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Holiday tradition depends on the family

By Sarah L. Smith
Coastal Observer

To open tonight or tomorrow? That is the question.

Whether families open gifts tonight, just hours before Christmas, or tomorrow, often depends on their traditions.

Jorge and Amy Saavedra and their children spread out the gift opening. They unwrap stocking gifts on Christmas Eve and tree gifts on Christmas Day. Their schedules as nurses for Georgetown Hospital System don’t let them stay home for Christmas each year, so they celebrate when everyone is together, no matter what day it is.

Before their children started Waccamaw Elementary, they didn’t mind missing the real Christmas Day, but now that they can read a calendar, Amy said she can’t get away with having Christmas on the 28th anymore.

Holiday traditions like the Saavedras are formed out of necessity or are passed down from one generation to the next.

Amalia Silvestri, 11, goes to Waccamaw Intermediate School. She said her family always opens gifts Christmas morning and stays home.

“We always eat a lot of fish,” Silvestri said.

Her mom, Stacy Silvestri makes spaghetti and cooks seven types of fish each year. It’s something her Italian family always did, she said, and she is happy to continue the tradition.

Turkey, ham and cured venison are the foods of choice in Martha Davis’ home. Her family in Murrells Inlet comes to see her in Jamestown each year and enjoys a Southern Christmas meal with fresh vegetables and meats.

Cindi and Mark Koehler of Pawleys Island like to prepare ham and turkey for their family’s Christmas Day meal, too, but they also need something sweet on the side.

Their dessert of choice is a buckeye. The chocolate and peanut butter confection is a traditional food they made with their family in Pennsylvania, Cindi said. So making it in South Carolina is a way to stay close to their roots.

Baking and decorating sweets is also a way to spend time together as a family.

Tiffany Coleman of Pawleys Island said her family always makes gingerbread house at Christmas for that reason. When the gingerbread houses are complete, they’ll bake cookies to leave out for Santa.

Leaving sweets for Santa to munch on while he delivers toys and fills stockings with goodies, is a favorite tradition for children.

Sarah McMillan, 11, a student at Waccamaw Intermediate School, said she puts out a plate of celery, carrots, cookies and milk on Christmas Eve.

“We always tell Santa to eat the cookies and give the carrots to the reindeer,” she said.

Braedan Black, 11, and her sister, Brittany, 12, both intermediate school students, leave cookies out for Santa, too, when they go to their grandmother’s house in Pawleys Island every Christmas Eve. In the morning, only crumbs remain, the girls said.

At the Nesmith household in Hemingway, Santa gets vegetables and fruit because parents, Minger and Melissa Nesmith, are vegans. Their two sons and daughter, a student at Waccamaw Middle, don’t eat Christmas goodies either.

“We eat lots of tofu,” Melissa said.

Being vegan is their way of helping the environment, staying healthy and preserving animal life.

For the Koehlers, helping others is also a part of their Christmas.

“We do Meals on Wheels through the Masonic Lodge on Christmas Day,” Mark said.

The Koehlers and their children deliver hot meals to those who can’t get one of their own on Christmas. It’s something Mark has done for years, and he wouldn’t miss the opportunity to visit with people in the community on Christmas.

While the Koehler family is driving around the county, other families fly or drive to reach their loved ones at Christmas.

Terry McNamara of Litchfield travels to New Jersey each year to stay with her extended family and her 98-year-old mother. Staying with other families at Christmas time means putting her own holiday traditions aside.

“I take on their Christmas traditions,” she said.

If that means opening gifts earlier or later, McNamara will. Flexibility is key, she said, because even if your traditions are important to you, Christmas is about time spent with family.

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