When Bluffton resident Greg Taulbee was growing up, certain things were guaranteed at Christmas.
“What I remember most as a child is helping my dad put up an endless amount of Christmas lights, which I still do today,” Taulbee said. “The more Christmas lights I put up, the happier I am. I think that stems from putting up lights with my dad. And a real tree. I remember very well the smell of a real Christmas tree in our house.”
Greg and his wife, Cat, have four children, ranging in age from college freshman to a 1 year old. “We’re still in the wrapping paper stage – it’s a real thing.”
It’s a good thing, because Greg and Cat continue to do what his mom used to do.
“We wrap everything, like batteries. Even if it’s individualized and goes with another present, they get wrapped separately, so it looks like a grand surplus of gifts,” said Taulbee. “I remember the year I got a super Nintendo, and I opened the controller first. It was like ‘uh-oh,’ and that was how I realized I was getting the Nintendo.”
Sun City resident Pat Zenone’s father’s family was Swedish and after a day of activities, presents arrived at the door in a big box with Father Christmas.
“We’d walk into my grandmother’s house and there would be the cardamom rolls. That would be the first thing you’d smell, Rena’s rolls. We’d have it with coffee because the Swedes were big on coffee,” Zenone said. “Then we had dinner. We always had korv – a sausage with pork and potatoes ground together. We just couldn’t have holidays without korv. We always had rice pudding, just served with the dinner, not as dessert. And lots of cookies.”
After dinner, the family always sang Christmas carols from the Swedish Lutheran hymnal. Her job was to play the piano, switching off with a cousin who went to St. Olaf’s College.
Soon they would hear the stamping of feet on the front porch. When Santa came, he brought in a big box and they handed out Christmas presents.
At night, the children all stayed in the attic, where there were lots of beds, and the next morning they would return home.
For Peppe Gialone, who came from Pozzuoli, Italy, the biggest holy day was Christmas.
“It starts Dec. 1 with lights everywhere in the middle of the street. When you go to Italy, you feel Christmas everywhere,” said the head chef of Nonna Rosa. “The Christmas food comes out with special cakes and a lot of fish. Christmas is big in Italy for fish, and everybody does bacalao – salted cod and then lots more fish. The stores only sell Christmas stuff, the regular food selling stops and everything is about Christmas.”
Danielle Dietrich and Chris Lee of Bluffton have adopted a new tradition they call the four-gift rule, Dietrich said. “It’s simplifying gift-giving: something you want, something you need, something to wear and something to read. That has been really fun, to focus our gift-giving to more than just things and then they become really thoughtful gifts,” she said.
“And we are planning on making experiences for our daughter, Phoenix, rather than things, so I ask and look around for interesting and fun things to do,” Dietrich said. “For example, someone just gave me an idea about some things to do in Charleston.”
Bluffton artist Amiri Farris recalled his experiences as a child at Christmas.
“When I was a kid, I worked at a poinsettia farm and we would give out the extra poinsettias that didn’t sell on Christmas Eve and Christmas day,” Farris said. “Later, after opening presents, the family would get together for a soul food feast.”
For Sophia Schade of Sun City, a native of Athens, Greece, presents were not part of her Christmas experiences growing up.
“When I was growing up Christmas was not as a big deal as New Year’s. It was the birth of Christ; the New Year was a bit more important and Easter was even a bigger deal, because that’s when Christ was resurrected,” Schade said.
“And there were no gifts, there was not a ‘thing’ to exchange gifts, but everybody came to your home with cookies and with food,” Schade said. “It was about the holiday and Christ being born and it was very into the religion versus into the merchandise. When I came to the United States and I saw all of the Christmas gift exchanges, I lost my mind.”
Schade said that as a child, what she remembered was a very simple tree, new clothes and visiting relatives. “We sat around the table and had a beautiful dinner, and we would go from house to house and sing Christmas songs with a little triangle, and you would make the music and the rich people would give you like one drachma,” said Schade. “When you go to somebody’s home during Christmas you always get Melomakarona and Kourabiedes cookies.
“That was the old-fashioned Christmas. It was not only a holy night but you felt close to your family and friends – like the old ‘Christmas Carol’,” she added. “And in the smaller towns it’s still like that. Very simple, very religious, very traditional and friends and family.”
Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.