Thirty years ago in Cornelia, Cindy Randolph picked up a miniature, porcelain stucco-style house to decorate her home during Christmas.
The single piece was part of Snow Village, a collection of scenes depicting everything from Main Street America during the 1950s and ’60s to classic ornaments, cars and even American architecture, according to the Department 56 website (www.department56.com), maker of the pieces.
Since then, Randolph has added pieces to her collection.
“Each one has a special meaning,” the Gainesville woman said, pointing out she owns between 16 and 18 pieces.
One is a train station, and Randolph, now in her 70s, loved riding trains as a child.
“My first independent trip was from Washington, D.C., to Gainesville,” she said. “I was 15 and I was going to the big house (the Hardman Farm) in Sautee Nacoochee. This was an overnight trip, and you slept in a sleeper car.”
Another piece is a golf clubhouse with a putting green.
“My husband, Strother, grew up on a place called Linden Farm,” Randolph said. “And his big hobby is golf. So I found that piece, and it’s called Linden Country Club.”
Randolph has similar stories about each piece, signifying a memory for her. Therefore, every Christmas, she unpacks and displays them as an annual holiday tradition.
Almost every person has similar Christmas traditions, and Hall County residents shared them with The Times today.
Dessert served with ‘flavoring’
Each year, Mike Henry looks forward to making one dessert — boiled custard.
“Boiled custard at Christmas does occupy a very important place in our family’s history,” Henry said in an email. “Not just the preparation of it, but the consuming of it and the accompanying ritual that was observed when the extended family gathered at a little farmhouse outside Auburn, Ky., where my grandparents, Ashton and Lena Appling, lived.”
Henry said the dessert of sugar, milk, eggs and vanilla was served in a glass or cup after the meal.
“That is where the fun always happened,” the Gainesville man said. “When all had been offered custard, Ashton would ask Lena if she could bring out a little ‘flavoring’ for anyone who desired it.”
Flavoring was a small dose of bourbon from a bottle hidden in the front closet behind the shoeshine kit for rare medicinal use, Henry said. He explained his grandparents were “teetotaling Baptists” for 364 days of the year. But on Christmas Day, his grandmother brought out the small bottle and measured a small spoonful for each cup.
“When she reached my grandfather, however, he always took the bottle in his own hand and served himself a generous portion,” Henry said. “Sometimes (it was) enough to curdle the eggs in the custard.”
Smiles and laughter spilled from the table, marking an end to the meal.
“Neither he nor my grandmother were blessed with much in the way of material goods,” Henry said. “But in the preparing and serving of this wonderful meal, they were giving us the best they had. And they enjoyed it every bit as much as the rest of us.”
Now Henry shares the same dessert and sentiment to his friends and family.
Baking goods for the family
Growing up, Pam Keene knew it was Christmas when her mother made what she called “butterball” cookies.
Butterball, or Mexican wedding cookies, are made with butter, flour, chopped pecans and sugar. They were shaped into balls, baked and rolled in confectioners sugar after coming out of the oven.
“We (my sister and I) got to roll the cookies before they went into the oven,” Keene said. “That was our job that we got to do with my mother.”
Therefore, she makes a batch every year to mark the memory. This year is especially important since Keene’s mother died recently.
But butterballs aren’t the only baked goods on her Christmas to-do list. The Flowery Branch woman makes buckeyes with Rice Krispies. Then she ships them to her niece and nephews, who are Florida State Seminole fans living in Orlando.
One Christmas, they got an unwelcome surprise in the mail.
“By they time they got them, they had melted,” Keene said with a laugh.
This Christmas, Keene will get to hand-deliver the treats.
Cooking in the kitchen with mom
Nearly 40 years ago, Jim Henderson and his mother decided to make Lady Bird Johnson’s divinity candy recipe.
“It was an immediate hit both in our family and to the lucky friends who got to sample the sweet pecan-studded treat,” Henderson, 62, wrote in an email to The Times. “Since that time, we always set aside a day close to Christmas for our mother-son activity.”
Henderson said it has to be a dry day as humidity causes the candy to stay in liquid form rather than forming cloudlike puffs. If it is a humid day, the liquid runs off the wax paper onto the counters and floors.
“Once a friend and I tried our hand at candymaking without my mother’s guidance and wound up with everything in the kitchen coated in solidified Karo syrup,” he said.
But the candymaking continues.
“Mom and I serve the candy to holiday visitors and package it in decorative bags to give as gifts,” he said.
Decking out house for daddy
Bobbett Holloway has always decorated her Honeysuckle Road residence with lights and different Christmas scenes, including one special Nativity and Santa.
And it all started with the father, Ray Keith.
“He always wanted to have a house for the community to enjoy,” she said.
Holloway said her father lined the roof with lights every year.
“I did that, too, until this year,” she said. “I’m 74, and my husband won’t let me get on the roof.”
But Holloway always displays the Santa Claus her father crafted.
“He made that from scratch and that’s really special,” she said. “I repainted it when I moved here in 2005.”
But her favorite yard decoration is the scene with baby Jesus at the front point of her yard, which is situated at the fork in the road.
“It’s the first thing that greets anybody, depending on any street you come from,” she said. “And it is there for other people, because I can’t see it (from the house). It greets me when I come in, though.”
Holloway explained the scene signifies the real meaning of Christmas since it represents the birth of Jesus. But it is extra special because of the doll portraying baby Jesus.
“It is my 55-year-old daughter’s baby doll ... that she got when she was 4,” she said. “It’s name was Baby Boo. It was real popular and the one everyone wanted.”
Once her daughter outgrew the doll, it became the centerpiece for the Nativity scene.
“It has blond hair, so I cover that,” Holloway said. “But the eyes are bright and shiny. And it has a beautiful face. “
This scene along with the lights on the shrubs, a snowman and other Christmas decorations is such as sight neighbors and passers-by stop to take pictures, Holloway said. And that’s exactly how she wants it.
“And I want everybody to enjoy it to,” she said.
Mom-daughter ‘Nutcracker’ date
When Ashley Hazel was 4 years old, her mother wanted to do something special with only her for Christmas. After speaking to a family friend, the duo attended “The Nutcracker” ballet with the friend and her own daughter.
Thus, a tradition was born with a slight variation. Ashley and her mother, Cheryl, watch the live production as a pair.
“‘The Nutcracker’ was special to my daughter,” the mother of three said. “It was her idea to make it an annual tradition. And she insisted every year we do it.”
So, each Christmas season, Cheryl and Ashley get dressed up and have their picture taken before heading out for dinner. Then it is on to the ballet, sometimes followed by dessert.
Carrying on the tradition allowed the women to see different productions in the states in which they have lived. It started in Dallas, Texas, but included ballets in Kansas City as well as Atlanta.
But one year, an illness thwarted their annual plans to see “The Nutcracker” at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta. Cheryl, who lives in a lake house in Gainesville, came down with the flu and couldn’t attend.
However, that did not stop her from finding another ballet.
“I got online and looked in Florida,” she said. “West Palm had tickets there. So I bought the tickets and we drove down there so we didn’t miss it.”
That has inspired her for another trip to watch the Christmas favorite.
“Next year, I’m hoping to go to New York to see it,” the 57-year-old woman said.
Trip to church for candlelight service
Kathy Lovett said she and her husband started a tradition with their daughters, now in their 40s, when they were babies that remains in place to this day.
“We began attending the Christmas Eve candlelight service at our church, First Baptist Church on Green Street,” the Gainesville woman said. “As often as is possible, they return home to be a part of this very meaningful worship experience.”
The major difference now is seven grandchildren are part of the important Christmas celebration. Lovett said they enjoy the tradition of singing carols, hearing the story of Jesus’ birth and lighting their candles with the hundreds of others.
“It’s a beautiful evening that sends us out to be light for the world as we celebrate the birth of the one who came as the light of the world,” she said.
But the tradition does not end with the service. The family then heads home for a simple meal of soup and cheese roll-ups. Lovett said the simple preparation allows her family to spend more time with each other and time to focus on foods for the Christmas Day feast.
“And, of course, as someone once wisely said, ‘A feast every day is no feast,’” she said.
Annual gift giving to local veterans
For the past couple of years, Cheryl Sckupakus delivers Christmas presents to the Vietnam veterans annual Christmas party at the American Legion in Gainesville.
“They gave up their lives to go overseas and do what the government asked, so people could have their freedom,” Sckupakus said. “I realized I wanted to recognize the vets for their service.”
All throughout the year, the Gainesville woman finds books, mugs and other small tokens at thrift stores. Then she delivers more than 70 items to the party.
“I can’t write a check, but I’m very good at finding things on the cheap,” Sckupakus said.
Alvin Clifton, commander of the American Legion Post in Gainesville, said everyone appreciates her effort.
A picture is worth 1,000 words
Every Christmas Day morning, Anna Dover and her extended family don their brand-new pajamas for a Christmas picture.
“We always get matching pajamas for Christmas,” Dover said. “We wear them on Christmas morning and eat breakfast together.”
New traditions with tiny tyke
While many people celebrate traditions of old, Matt Vrahiotes is anticipating starting new ones in his Alto home.
“We are looking forward to Christmas with Mattie, who is three months and one week,” the new father said. “We are looking forward to having our Christmas by the Christmas tree.”
Recently, the Matt and Lindsey spent a night decorating a real tree and adding a brand-new ornaments to it.
“We go to Gatlinburg every year and buy Christmas ornaments that reflect our year,” Vrahiotes said. “This year, Lindsey quit her job and got to work full-time on the farm. So we got ornament to reflect that. And we had an ornament with just two people and now we have an ornament that has three.”
Keeping Christmas all year long
Carmen Chambers said her Christmas is very laid-back with her family, allowing them to focus on the blessings of their lives.
“It isn’t anything exceptional,” the Clermont woman said. “The biggest thing is people be grateful for what they have and love what they have.”
She explained when people compare their material things to another, it’s easy to have the misconception that they are lacking. So she keeps love of Christmas and its values of kindness, compassion and gentleness in her heart.
“I like to quote Scrooge and that he was going to keep Christmas in his heart all year long,” she said.