decorations that were my grandma’s that I put out as, Christmas was always her favorite time of year and it is my way of keeping her memory alive.

Gary Milburn, MIS Analyst: When I was a youngster, I was the third oldest of 21 grandchildren. We would all meet at Grandma’s and Grandpa’s house on Christmas Eve to share a meal and exchange gifts. After we ate the meal, we had to work for our dessert. My grandparents owned a very old 5-gallon hand-crank ice cream maker. My mother and my aunts would prepare the ice cream mixture to put into the metal container and then my uncles would pack ice (and snow, if it was available) and rock salt around the metal container. We grandchildren would line up and then take turns cranking the ice cream maker. The crank, being as long as our small arms, was difficult and we would struggle with it until we couldn’t turn it anymore. Then we would move to the end of the line, and the next one would take a turn, and so forth. Eventually, the ice cream would get so hard that none of us could turn it, and my uncles would have to step in and finish it off. But the effort and wait was worth it, as then we would all enjoy the best homemade ice cream ever!


Don Speelman, Computer Support Specialist V: The Christmas season always gets its start in the beginning of December when we get our tree and decorate it. It is always at least eight feet tall. We have two dogs, a Great Dane and a Yellow Lab, so we have the tree in a corner and anchored to the wall. The next thing I look forward to is the Christmas hayride which takes place around the middle of the month. It is open to the public and has six stops, each telling a part of the Christmas story from the Annunciation to the Manger complete with live angels, shepherds, wise men and a young couple with a recently born child. I have helped in multiple different ways from playing Angel Gabriel at Annunciation to parking attendant. This year my daughter’s basketball schedule conflicts with the date, so I might not be participating till near the end. Later in the month about 10-12 family members and friends ride horses and sing Christmas carols to all the neighbors in the area. We might get some of the lyrics mixed up but we make a joyful noise and neighbors seem to look forward to it every year. Christmas Eve we have my wife's family get together at our house where the kids exchange gifts then we go to our church’s Christmas Eve candlelight service. Christmas morning, my wife and I and the kids exchange gifts. Around 10:30am, we head to my parents where about 35 people get together and the kids exchange gifts and we all have lunch together. We end Christmas day having an evening meal at his in-laws.


Rod Tosten, VP of IT: For 15 years or more, I have worked at Anita’s (my wife) uncle’s Christmas tree farm. I bale (put netting over the tree), shake the tree to remove the loose needles and load them on the trucks in the field. Since I was 16 years old, I have always enjoyed New Year’s Eve spaghetti dinner with the same couple, Walter who now is 91 years old and Julia who is 78 years old. This couple has their own garden and Julia makes homemade tomato sauce and she puts venison in her spaghetti. Anita has also joined in the festivities since she was 19 years old. And since 1989, I have always enjoyed archery season during December.




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