What are your special memories?
Southwest Floridians recall family traditions, celebrations and memorable moments from past Thanksgiving Days, Christmas mornings and Hanukkah candle lightings.
November and December are about holidays and traditions. Yet, most of us celebrate differently. TOTI Media is sharing a selection of holiday memories from among our friends in Southwest Florida:
president of Bonita Chamber of Commerce “What says the holidays most is my mom’s pound cake. It is a family recipe and she only makes it at Christmastime. When I was growing up [in Lee County], she would give it to family and friends as a holiday gift, and the scent of freshly baked cake would fill the house with holiday cheer.”
of Fort Myers, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Lee and Charlotte Counties “My wife [Naomi] insists that we celebrate each of the eight days of Hanukkah as if it was the only day of Hanukkah. The kids had to be home for dinner every night and there would be presents after the candles were lit and we’d sung the blessings. We’d make real sure that we all remembered the real meaning of Hanukkah—and it wasn’t the presents! It is the freedom to be a Jew.
of Fort Myers, actress, creative director of Harry’s Senior Moment Improv Troupe “When I was a teenager in Boston, I was hired to be a ‘Miss Holly’—Santa Claus’s helper in Filene’s Department Store— one Christmas. My family kind of adopted two young shoeshine boys when I was Miss Holly. They came home with me and we gave them gifts, as did the store.”
of Fort Myers, director of operations/ curator at Abuse Counseling and Treatment, Inc. Arts for ACT Gallery “A little boy was in shelter with his mom and several siblings. His No. 1 wish was a home for his mom, and No. 2 and 3 were toys for his siblings. Puts everything into perspective … and still brings tears to my eyes after 18plus years.”
Joshua K. Jones,
of Cape Coral, director of operations at Invest in America’s Veterans Foundation/Southwest Florida Military Museum & Library “Thanksgiving lunch at my uncle’s home in Orlando is my most cherished holiday ritual. But last year also included several dishes from South America, Germany and Italy. It is different every year, and I always look forward to it.”
Julie Ferguson, executive director of Cape Coral Caring Center
“A cherished memory is buying the DirecTV baseball package for my father for Christmas. My father loved the Cincinnati Reds. Getting to see all of the Reds games would be extra special, so to see the excitement on his face with the gift was truly a cherished memory, as that was the last Christmas we got to spend with him before he passed away.”
Tracey Gore, vice mayor of Fort Myers Beach
“We cousins [Fort Myers Beach holiday dinners] would play as our parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles and close friends all talked and laughed. Now that I am an adult with kids of my own, I still love the smell of the turkey roasting and having all my family and close friends around me where I feel so comfortable, safe and loved.”
Pete Cangialosi, Estero Council of Community Leaders
“I enjoyed going to Manhattan for fun and especially just before Christmas to see the various holiday shows and taking in the spectacular Christmas windows and outdoor decorations along Fifth Avenue and Rockefeller Avenue. It was kind of corny, but with a chill in the air, friends, dinner and drinks beforehand … and dressing up, it was memorable.”
Angela Melvin, founder of Fort Myers-based Valerie’s House
“The doorbell rang, and when my little sister and I ran to the door to answer it, there wasn’t anybody there, just a letter on the doorstep from ‘Santa.’ My sister and I were about 6 and 8 years old, and we started jumping up and down. It was pretty creative for my mom to do that.”
Gloria Raso Tate, Cape Coral-based Raso Realty
“We read the Christmas story, and had the grandchildren play the parts of the three wise men, baby Jesus in the manger with Mary and Joseph, and for the sheep we had my sister’s basset hound, named Pharaoh, that came all the way from Texas with cotton balls all over him. Singing ‘Silent Night’ with our family all gathered together, the dog [sheep] kept walking around. A classic moment in our night.”
Chelsea Garlock, Bonita Chamber of Commerce staff liaison to Bonita Young Professionals
“Attending the Thanksgiving Day high school football game in my hometown of Meriden, Connecticut, is my favorite Thanksgiving Day tradition. Even if you don’t know anyone playing, it has always been the place to catch up with old friends and teachers.”
Jim Boesch, mayor of Estero
“When our oldest son got his driver’s license, he took our younger son with him and our brand-new car—bragging they would go and find the best [Christmas] tree EVER! When they walked in the door with ‘best tree ever,’ the tree was so scrawny and short, the disappointment on Diane’s face and mine said it all. Our son the driver went up to his room totally indignant. After a while our younger son, Doug, asked us: ‘Did Jeff tell you about the car?’ ‘What about the car?’ we asked. ‘When Jeff went to get this tree,’ he told us, ‘he sort of went over a bank and we heard a scraping noise under the car!’ You guessed it— the entire muffler system on our brand-new car was ruined. Right after that Christmas, Diane and I bought our first artificial Christmas tree.”
Kay Jasso, executive director of MS Center of Southwest Florida, Bonita Springs
“We decided to open our home to friends and neighbors [Thanksgiving 2009]. We called it Thanksgiving Day Open House. We picked up a few members of our church from a local nursing home. We invited the neighbors, and our friends brought their friends. We wound up with 30 people instead of our usual handful for dinner. This is now a tradition, but a few of us take turns hosting the event.”
Anita Cereceda, mayor of Fort Myers Beach
“The love and sense of belonging felt as you sit around the table at Thanksgiving or any of the holidays completes me!”
Alison Giesen, director of cultural resources at Mound House on Fort Myers Beach
“I was super excited to find a jewelry box wrapped up and stuffed all the way down inside my Christmas stocking. As my excitement grew, I was overcome with disappointment when I shook the box as it made a jingle noise like a pair of earrings, not the engagement ring I was hoping for. Ha! Little did I know when I opened it up on Christmas Day that it was a wedding ring set, with engagement ring and a wedding band to match.”
Chris Pendleton, president/CEO of Edison & Ford Winter Estates
“I know it sounds silly, but my most cherished r ecent memory is the opening night of Holiday Nights at Edison Ford [Estates]. The gathering of friends, colleagues, Edison Ford members and the community to light the tree with ‘Thomas Edison,’ sing and tour the lighted homes and gardens always reminds me of an old-fashioned holiday event, Florida style.”
Cathy Chestnut is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to TOTI Media. Dayna Harpster is a writer living in Southwest Florida.