Readers share favorite holiday traditions


DARKE COUNTY — Readers were recently asked about their family traditions and how they celebrated Christmas and Thanksgiving.

Deb Crist said, “Our mom, Dolores Preston, and Patsy Riffell made Christmas candy for years together and went to all the bazaars. The five Preston sisters continue to use their recipes and make candy but just for gifts. Long hours, but we do it together.”

Kelly Overbay Williamson remarked, “On Thanksgiving, when we can’t get together. we FaceTime and let everyone tell each other what we are thankful for. One Thanksgiving when Mom was still with us, we went around the table and spoke of our blessings. I have one daughter in Colombia, one in Argentina and my oldest is in Florida, so Christmas is already extra special because they all come home. This year, we had a guest from South Africa. For Christmas, we walk through Wayne Lakes together for the first snow.”

She went on, “We cook individual favorites. The main thing is if we know of someone being alone or grieving a lost one, our home is open. As for gifts, we go around and watch each one opening theirs. The biggest tradition my mom started was buying us kids ornaments every year. I think I was 7 when she started, and I have bought them for my girls since they were born. I wait until they are together and they put them on the tree, laughing and sharing memories of the past. So, our Christmas is Thanksgiving too…counting ALL the blessings and celebrating Jesus as the reason we are all together.”

Teresa Brewer Wilson reported, “After all us kids got older and had our own families, we have kind of gotten away from tradition. Since I don’t have to work this year on Thanksgiving we are having it here at our house with Doug and his kids helping. Our son and his wife are coming up from West Virgina to celebrate with us. My family doesn’t get together for Christmas.”

Wilson added, “When we were in the military, we would ask a lot of the soldiers that had no families to celebrate. They would come and help cook and then spend the day with us. The same thing for Christmas. We really enjoyed having Thanksgiving and Christmas with the single GIs.”

Julie Kimmel reported in: “My side of the family would be the Poeppelmans from Versailles. We all get together at Thanksgiving time for a weekend-long celebration. For Thanksgiving day, we were at the K of C Hall and there is usually around 75 that show up.”

They spend some time at the bowling alley in Versailles on Friday afternoon; eat supper and plays cards and games on Friday night; go paint-balling on Saturday morning at brother Fred’s house and later go trapshooting.

“Then, of course, it’s game-on to watch the OSU-Michigan game,” Kimmel said. “That is the one time of year when all my siblings nieces and nephews and their kids and I will try to be home for.”

“I put up way too many Christmas trees,” said Betty Monnin. “My hardest and most traditional is getting each and everyone home at the same time. I enjoyed going to my mother-in-law’s at Christmas. There would be over 60 people. Everyone came home Thanksgiving. The men would butcher three to four pigs on one day, and my father-in-law made homemade sausage. Everyone brought in dishes of food. You would eat all day, topping the night off with several skillets of sausage. We celebrate this time of year three times, Thanksgiving, Christmas and, top it all off every year, with a big meal on New Year’s lunch…sausage, mashed potatoes, sauerkraut and all the trimmings..”

Brenda Norton said her family has traditions for both Thanksgiving and Christmas. Their Thanksgiving festivities, however, follow themes.

“A lot of people think it’s neat that we do that,” Norton said. “We used to do different countries, but then we ran into some recipes that didn’t turn out the greatest, so we just went with themes. We’ve done breakfast, but you had to wear pajamas. We’ve done bar food, picnic food. This year we had to try to imitate your favorite recipe from a well known restaurant.”

She said the clan does the traditional Christmas.

“But we have certain games that we play every year,” she said. “We do have a Santa head that we pass around as a gag gift from year to year. And, we always have the box game. You have to roll a double with dice before you get a chance to unwrap a box. You have to put a silly hat on along with oven mitts and try to unwrap the first box. Inside that box are other boxes. The whole family plays, except for the little kids because they might get hurt. It usually takes 20 to 30 minutes. The smallest box can be a nice gift or a gag gift.”

Susan Leis Butts said the Leis family used to meet in one another’s home for Thanksgiving, but it got so big they began using the fellowship hall at the Ansonia First Church of God.

“My grandma, Vonna Leis (who died in 1972 and was the wife of Lewis), had six kids and would always have everyone in, and it continues to be that way today,” Butts said. “Last year my branch sponsored it. Not everybody came but we had a nice turnout.”

Butts said her mother, Connie Leis, is the last living one from her generation that attends. Now, there are five generations that get involved.

“At the gatherings, we basically eat and visit,” she said. “My niece was here from Ontario and we have relatives from the Indiana area who come in. Sometimes, the attendance is not up because family members have other commitments. We have tables set up showing old pictures and information on our ancestors living in Germany. Last year, we took pictures of all the different branches in the family. Five of the six branches were represented.”

Their meal consists of a carry-in, with one branch each year supplying the meat and drinks and doing he decorating.

“It rotates every year” said Butts, who is now an adjunct instructor for Edison State after retiring seven year ago teaching business at Greenville High School. “For Christmas, we spend it with our own separate families, and if we’re really lucky, we have a cousins party at someone else’s house whenever we can. It depends on if anyone will take that on.”

Charlene Thornhill said her family has been having a special Christmas starting when her daughters were young at the home of Nelson Thornhill, husband Donn’s father.

“He’d have a box which held wrapped packages with strings and names on them,” she recalled. “You’d pull a string when you got there, then another a little later. They had four or five little gifts. The girls all liked to do that, so we do it at our house.”

Yes, the tradition carries on to the Thornhills’ Christmas celebration. Each person now gets to pull three strings before lunch, then another string during table clean-up and befoe the unwrapping of the bigger gifts.

“Everyone gets something special,” Thornhill said. “All look forward to it. I went with our great-grandson Henry the other day and I asked him what he liked about Christmas and he said ‘the pull.’”

And it’s a tradition at the Thornhills to have Charlene make lasagna, because they like that.

Later on, the family heads for a table and plays Shanghai Rum or Hand-and-Foot card games.

For Thanksgiving, we pig out,” she said. “Mom always had a huge Thanksgiving meal and we’ve carried that on. I make a big hickory smoked turkey, ham, beef and noodles, dressing with and without oysters, mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry salad, deviled eggs and rolls.”

By Linda Moody

Contact Darke County Media Staff Writer Linda Moody at [email protected] or 937-569-4315, ext. 1749. Read more news, features and sports at

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