(Les Anderson/Unsplash)

Each year, the celebration of Christ’s birth recalls the family gatherings and traditions of past years. For many, these recollections have become even more cherished amid the hardships of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Seniors served by archdiocesan Catholic Housing and Community Services (CHCS) recently took time to share their favorite Christmas memories with CatholicPhilly.com. 

(Related: Seniors create messages of peace, beauty at Christmas)

CHCS provides a continuum of care to the region’s older adults through activity centers, in-home support and five affordable housing complexes in Philadelphia: Casa Carmen Aponte, Nativity B.V.M. Place, St. Francis Villa, and St. John Neumann Places I and II. Two additional facilities, St. Rita Place in Philadelphia and St. Joseph Place in Collingdale, are under development.

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What is your favorite childhood memory of Christmas? 

“My favorite childhood memory of the holiday was always looking forward to spending time with my grandparents, my maternal on Christmas and my paternal on New Year’s Day. My favorite Christmas memory was seeing if Santa Claus ate my cookies and drank my hot chocolate.” –– Edith, St. John Neumann Place

“My favorite memory is coming down and seeing the platform my dad fixed with trains and cars and the tree. When I was little Santa bought and decorated the tree.” — Jacqueline, Nativity B.V.M. Place

The annual Christmas displays at the former John Wanamaker’s department store in Philadelphia was a favorite among several archdiocesan seniors.
(Bruce Andersen/Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic)

“My favorite childhood Christmas memory is going to my grandmom’s house after breakfast and spending the day with aunts, uncles, and a lot of cousins. Also, waking up and finding the tree decorated and presents under it, and the excitement of seeing what Santa got us. “— Kathy, Nativity B.V.M. Place

“My sister and I waiting for Mom and Dad to finish putting the toys under the tree and then go to bed. We would wake up our brothers and came downstairs to open packages and gifts.” — Jacqui, St. John Neumann Place

“Favorite memory is the Sunday school Christmas pageant at church. My mom was in charge of it and my Gram sewed the costumes. My sister was Mary every year and I was a shepherd. There was no dialogue. The minister read the (Scripture) chapters of the night Jesus was born, while the organist softly played the melodies of the Christmas carol that kids liked. The three wise men came in last carrying their gifts. The church lights would become dim and everyone held a candle and sang ‘Silent Night.’ I cried at the end every year and still do to this day. My favorite Christmas morning memory was the year I got my bride doll. My parents re-gifted it to me on my 50th birthday.” — Ellie, St. John Neumann Place

“My favorite childhood Christmas morning memory is when my sister and I came downstairs to see four dolls sitting on our sofa. Our mother made outfits for the dolls by hand at night while we were sleeping. She made beautiful green and white dresses and hats to match. Another favorite memory is the year my mother made our Christmas tree out of a floor lamp. Of course, she told us Santa Claus did it. He always did everything, and we believed her. She tied branches to the base of the lamp. I think about it often because it was the most beautiful tree I ever saw. It really looked like a tree. She was so talented. I’m sad we didn’t have a camera to take a picture of it.” — Martha, St. John Neumann Place II

“My favorite childhood Christmas memory is the morning my brother and I received twin bikes which at that time were top of the line.” — Penny, St. John Neumann Place II

“When I was a child I always had great Christmas memories. My father was in the Army. They went all out in decorating; everything from soup to nuts. I was first to have an electric dollhouse.” — Wilma, St. John Neumann Place II

What is your favorite holiday tradition?

“Our cue to come downstairs on Christmas morning was when we heard ‘White Christmas’ by Bing Crosby playing. Our bedroom was on the third floor. When we heard that song, we knew it was our mother telling us we could come downstairs!” — Martha, St. John Neumann Place II

“My brother and I helping my parents decorate the Christmas tree. Making ornaments, popcorn garland, and baking cookies for Santa Claus. I did the same with my children. Now it’s watching my great-grandchildren do the same.” — Edith, St. John Neumann Place

Bing Crosby, pictured in 1951, popularized the holiday song “White Christmas” by composer Irving Berlin. (CBS Radio/Wikimedia Commons/eBay)

“My favorite tradition is gathering with family for dinner and games.” — Penny, St. John Neumann Place II

“My favorite Christmas tradition was never going out on Christmas Day. My parents believed Christmas was for the kids to stay home with their toys.” — Jacqueline, Nativity B.V.M. Place

“Christmas Eve with family at our house and having the Italian feast of seven fishes. Over 25 people around our large dining room table telling great stories.” — Kathy, Nativity B.V.M. Place

“Christmas itself, because everyone is kind. People think of their neighbors, the paper man, the garbagemen, their other helpers.” — Wilma, St. John Neumann Place II

“Christmas Eve at my granddaughter’s to watch the great-grands open presents after we eat dinner.” — Jacqui, St. John Neumann Place

“The Christmas show at John Wanamaker’s (an iconic former Philadelphia department store). Also, my Dad taking us and our cousins for a ride throughout the city and suburbs.” — Ellie, St. John Neumann Place

What is your favorite holiday dish or dessert to prepare?

“Cookies. My mother used to bake cookies in all different shapes.” — Martha, St. John Neumann Place II

“Favorite dish: Harvard beets. Favorite dessert: lemon meringue pie and sweet potato pie.” — Edith, St. John Neumann Place

“My favorites are banana pudding and seafood salad.” — Penny, St. John Neumann Place II

“Whatever Mom cooked. Most of the time turkey and ham.” — Jacqueline, Nativity B.V.M. Place

“Pizzelles and butter cookies, and lasagna to eat Christmas Day.” — Kathy, Nativity B.V.M. Place

Pizzelles, a traditional Italian waffle cookie, are a Christmas favorite throughout the Philadelphia area. (Steven Depolo/Creative Commons 2.0)

“Ham is my favorite dish. Strawberry shortcake is my favorite dessert.” — Wilma, St. John Neumann Place II

“Sweet potato pone. Cornbread stuffing with turkey sage sausage.” — Jacqui, St. John Neumann Place

“Homemade ravioli and escarole soup.” — Ellie, St. John Neumann Place

What is (or was) your favorite place to visit during the holiday season?

“My favorite place to visit was Wanamaker’s Department Store to see the tree and organ and listen to the music playing. We would also walk down Market Street to look at the animated characters in the storefront windows.” — Martha, St. John Neumann Place II

“The Christmas Village in the Wanamaker’s store (which is now Macy’s) and listening to the organ concerts, the fifty-member choir singing Handel’s ‘Messiah’ at the Eagle sculpture in the same store. Very beautiful even today.” — Edith, St. John Neumann Place

“Bethlehem and Lancaster, Pennsylvania to see the Christmas lights displays.” — Penny, St. John Neumann Place II

“My grandmom’s house and my Aunt Pauline’s and Uncle Kabo’s house.” — Kathy, Nativity B.V.M. Place

“My favorite place to visit is Longwood Gardens. The floral displays, the lights, the fountains. It’s really something to see.” — Wilma, St. John Neumann Place II

“John Wanamaker’s (now Macy’s) light show.” — Jacqui, St. John Neumann Place

“My Aunt Rose’s house. I got to play with my cousins and watch the trains go around the tree perfectly every time. Each year, he added something new to the station and we had to guess what it was.” — Ellie, St. John Neumann Place

“Wanamaker’s light show, Lit Brothers or Gimbels’ Christmas Village. Now Shady Brook Farms lights and driving around to see lights with the kids.” — Jacqueline, Nativity B.V.M. Place

What is your favorite Christmas music?

“‘White Christmas’ by Bing Crosby.” — Martha, St. John Neumann Place II

“Any Christmas music.” — Jacqueline, Nativity B.V.M. Place

“My favorites are Harry Connick’s Christmas songs.” — Edith, St. John Neumann Place

“Any Christmas music, both gospel and secular.” — Penny, St. John Neumann Place II

“The ‘White Christmas’ album, with all holiday songs sung by different singers.” — Kathy, Nativity B.V.M. Place

“‘A Motown Christmas Gift.'” — Jacqui, St. John Neumann Place

“The Chipmunks’ Christmas albums. Elvis. I enjoy Christmas carols.” — Ellie, St. John Neumann Place