By Katie Murdoch and Mina Williams For The Herald
Oftentimes holiday traditions are as valuable as any item on a Christmas list, if not more so.
Whether baking one of Grandma’s coveted recipes or crafting homespun gifts, these traditions add sparkle and freshness to the holidays.
Particularly during these tough economic times, when people are spending less on loved ones, traditions bring more meaning.
Deck the (City) Hall
For the past 26 years, Bill Burton, accounting manager for the city of Lynnwood, has been the driving force setting up the Christmas tree in City Hall.
“Everyone says I do a good job, so I just keep doing it,” he said. “It’s a slow business, especially when getting the lights on the tree were involved. Now we have a pre-lit model.”
Burton claims that up until the new tree was used, he would string more than 2,000 lights through the branches every December.
This is the last year Burton will get the tree out of storage and unfurl the branches. He is retiring Dec. 30.
Neighbors helping neighbors
Since 1999, neighbors in Mountlake Terrace have decorated their front yards to share a bit of holiday spirit with anyone who drives by. In return, they ask for donations of food or cash to support the Concern for Neighbors Food Bank at Bethesda Lutheran Church. Last year’s cash donations totaled close to $19,000, according to John Zambrano, one of the participating neighbors.
What started as a friendly competition has grown to 15 to 20 houses in the Cedar Terrace neighborhood around 44th Avenue W and 227th Place SW., lit up from Thanksgiving through New Year’s. From around 5 p.m. through 10 p.m., the spirited neighbors don Santa hats and pass out candy canes to the conga line of vehicles streaming through the neighborhood.
Viewing the lights have become not only a holiday tradition for the neighbors, it is part of the holiday activities for many families who drive by viewing the displays.
A little night reading
On Christmas Eve, Carol Wood’s family gathers in a big circle while one designee reads aloud “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.” As many as 30 people attend the annual event wherever the family is having their holiday, which also includes a “white elephant” exchange as the poem is read.
“First we dig out the supply of tattered red felt bags with the draw strings that we have used for this reading for many years,” said Wood, who is retired and lives in Edmonds. “Everyone puts their white elephant gift into a bag and takes a seat in the circle. As the story is read, the bags are passed to the right each time the word ‘the’ is read and to the left each time the word ‘and’ is read. At the end of the story you keep the gift in the bag you have ended up with. And, of course, the worse your white elephant donation, the better.”
Some of the best items included a 6-inch battery-operated tree that lit up, a round of old cheese and a pair of suspenders that reappeared several years running.
Nearly 40 years ago, Bent Meyer and his wife, Joanne, eliminated Santa from their family’s Christmas experience with their customized gift giving tradition. Their two children and six grandchildren open presents on New Year’s in order to focus on the Christian meaning behind Christmas rather than the commercial side.
“We decided to (do gift giving) on New Year’s so our focus could be on Christ and the celebration of a special family time together,” said Bent Meyer, who is a therapist in Kirkland.
Meyer and his wife tuck small items — barrettes, Lego sets and shoelaces — randomly in party streamers and roll them up to create a bundle about the size of a softball. “We were thinking about the kids and what they’d enjoy and making it new and fresh every year,” Meyer said.
The extra time it took for everyone to unwrap their streamer ball helped build suspense and excitement. “The relatively prolonged time, surprises and sometimes strange items that would only make sense in relationship with other items, created delight and laughter out of the experience,” he said.
As their grandchildren grew up, Meyer and his wife adjusted their tradition to be more challenging by putting a scavenger hunt twist on opening presents. Instead of presents, they wrapped parts of 50-piece puzzles in the streamers. Once put together, the pieces showed instructions for finding a bag filled with the next couple of rows of the puzzle pieces and so on. The last set of pieces to assemble would tell the kids where they could find their gift.
Grandma’s recipe sweetens holidays
While growing up, Warren Little of Lynnwood remembers eating his grandmother’s Julekake, a Norwegian Christmas bread, during the holidays.
“We would go to her place for Christmas and had it then when we were kids,” Little said.
After she passed away, no one continued to bake her holiday bread, so Little stepped in. Only problem was his grandmother, originally from Norway, didn’t rely on a written recipe to bake her popular bread. Fortunately, one of his aunts had watched her mother baking the Julekake and wrote down the approximate measurements for ingredients such as raisins, citron, sugar, cardamom and butter.
For 40 years, Little has baked his grandmother’s Julekake for his eight siblings and friends.
“We always had something nice to eat,” Little said. “It was always a treat.”
‘A labor of love’
Letha McKinnon, 62, of Lynnwood, has been carrying on a tradition her mother started with her and her sister — sewing clothing for her loved ones.
“I feel so proud when they wear them,” McKinnon said.
McKinnon sews clothing for her four children and four grandchildren, ranging in age from 5 to 9 years old. She’s even carrying on the long-standing tradition by teaching her grandchildren to sew.
Last year’s Christmas presents included ballet tutus and cowboy chaps and embroidered vests.
The handmade gifts aren’t limited to the holidays. For her granddaughter who ice skates, McKinnon sewed an 18-piece Dorothy costume from the “Wizard of Oz” complete with ruby red ice-skate covers and a basket with a blanket and Toto. Later when that granddaughter performed onstage in a production of the “Wizard of Oz,” her younger sister sat in the audience wearing her former ice-skating Dorothy costume.
“It’s nice for them to realize someone took the time to put love in it,” she said.